McLaren’s Jenson Button emerged the fairy tale victor in his 200th Grand Prix, after a gripping Hungarian race had seen Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton take turns leading early on before the 2009 champion pushed irresistibly to the fore.
Vettel led the first four laps on a track made super-slippery by drizzle, but had no answer to the forceful Hamilton who pushed ahead on the fifth as the German ran wide in Turn Two. Button jumped Vettel when they switched to slicks on Laps 11 and 12. For the next 29 laps Hamilton seemed a shoe-in for the victory with Button riding shotgun and keeping Vettel under control.
But when Hamilton pitted on Lap 40 he took another set of super-soft tyres, whereas Button, and the Red Bull drivers (Mark Webber on Lap 39, Vettel on 41), went for the more durable softs and a better chance of making it to the finish without another stop.
Then it began to rain a little again, and suddenly Button was first after Hamilton half spun in a chicane on the 47th and lost what had been a 5.6s lead. Worse, however, as he spun himself back into second place Hamilton unwittingly forced Paul di Resta to take avoiding action which badly delayed the Scot’s Force India which was in strong contention for a top-seven finish.
As Button’s race suddenly came alive, Hamilton’s fell to pieces. He regained the lead from Button on Lap 51, then pitted at the end of Lap 52 after he and Button had passed and repassed one another in a frenzied but clean duel. Now, however, like Webber on Lap 51, Hamilton opted for intermediate tyres, but it was a mistake as it started to dry again. Both had to stop yet again for soft tyres, on lap 54, and Lewis had a final stop to serve a drive-through penalty on Lap 56 for the incident with Di Resta.
Button, meanwhile sailed serenely on, delighted with the call to switch to the soft tyres and his determination to resist a pit call to stop for intermediates on the lap that Hamilton did. As Vettel experienced minor brake problems in the closing stages, Button was thus able to stroke it home to a brilliant 11th triumph that was in many ways reminiscent of his first, in similar conditions, here back in 2006.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso recovered from having to chase the fast-starting Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher at the start, then getting trapped for a while behind Webber’s Red Bull, as a four-stop strategy helped him through to a solid podium finish.
Behind the Spaniard, Hamilton overtook Webber on the 63rd lap to salvage something from an ultimately disappointing afternoon, leading the Australian home by just under a second and a half.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa was a lonely sixth after an early spin, with Di Resta taking an excellent seventh a comfortable distance ahead of the remains of a huge battle for eighth. This eventually fell to Sebastien Buemi, who had started his Toro Rosso 23rd, as the Swiss fended off Rosberg to the line.
Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari had been in this scrap too, together with Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, and the lapped Force India of Adrian Sutil and Sauber’s Sergio Perez, but half spun trying to pass Kobayashi in Turn One shortly before the Japanese driver stopped for fresh rubber. The Spaniard quickly recovered for 10th place, making it a good day for Franz Tost’s team, with Kobayashi taking 11th ahead of Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, Rubens Barrichello’s Williams, Sutil and Perez, and Williams’ Pastor Maldonado.
Neither Lotus finished, while Nick Heidfeld’s Renault came to a fiery halt just after a pit stop when an exhaust caught fire. The German was unharmed. Schumacher also failed to finish, spinning on the exit to Turn Two after tagging Massa as they fought over sixth.
That left Timo Glock to bring his Virgin home 17th ahead of Daniel Riccardo’s HRT, Jerome D’Ambrosio who half spun his Virgin in the pit road, and Tonio Liuzzi who lost a whole load of time on the opening lap that he could never thereafter make up for HRT.
Vettel extends his world championship points lead with 234, while Webber remains second on 149, with Hamilton third on 146, Alonso fourth on 145 and Button closing in again with 134. Red Bull’s lock on the constructors’ championship shows no sign of waning with 383 points to McLaren’s 280 and Ferrari’s 215.