A champagne-soaked Lewis Hamilton beamed with satisfaction after producing a trademark triumph of perfectly-controlled pace and panache to win Sunday’s sweltering Hungarian Grand Prix.
The defending three-time world champion finished comfortably ahead of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg with a measured drive that enabled him to replace the German as leader of this year’s world title race for the first time.
After 11 of this year’s 21 races, Hamilton has increased his points total to 192 points, six more than Rosberg, now second on 186, with Australian Daniel Ricciardo moving up to third after he secured his third podium finish in the heat at the Hungaroring.
The 31-year-old Briton, who has reeled off five wins in six races, outpaced the German off the grid and then controlled the 70-laps contest with a mixture of speed and flawless judgement in stifling conditions.
His victory completed a hat-trick of successes in consecutive races, was his outright record fifth in Hungary, his fifth of the season and the 48th of his career. For Rosberg, it was a disappointment as he lost the momentum that had started with his season-opening victory in Melbourne.
“The start was everything,” said Hamilton. “I got a good start and one of the Red Bulls was inside me so I was pressurised a lot into Turn One, but I was able to hang on.
“This is a great result for the team. What a day! The traffic was difficult to navigate, but it was an amazing race. A special thank you to the fans – you make this such a great event.”
Rosberg, who started from pole position after a controversial fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying when he drove through waved double yellow flags without slowing significantly, came home second. He faced a stewards’ inquiry, but escaped a penalty.
Aussie racer Ricciardo was a strong third for Red Bull ahead of fourth-placed four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari and Dutch teenager Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull.
“It was all down to the start in the end,” admitted Rosberg. With Daniel on one side and Lewis on the other I was out of space and that was it really. It’s not possible to pass on this track – and that was it.
“We have the next race coming up very quickly and it is my home race next weekend, the German Grand Prix, so bring it on...”
Rosberg was initially so disappointed at his result that he forgot to go to the post-race news conference, before being reminded.
On the podium, where Hamilton skipped with joy, the defending three-time champion had to slap Rosberg’s back to congratulate him before the pair shook hands.
It was Rosberg’s first podium finish in Hungary while for Ricciardo it was a third. “It’s great to have another podium this year,” he said. “The first one was a bitter-sweet one, but this I can definitely enjoy – my smile is back now!
“There were moments where we looked competitive, compared to Mercedes,” he added. “I think once the first stint settled they had a bit more pace than us, but at the start of the second stint, with the softs, we seemed really competitive but in the end it looked like Mercedes were doing what they needed to do and their pace got stronger and stronger.
“There were parts of the race where we thought we were quicker, but they were able to turn up the volume! And that was it, unfortunately.”
Finn Kimi Raikkonen was sixth in the second Ferrari ahead of the two Spaniards, two-time champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda and Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso, Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams and German Nico Hulkenberg who was 10th for Force India.
“Awesome race Lewis, mega-result,” said his Mercedes engineer on team radio. “Well done mate. Fantastic drive.”
Hamilton responded generously. “As always, thank you guys, so much, for your had work all weekend. This is a great result for the team.”
Non-executive Mercedes director Niki Lauda kept a straight face when questioned about Hamilton’s almost uncanny ability to retain sufficient pace to win without making life easier for Rosberg as he fought to stay ahead of Ricciardo.
Hamilton, who faces possible penalties in the future for taking additional engines after an early-season run of power-unit failures, admitted he was focused on looking after his car in the race.
“It was hard from the beginning to the end, but it’s a perfect result for the team, perfect for Lewis…. I can’t say anymore,” said Lauda.
Former F1 racing driver now commentator Briton Martin Brundle drew comparisons with four-time champion Frenchman Alain Prost, who was famed for conserving his car and tyres.
On the weekend of 30th anniversary celebrations for the first Hungarian Grand Prix in 1986, Hamilton’s victory was only the 14th by a driver starting from pole position.
For another Briton, the luckless 2009 champion Jenson Button, it was a different story. He lost hydraulic pressure on his McLaren Honda and, with it, his brakes, finally retiring in the closing laps.
“Pedal’s going to the floor,” he told the team. “What’s the problem?” Immediately, they told him “do not shift, do not shift,” a radio message for which Button was penalised with a drive-through penalty.
“A race from hell, this is going to be,” he added, before a tyre stop. “So, the brake pedal going to the floor isn’t a safety issue?” asked Button, drawing attention to the controversial restricted radio communications regulations.
They and the inconsistency on interpretation of reactions to waved yellow flags created debate after the race and are sure to provoke another clarification from the sport’s ruling body, the International Motoring Federation (FIA), before this week’s upcoming German showdown at Hockenheim.
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