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David Tremayne: Lewis springs a surprise

31 July 2013

In his latest exclusive feature on Crash.net, David Tremayne - three time Guild of Motoring Writers Journalist of the Year Award winner and multi-award winning F1 author - takes a look back over the Hungarian Grand Prix and a surprise win for Lewis Hamilton…

Okay, so who foresaw Lewis Hamilton's extraordinary victory in the 50 degrees C track temperature of the Hungaroring?

Exactly. Not even he did, or Mercedes. After taking a surprise pole position he said it would take a miracle for the W04 to win, and a miracle is exactly what it was. It was the turnaround of the season, and all the more satisfying for Mercedes as it hammered the opposition that had prevented it from testing the revised Pirelli tyres at the recent Young Driver Test at Silverstone.

What was highly significant is that despite the massive track temperatures Hamilton said it was his first race of the year when his rubber gave him zero cause for concern. That bodes well for a car that works everywhere but has hitherto preferred cooler temperatures, and to which the new tyres proved surprisingly and serendipitously well suited.

There was evidence in qualifying that this was not the case for Lotus, hitherto the king of the high temperature running. It should have won here last year and probably would have been 1-2 given another lap, and it should have won this year, too.

But Romain Grosjean got beaten up at the start by a super aggressive Vettel going down to turn one, then after their first stops to ditch the soft tyres the German and the Frenchman got stuck with him behind Jenson Button's yet-to-stop McLaren which had started on mediums. Along the way Grosjean had pulled a beautiful righteous pass on Felipe Massa round the outside in Turn 4, and it was harsh that the stewards deemed it worthy of a drive through because that ruined his race. Ironically, he should have got one for his impetuous pass of Button which saw contact; instead that only got a 20s time penalty afterwards.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, lost the race on Saturday when he only qualified sixth; curiously the new tyres didn't work the front end of his E21 as well as the old ones had, but the car was still good enough to let him get away with a two-stop strategy where Hamilton and Vettel needed three and his second place was richly deserved.

Red Bull was hampered mainly by poor straight-line speed because of the team's set-up priorities and focus on medium corner grip, but the RB9 was still quick and still a very dangerous opponent. That's exactly what makes a championship-winning car; on the days when you can't win, you still score well.

Ferrari can no longer disguise that it has reached crisis point. Alonso spoke of the need to go happy into the summer. He hasn't. The fact is the F138 was uncompetitive in qualifying and the race. At least James Allison is on the horizon as chassis technical director, with Pat Fry becoming director of engineering, but the effect of the changes may come too late to save the title challenge.

There were signs of improvement chez McLaren, and Jenson Button was bubbling about his prospects of a podium at Spa. Seventh and ninth places at least brought it back within a point of upstart Force India, whose drop-off from Nurburgring continued here. It was another hugely disappointing race for Toro Rosso too, after Daniel Ricciardo's great qualifying effort, but signs of renaissance at Williams were finally rewarded with a desperately needed point for Pastor Maldonado's 10th.

Ultimately the race was about how spectacularly well Mercedes alleviated its tyre degradation issues, and how well overall the revised tyres withstood the searing heat without the slightest suggestion of any of the dramas of Silverstone. Both factors were highly impressive.