Hamilton’s soft tyre preservation key in Hungarian victory
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton claimed a dominant victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix, having been quickest during free practice and qualifying. Hamilton’s qualifying pace had allowed the driver to preserve a set of soft compound Pirelli P Zero Yellow tyres for racing on the Sunday; the McLaren built a lead in the first part of the race, before using the particularly narrow Hungaroring’s lack of overtaking opportunities to defend from the Lotus team in the rest of the race. Hamilton’s two-stop strategy was enough to claim victory by one second heading into the mid-season break. Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, leading the championship with great recent form finished fifth after qualifying sixth, thus increasing his lead of the drivers’ championship to 40 points, as his nearest rivals at Red Bull were only able to finish fourth (Sebastian Vettel) and eighth (Mark Webber). Nine races remain, with Alonso 40 points ahead of a chasing pack of four – Webber, Vettel, Hamilton and Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen.
The top 10 all started the race on the P Zero Yellow soft tyre, which was nominated along with the P Zero White medium tyre for Hungary. Webber was the highest-placed driver to start on the medium tyre, having qualified 11th and finishing eighth. The only other drivers starting on the White medium compound were the two Marussias and the HRT of Pedro de la Rosa.
Hamilton went in front from the beginning and pitted from the lead on lap 18, handing the advantage to Lotus’ Romain Grosjean – who qualified second – but regained it when the Frenchman’s stop lasted slightly longer. Hamilton’s final stop for his second set of mediums took place on lap 40, putting Raikkonen briefly into the lead. After a very strong second 25-lap stint on the soft tyre, where he leapfrogged three cars, Raikkonen’s strategy put him into second overall ahead of his team mate Grosjean following the final stops. With 20 laps to go and fresher P Zero White medium tyres, Raikkonen began to reel in Hamilton, setting up another grandstand finish to chase the Englishman all the way to the finish. Grosjean finished third to make it two Lotus cars on the podium.
The top three all selected two-stop strategies, with Hamilton doing one stint on the softs and two on the mediums, whereas the Lotus drivers both did two stints on the soft and one on the medium. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel was the highest-placed driver to use a three-stop strategy, finishing fourth and setting the fastest lap of the race with the P Zero Yellow. McLaren’s Jenson Button and Red Bull’s Mark Webber were also three-stoppers, finishing sixth and eighth respectively.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “Because of the mixed conditions up to today, the teams were still lacking dry running with the soft tyre on full fuel heading into the race, so they all started with a number of question marks. The degradation on both compounds proved to be good, with only a few tenths of a second per lap difference between the soft and the medium tyres, which gave the teams a number of options in terms of strategy and allowed them to take a flexible approach.
“Lewis Hamilton’s pace in qualifying meant that he was able to save a set of soft tyres for the race, which he made the most of to pull out an impressive lead – although he had to fight to keep it at the end. As usual we saw that overtaking was very difficult at the tight Hungaroring, meaning that the teams tried to use pit stop strategy to get past their rivals. The variety of strategies meant that we had a very close finish once again, despite the fact that cars following each other closely tend to increase tyre wear, as they slide more in the dirty air. We’ve had an unforgettable first half to the 2012 season, with one of the closest starts ever where the tyres have definitely made a difference, so we’re already looking forward to the rest of the year.”