There may be dozens of buttons on a Formula 1 steering wheel these days, but there is only one Button behind the wheel – and Jenson had all the answers to head home Sebastian Vettal and Fernando Alonso as a treacherous Hungaroring provided a stern examination of all the drivers’ talent.
The 2011 FIA Formula 1 World Championship has reached its mid-season break – and the team going off on holiday with all the momentum behind it is McLaren.
It may still be 103 points adrift of Red Bull, but Jenson Button’s victory in Hungary on Sunday was the team’s second in a row and its third in five races.
Button celebrated his 200th Grand Prix start in the best possible way, demonstrating his fabled lightness of touch on a wet and slippery track to take his second win of the season and the 10th of his 12-year career.
No wonder the elated Englishman came on the radio on his slow-down lap and said: “Let’s go off on the summer break then come back and win them all.”
A few hours later the official wording was amended to read: “The team can enter the summer break with a spring in its step. We know we have a good car, so let’s enjoy our holidays and come back even stronger at Spa-Francorchamps. I’m excited about that race already.” But the message to Red Bull was still perfectly clear: watch out, we’re after you.
On a day when the 24 drivers made 88 pit stops amongst them in the search for the right Pirelli rubber for the constantly changing conditions, Button came in three times, the last one on lap 42 of 70. He then nursed the McLaren beautifully – despite concerns over his front left tyre – to win by three-and-a-half seconds from Championship leader Sebastian Vettel in the first Red Bull.
The German also pitted three times but had another eventful day in tricky conditions that tended to punish any off-line adventures heavily. In the end he could be well pleased with an exercise in damage limitation that saw him extend his title lead to 85 points.
“The McLarens are strong in all sorts of conditions and it’s clear that for two races now they have made a step forward; we need to make sure we come back strong for the next race,” said Vettel, who has not won in the last three races.
Fernando Alonso needed four stops on his way to third place in another race that saw the Spaniard’s Ferrari duel excitingly with Australia’s Mark Webber in the second Red Bull. “For us, I think it was a fantastic July month because I think we are still the drivers that have scored more points in July, in these three races, with three different conditions, three different tracks. We are happy and I think the team did a step forward,” insisted Alonso.
In the long run five stops, including a gamble on intermediates that didn’t quite pay off when threatened rain did not arrive, cost Webber the chance of another podium.
“it looks stupid in hindsight when the track dries out, but if it had rained strong enough for another few minutes, then it would have been the right tyre,” said Webber after finishing fifth. “So, it’s a fine line and to get yourself back in the game sometimes you have to role a dice. I’m fine with the decision I made, it’s on my head and the team did a good job this weekend.”
Webber retains second place in the title race with 149 points but Hamilton is now just three points behind and Alonso four with Button firmly back on the radar on 134.
Between Alonso and Webber was German GP winner Lewis Hamilton in the second McLaren. The 2008 World Champion had looked on course for back-to-back victories of his own but the crucial moment in his race came when he earned a drive-through penalty for his reaction to a half-spin. Doing the F1 equivalent of a handbrake turn, Hamilton obliged Paul di Resta’s Force India to take to the grass and as the regulations state that you cannot force another driver off-track in any circumstances the stewards felt they had to act.
“I’m disappointed in myself for spinning,” Hamilton explained. “I had to do a doughnut to get myself facing the right way and that forced Paul onto the grass, which is why I got the drive-through penalty. I’ve apologised to Paul and I’ll put the penalty behind me and move on to the next race.”
Hamilton consoled himself with an opportunistic dive past Webber to snatch fourth when the Australian ran into late-race traffic. Felipe Massa set fastest race lap of 1:23.415 on his way to sixth in the second Ferrari, while di Resta could take great pleasure in a fine seventh for Force India ahead of Toro Rosso’s Sébastien Buemi, who made light of the five-place grid penalty he earned in Germany. Red Bull’s sister team had both cars in the points as Jaime Alguersuari came 10th behind Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.
Surprisingly the difficult conditions did not cause a raft of retirements. The most illustrious of the four non-finishers was Michael Schumacher with a gearbox failure on his Mercedes. The most spectacular was Nick Heidfeld, who had just cleared the end of pit lane when his Renault’s engine began to disintegrate, eventually blowing the left-hand side of the car out as the German driver leapt for safety.
“His second pit stop was held up after a problem with one of the wheels, and the car is not designed to stay running on high revs for so long so it caught fire,” explained Team Principal Eric Boullier.
The other non-finishers were also Renault-powered, the Lotus duo of Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli, back in the seat after making way for Karun Chandhok in Germany.
The next round is at the magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit on August 28.
1. Vettel 234 points
2. Webber 149
3. Hamilton 146
4. Alonso 145
5. Button 134
6. Massa 70
1. Red Bull Racing 383 points
2. McLaren-Mercedes 280
3. Ferrari 215