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16 MarchAustralian Grand Prix

30 MarchMalaysian Grand Prix

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Hungarian Grand Prix 2015

The last race before the summer break was the Hungarian Grand Prix. Famous as a borefest of epic proportions, although a driver favourite, hopes of an action-packed race to add to the rather one-sided championship story of 2015 were hard to come by. However, those few optimists were to be vindicated in spectacular fashion.

Obviously we have to start by mentioning the death of Jules Bianchi. Tributes poured in from all over the world after the news broke, and most of the F1 field were at his funeral. For me, the enduring image of this week isn't from Hungary at all, but is the sight of Maldonado and Massa at the funeral, both totally consumed by grief. For my small part, it was a pleasure to write about Jules over the last couple of years and he will be missed.

Friday was dramatic thanks to Force India, Perez' rear suspension collapsing and causing a major roll. Both drivers sat the day out while the team tried to work out what had happened beyond the obvious, and how to fix it. That left them with only FP3 to sort out their setups.

Raikkonen's weekend was similarly problematic, as he lost out on some FP3 running thanks to what at first looked like the mother of all water leaks. Thankfully it wasn't as bad as it had first seemed and he was able to make Q1 without any bother.

Grosjean's woes started in qualifying, complaining of no rear grip as his first flying lap fell some 8 seconds shy of Maldonado's. Eventually both made it into Q2 at the expense of both Manors and both Saubers – Button falling 16th due to an ERS failure which put him on the back foot against Alonso all weekend.

Alonso, for his part, decided to keep things nice and even at McLaren. He reported a problem on the first corner of his first flying lap and was told it wasn't going to affect the car, so carried on. As he came out of T13 the McLaren felt enough was enough and stopped – right in the pit entrance. The red flag was shown while Alonso heroically pushed the car uphill and into the pits, with delayed and limited help from the marshals. Unfortunately the FIA wouldn't let him continue in the session as the car hadn't returned to the pits under its own power. As a result Alonso joined Button on row 8, behind Maldonado and Perez on row 7 and Sainz and Hulkenberg on row 6.

The shootout was a fairly boring affair by comparison, the inevitable Mercedes lockout being led by Hamilton by more than half a second. Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Bottas, Kvyat and Massa sat 3rd-8th behind them, setting up what looked like a good fight between Ferrari, Red Bull – at their strongest of the year so far – and Williams, on the back foot. Verstappen and Grosjean also snuck into the top ten, both beating their teammates fairly soundly.

Aside from Maldonado, the entire field started on the softs, the Lotus instead starting on mediums. Massa had the first start aborted as he was out of position on the grid, earning a 5-second penalty at his first stop – the first of many the stewards had to hand out.

After the second attempt the lights went out and Mercedes had what was later said to be an alright start – Ferrari just did it better. Vettel had the lead by the first apex, while a little more fighting put Raikkonen behind him by the end of the first sector. Rosberg managed to edge out Hamilton as well, while Bottas led Kvyat, Hulkenberg, Perez, Ricciardo and Massa to complete the top ten. Hamilton then threw away 4th as he touched the grass at the chicane, dropping behind Massa to 10th place. Thus began a great fightback – once he got over his attempt to blame Rosberg for the incident.

Ricciardo and Hulkenberg both jumped the cars immediately in front of them, while Manor had to stop Merhi early to fix his headrest which had come loose. It really wasn't a good week for the Manor team.

Now Ricciardo was behind the Russian, Red Bull ordered Kvyat out of the way as the Australian looked the faster of the two. Kvyat protested but obeyed. In the end this wouldn't hurt him at all.

Hamilton muscled his way past Massa, causing a massive oversteer moment for the Williams. A lap later Hamilton repeated the move, cleanly, on Perez. Ricciardo vindicated Red Bull's order by taking Bottas for 4th. The lead Williams and Kvyat pitted on lap 13, starting the first flurry of stops. Grosjean jumped Massa, but was later hit with a 5-second penalty for an unsafe release as he had run side by side with the Williams down the narrow pit lane after leaving his box into the Brazilian's path.

