For those looking for an alternative storyline to Mercedes’ domination, the Hungarian Grand Prix provided a welcome tonic.
It was not the case that the contest between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg lacked surprises, drama or controversy – in fact, it had all three.Daniel Ricciardo, who exploited a hectic race to clinch his second victory of the season in dramatic style.
Poor start for Ricciardo
Ricciardo’s race got off to an unpromising start. With the whole field opting for intermediate tyres following a pre-race shower, Ricciardo had the misfortune to start the race off-line, and like Sebastian Vettel in front of him and Felipe Massa behind he lost out to rivals who lined up on the clean side of the track.
So when Rosberg led the field around at the end of lap one he was followed by Valtteri Bottas an Vettel, then two drivers who had passed Ricciardo: Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button.
But within a few laps those lost positions turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Ricciardo. As the track neared the crossover point where slick tyres would be required, the moment to switch was suddenly brought forward when Marcus Ericsson twitched left on the exit kerb at turn four, and hit the barrier head-on with a force of around 20G.
The Safety Car was immediately dispatched which was bad news for the lead quartet, all of which passed the pit lane entry before they had a chance to dive in. The first man in was Jenson Button, followed by Ricciardo, but the McLaren driver was about to drop out of contention.
All the teams were scrutinising their weather radars for signs of further showers. McLaren were the only ones to determine fresh rain was imminent, and sent Button on his way with a fresh set of intermediates. There was a hesitation at the left-rear, and the delay was amplified by the need to hold Button back as other cars trundled past. He was eventually sent out very close to Jean-Eric Vergne, and was fortunate to escape a penalty for an unsafe release.
The four drivers at the head of the field had to complete a lap at reduced speed before making their pit stops, and lost several places as a result. Rosberg’s ten second lead was eradicated and he fell to fifth place, while Bottas plummeted to eleventh from second after a slow stop.
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“I knew that the first Safety Car played into our hands,” Ricciardo explained, “we inherited the lead there”. Indeed he did but following the restart – which was delayed for a few laps after Romain Grosjean crashed at turn four – he immediately dropped behind Button. This was only temporary, however, as the folly of McLaren’s attempt to second-guess the weather quickly became apparent and Button was summoned back in for another set of slicks.
Ricciardo therefore regained the lead on lap 15. He was still there eight laps later when Sergio Perez got greedy with the damp exit kerb at the final corner and battered his Force India against the pit wall. He was unhurt, and although he gave the nearby Red Bull crew a fright they were alert enough to the implications to get Ricciardo into the pits right away. With the Safety Car coming out again the time was right for him to make another pit stop.
Taking on soft tyres at this stage was a gamble. Although theoretically it was the fastest way to the end of the race it relied upon him being able to overtake – not a key strength of the short-on-top speed RB10. “I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen,” said Ricciardo afterwards, though at the time he stayed positive, telling his team on the radio “we can win this”.
Ricciardo was now down in sixth, and ahead of him were several drivers who’d made impressive gains during the first tentative laps on slick tyres while the track was still damp.
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Hamilton makes progress from the pits
Alonso, who had been among the ‘unlucky quartet’ earlier in the race, now led. He had got alongside Vettel at the restart and passed the Red Bull, then took Jean-Eric Vergne and Rosberg as well. Vergne, second, had taken advantage of Rosberg’s delay behind Kevin Magnussen to further demote the Mercedes and was now second. Next was Vettel and then Hamilton – the latter having made astounding progress despite having started in the pits and spun off at the second corner.
Hamilton had been able to pass other cars seemingly at will. He’d just taken 13th off Kimi Raikkonen when the Safety Car first appeared, and when it went back in he overtook four cars in a single lap. Of course the Safety Car had wiped out his time deficit – a considerable piece of fortune given the difficulties of passing at the Hungaroring in dry weather.
On lap 27 the race restarted for the second and final time. Alonso drew clear of Vergne, and Rosberg gave up on his attempt to pass the Toro Rosso on the track, pitting on lap 32. This, Mercedes believed, was too early to cover the remaining 38 laps on one set of tyres, so he would make two stops for softs.
Hamilton, however, produced an inspired overtaking move on Vergne at turn four on lap 34. He then stayed, extending his stint far enough that a single set of medium tyres could get him to the end of the race. When he headed to the pits on lap 38 it was as the race leader – a remarkable turnaround after his enforced pit lane start.
