Jenson Button admitted he was never going to come in for intermediate tyres during the late shower in the Hungarian Grand Prix.
That decision won him the race. But Lewis Hamilton made the opposite call and finished off the podium having led most of the race.
|Lewis Hamilton||Jenson Button|
|Qualifying time comparison (Q3)||1’19.978 (-0.046)||1’20.024|
McLaren drivers’ lap times throughout the race (in seconds):
Hamilton was quickest in both of Friday’s sessions. But he struggled on Saturday morning, unable to get the car to turn in properly at turn one on the super-softs.
He switched brake material from Carbone Industrie to Brembo ahead of qualifying – as he had also done at the Nurburgring – and was instantly back on the pace.
So much so that he was the only driver to make it through Q2 without using a set of super-soft tyres, keeping a fresh set in hand for the race.
He was fastest at the start of Q1 but was pipped to pole position by Sebastian Vettel in the final shoot-out:
“At one stage during Q3 I was up,” said Hamilton, “I had half a tenth in reserve.
“But then I went a little bit wide, which triggered a big oversteer moment, and the result was that I lost that crucial bit of time.”
He didn’t get a good start on the damp side of the grid, and went side-by-side with his team mate into the first corner. The pair gave each other a lot of room, and Hamilton emerged in front.
He was instantly on Vettel’s tail for the lead and made several attempts to pass in the opening laps. Eventually he got down the inside of the Red Bull at turn two and through into the lead.
Within a lap he was 2.5 seconds ahead. By half-race distance Hamilton was seven seconds clear of his team mate, who had taken over from Vettel in second place.
His race began to unravel when he made his third pit stop on lap 40. While his team mate and the two Red Bulls opted for soft tyres, Hamilton took another set of super-softs.
His pace was slower than Button’s, suggesting he was trying to eke his tyres out to the end of the race. Given that Kamui Kobayashi abandoned a stint on super-softs after 25 laps, it’s hard to imagine Hamilton could have gone 30 without losing so much time he would have lost the lead.
In the end we never got to find out, as the rain came down and Hamilton pitted for intermediates. Two laps later he was back in to replace them with a set of soft slicks.
“We were having radio issues,” said Hamilton. “I could hear my engineers, they couldn’t hear me, so I was constantly asking them for information, but they couldn’t hear me. So it was a very difficult call for them.”
By this time he’d already had a spin at the chicane – “I’m disappointed in myself”, he admitted afterwards. The spin cost him the lead to Button but his spin-turn recovery was even more damaging,
He came out of the pits behind Webber, who overtook Massa on lap 57, Hamilton following him by.
Six laps later Webber and Hamilton reached a string of lapped cars. While Webber pulled out to pass Kamui Kobayashi on the way into turn 12, Hamilton swept around the pair of them to snatch fourth place.
Button’s best qualifying performance since Monaco put him third on the grid, less than five-hundredths of a second behind Hamilton.
He held fire at the start, content not to force the issue with his team mate. He switched to slicks a lap before Vettel and Hamilton, closing in on the pair of them, before taking second off Vettel on lap 14.
Button said afterwards he fancied his chances of winning had the race stayed dry. He was quicker than Hamilton at the end of stints and admitted he was “surprised” how early he was called in for his third stop, which was in reaction to Ferrari pitting Fernando Alonso early.
Now on softs, Hamilton on super-softs, Button took two seconds out of his team mate in three laps. On lap 47 the rain hit, Hamilton spun and Button was in the lead.
Button described what happened: “I came round the corner and saw Lewis facing the other way.
“I went to the inside and I was just about to overtake Adrian Sutil and had to hammer the brakes on, as it was a yellow flag. He had backed off to let me by, so I almost stopped the car, he almost stopped the car and Lewis was able to turn the car around and he was on my bumper before the next corner, so it made it very tricky.”
Four laps later, under pressure from Hamilton, Button slithered off at turn two and his team mate was back in the lead. Button retaliated on the pit straight, claiming his lead back, but once again Button ran wide at the second corner allowing Hamilton through again.
If either of them had been told to “maintain the gap” they must have developed selective deafness. But their precise, hard-but-fair racing exemplified why such orders are unnecessary.
Meanwhile the team were trying to decide whether to bring them in for intermediates. Webber had already done so, and Button explained both were told to come in for intermediates at the end of the lap.
“I didn’t answer back because I was never going to,” he said afterwards. As they neared the end of the lap Button was told to stay out while Hamilton came out: “They didn’t want to queue us,” Button added.
Button explained his decision to stay out, saying: “I was never really going to come in for inters anyway. I didn’t think it was the right choice personally.
“We weren’t going slowly enough, to start with. We were struggling on the tyres, it was difficult keeping the car on the circuit but we weren’t that slow, it wasn’t inter pace really.
“And when you put the inters on, you’ve got to put the dries back on as well, so you’ve got to stop twice. For me, it wasn’t the right decision.”
This was the call that won Button the race. As the track dried again he increased his lead over Vettel to almost ten seconds before backing off.
The timing of his win couldn’t have been better: five years to the race since his maiden F1 triumph, and in his 200th Grand Prix start.
“For some reason I like these conditions, don’t ask me why, but it worked out again,” he said, adding later, “but I would like to win one in the dry, please.”
2011 Hungarian Grand Prix
Image © McLaren