Maldonado set his driver development back in the first crash of the year that was actually his fault – whacking Perez and spinning the Force India, debris going everywhere. Perez recovered fast but had lost places. Maldonado received a drive-through penalty.

Hamilton was pitted before Rosberg, the latter trying to get the undercut against Ferrari. Vettel pitted the lap after Rosberg, Raikkonen a further lap later. The positions remained unchanged.

Hamilton, now fighting Ricciardo for 4th, ran wide behind him and showed how poor the handling of the championship-leading car really was. Eventually the move was made about 10 laps after Hamilton's stop. All he had to do now was overtake his teammate and he would take his 80th podium in his 158th race – exactly as Ayrton Senna had done before him. Alas, it wasn't to be.

Alonso switched to the medium tyre on lap 37 having taken a puncture – presumably from the stones still littering the chicane after Hamilton's first-lap excursion.

Raikkonen's MGU-K started dying, making odd noises and losing the Ferrari some power. Alonso unlapped himself, showing how big the power drop was.

Compounding Force India and Ferrari's woes, Hulkenberg's front wing failed without warning on the pit straight, ploughing the number 27 car into the wall. The VSC was instated before the Safety Car proper was deployed. Marshals cleared Hulkenberg, then swept up the chicane. Perez' wing was changed to ensure no repeat performance from Force India.

Rosberg jumped Raikkonen on the restart, Hamilton falling foul of a textbook restart by Ricciardo and losing 4th to the Red Bull.

Bottas took a puncture after contact with Verstappen's wing, for which the Toro Rosso received a 5-second penalty. In the end those 5 seconds meant nothing.

Hamilton, having slid into the side of Ricciardo and damaged both cars heavily as the Australian overtook him, pitted for a new front wing. He was then given a drive-through penalty for his part in the crash with Ricciardo. Verstappen received the same penalty for speeding behind the Safety Car, while Maldonado was given the same also for speeding in the pit lane. Raikkonen stopped to get his motor restarted in the hope it would fix the glitch – it didn't. He and Perez both retired shortly afterwards.

Somewhere amid the chaos, McLaren had found the time to make their cars work: Alonso was 6th, Button 8th with Grosjean trundling around between them. Sainz then filled the quota for engine problems as he reported power losses from the Renault motor. He would later retire.

Hamilton stole 8th from Button with a DRS-aided move, climbing to 7th after Ricciardo and Rosberg collided. The Red Bull had to get a new wing, but Rosberg had a puncture which dropped him behind his teammate. Thanks to the unscheduled stop for Ricciardo, Kvyat was now once more the lead Red Bull – although he had a 10-second penalty for gaining an advantage while off the track against Hamilton.

The collision between Rosberg and Ricciardo was investigated with no further action taken – presumably because both drivers lost time anyway. Hamilton, the bit between his teeth now his title rival was behind again, overtook Grosjean for 6th. Rosberg followed suit for 8th against Button, but could get no closer to his teammate.

Vettel won a surprisingly quiet, easy drive ahead of the utter carnage that saw Kvyat and Ricciardo complete the podium with Verstappen a comfortable 4th, even with his penalty. Alonso led home Hamilton, Grosjean, Rosberg, Button and Ericsson – Sauber somehow salvaging a point from a poor weekend with an identical car to what had started their season. As always, the Sauber development budget was disappointing.

Nasr led compatriot Massa home outside the points, Maldonado splitting the Williams pair in by far his worst race of the year. Merhi and Stevens both finished. Sainz, Raikkonen, Perez and Hulkenberg all retired, completing the field.

Hamilton now has 202 points against Rosberg's 181 and Vettel's 160. although it is an outside shot, Vettel is still in with a shout of the title.

Unfortunately for Williams fans (and yes, that includes me!) Ferrari's win here probably wrote off any chance of the Grove squad catching up with Maranello's finest in the championship. Mercedes are running away with 383 points, Ferrari behind them on 236. Williams' 151 – some 85 behind Ferrari – is probably too far behind to really recover.

 

Tufty


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