That promoted Ricciardo back into the lead but he still had one more stop to make as well. “We were stayed out pretty long that stint and we were leading a fair chunk of the mid-race but then I knew we weren’t going to get to the end on that set of tyres,” he said.
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“So we had to pit again and that put me back out of position.” His final stop on lap 54 left him fourth behind race leader Alonso and the two Mercedes, Hamilton having jumped ahead of Rosberg thanks to the time he gained by overtaking Vergne.
It was a hard-won place which Hamilton was not about to surrender easily, even as his team asked him to move aside as Rosberg was on a different strategy. Hamilton reasoned doing so would give Rosberg a chance to overtake him for good later on, and as things turned out he was quite correct. What that will do for intra-team harmony is another matter.
Rosberg therefore made his last pit stop two laps after Ricciardo. The Red Bull driver was closing on Hamilton, despite having to grapple with power unit problems at mid-race: “Basically, we were down on power and had to get a bit crazy on the switches, so I thought the race could have potentially ended early but we got through that.”
Three-way fight to the flag
With ten laps to go little more than a second covered leader Alonso on very worn soft tyres, second-placed Hamilton on medium tyres which were almost as worn, and Ricciardo on his much fresher softs. Rosberg, meanwhile, had shot past Raikkonen and Massa using his even fresher tyres and was hurtling towards the lead trio at over two seconds per lap.
With Hamilton trying to use DRS to attack Alonso, Ricciardo lacked a speed advantage to attack the Mercedes with on the straight. Ricciardo’s best chance appeared to be turn two – on lap 65 he tried to hang around the outside of Hamilton at the corner but ran too wide to make it stick.
Two laps later he nailed it – the front-left smoked as he braked alongside Hamilton, and as they reached the exit of the corner Ricciardo was sufficiently far alongside to claim the inside for turn three.
His next target was Alonso. By now the Ferrari’s 30-lap old softs were really struggling, and with no DRS to help him Alonso was defenceless on the main straight. Ricciardo only needed one shot to get the job done – he dived down the inside at turn one and was on his way to a second grand prix victory.
As Alonso struggled more and more desperately, Hamilton tried in vain to find a way past. But as the final lap began his attention was entirely on his rear view mirrors, where Rosberg had now appeared.
Rosberg tried the Ricciardo route around Hamilton at turn two as the final lap but his team mate barred the way and the Hungaroring’s dearth of passing places took care of the rest.
Behind them Massa collected fifth and Raikkonen took his highest points finish of the year with sixth. Vettel slipped to seventh after a lurid spin at the final turn – unlike Perez he kept his car out of the barrier.
Bottas, Vergne and Button completed the points scorers. For the first time this year Nico Hulkenberg was not among them having collided with Perez at the last corner earlier in the race.
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“Everything felt a bit more real”
All three drivers on the podium had good reason to feel proud of their day’s work. Hamilton had recovered from a disastrous Saturday to claim an unlikely podium. Alonso had almost won in a car which didn’t look capable of it.
But, as always seems to be the case for this particular winner, Ricciardo had the broadest smile.
As in Canada, he needed a little luck to get his hands on the winner’s trophy. But that’s probably going to be the case for anyone who isn’t in a Mercedes this year. Once again, he was best-placed to take advantage of their troubles – which is all the more remarkable considering there’s a four-times world champion driving the other car.
“It honestly does compare to Canada,” he said when asked about his second win. “Obviously the first victory is special but it definitely leaves you wanting more.”
“I was just as hungry for this second one and it feels just as good – I won’t say better but you realise it a bit more so if feels like you can enjoy it a bit more. And when I crossed the line, everything felt a bit more real, so I guess I took in a bit more of this one today.”
With the summer break looming, the focus will inevitably shift back to the championship struggle over the next four weeks. But for now the sport has enjoyed yet another smashing race, and Ricciardo has served up another reminder of his driving class.
2014 Hungarian Grand Prix
- Alonso wins close Hungary Driver of the Weekend vote
- Hungarian Grand Prix gets its highest-ever rating
- Mercedes defend Hamilton over team orders call
- 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix team radio transcript
- 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix fans’ video gallery
2014 F1 race reviews
- Hamilton clinches championship in style, Rosberg accepts defeat with dignity
- Rosberg wins, Hamilton spins – but keeps points lead
- Hamilton can cruise to title after tenth win
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- Bianchi’s crash overshadows Suzuka race
Images © Red Bull/Getty, Mercedes/Hoch Zwei