In 1997, Damon Hill looked set for an entirely unheralded victory for Arrows in the Hungarian Grand Prix, having endured up until that point a desultory season as reigning F1 World Champion. The 1996 title-winner may have ultimately agonisingly come up one lap short due to throttle linkage failure. Twelve years on, and following a similarly soul-destroying campaign, Lewis Hamilton has gone one better – with his first triumph of the year in Budapest.
Having not been up on the podium all year – indeed, having scored just nine points prior to arriving at the Hungaroring this weekend – the result marked a remarkable turnaround for a driver and team who in winter testing had lagged a gaping 2.5 seconds shy of the leading pace. Jenson Button step aside – Lewis Hamilton is back in the building.
In taking the chequered flag a lowly seventh, indeed, the world championship leader saw his margin atop the drivers' standings further reduced as Mark Webber came home third for Red Bull Racing, though he at least had some respite as Sebastian Vettel dropped out with accident damage, reversing the positions of the two energy drinks-backed challengers in the chase for the coveted crown and putting the Australian in the driving seat for the for time since Shanghai back in April.
The podium was completed by Kimi Raikkonen in second, providing a welcome shot in the arm for Ferrari following team-mate Felipe Massa's terrible accident the previous day during qualifying. The only talking-point afterwards in the paddock, though, was that the man who had written off his chances of successfully defending his title, the man who some had predicted would not even succeed in ascending the podium at all in 2009, is back – and standing proud up on the top step.
Fernando Alonso made a textbook getaway when the starting lights went out and went on to edge away at the front of the field, as Webber and Hamilton went at it for second place into turn one, with the former getting the verdict, but only after his British rival dived down the inside and over-shot the exit, consequently falling back into third as the German Grand Prix winner stole the advantage back again.
Vettel, meanwhile, paid the price for a poor start from the dirty side of the front row of the grid, and as the KERS-equipped Raikkonen made up ground, the Finn got his Ferrari sideways on the exit of turn one, tagging the Red Bull Racing into the process and forcing Vettel to get off the throttle and slip back to seventh place, reporting possible front wing damage into the bargain. The Finn, for his part, would be investigated for his move 'after the race'.
Elsewhere at the front of the field as the KERS cars upset the applecart every bit as much as they had threatened to, Raikkonen slotted into fourth ahead of Nico Rosberg – the Williams star maintaining his qualifying position – Heikki Kovalainen in the second McLaren-Mercedes and the frustrated Vettel, with title pace-setter Button similarly ceding ground and dropping to ninth behind Kazuki Nakajima and just ahead of the fast-starting Jarno Trulli in the first of the two Toyotas. As has been something of a hallmark of his season, though, the Briton would rapidly set about making amends, diving assertively down the inside of his Williams rival into turn one at the beginning of lap two – but the leaders were getting away.
The complexion of the top three, however, would change four laps in, when Hamilton forced his way artfully past Webber into turn two after making the New South Wales native defend on the tighter inside line, getting a better run out of the corner and slicing back up the inside again to make the move stick. Off in pursuit of his former team-mate in the lead, the McLaren ace immediately set about reducing the deficit to Alonso and eating into the Spaniard's 2.5-second lead with a succession of fastest laps – leaving Webber to deal with fending off the attentions of the earnest Raikkonen behind.
There was drama, however, a handful of laps later, when the increasingly under-pressure Alonso – complaining of graining on his tyres – pitted a couple of laps earlier than expected, with his drop-off in pace having backed the pack up to such an extent that the top four were by now covered by just four seconds. There was disaster, however, when the man from Oviedo was erroneously released before his front right tyre had been fully fitted. With the wheel cover coming loose on his 'out' lap, only moments later the inevitable happened as the errant tyre detached itself from the car, leaving Alonso with three wheels on his wagon and with no choice but to tour back to the pits and into retirement, with too much aerodynamic damage to his R29 to be able to continue.