3 August 2008
Hungary 2008: Kovalainen joins 100 club.
Finnish drivers have always enjoyed success in the Hungarian Grand Prix – referring to it as their 'home' race – and Heikki Kovalainen made sure that tradition was maintained in the 2008 edition, as like subsequent world champions Damon Hill and Fernando Alonso before him, he secured the maiden victory of his fledgling Formula 1 career in Budapest.
The 26-year-old's success – in only his 28th start in the top flight – saw him become the 100th different driver to triumph in a grand prix, and made it seven different winners in the past seven years around the demanding Hungaroring. Though the result was merited, however, it only came following ill-fortune for McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton and late-race heartbreak for Ferrari's Felipe Massa…
With five previous Hungarian Grand Prix winners in the field and memories of Kovalainen and Hamilton's energetic first lap scrap at Silverstone last month – in which they had briefly touched wheels through Copse Corner – still fresh in everyone's minds as the drivers sat on the starting grid, the tension was certainly mounting, but few probably expected what would happen once the five red lights went out.
Kovalainen suffered for being on the dirty side of the grid as Massa breezed past the Finn from the second row, and much to McLaren's shock, the Ferrari – its wheels locked in a haze of tyre smoke – went bravely all the way around the outside of pole-sitter Hamilton into the first turn too, making the move stick in a supremely gutsy display that helped to erase the memory of the rather easier manner in which the Brazilian had let the world championship leader past in the closing stages of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim a fortnight earlier.
Behind the leading trio, Timo Glock made up a spot into fourth in the Toyota, followed by BMW-Sauber's Robert Kubica and Fernando Alonso, with defending F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen's lacklustre form this weekend continuing as he fell back a place down to seventh.
Behind them, Nelsinho Piquet made a bright getaway to gain two positions up to eighth in the sister Renault – only to subsequently lose them again to Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli over the course of a scrappy first lap – whilst Sebastian Vettel went briefly off-piste in the Scuderia Toro Rosso, as he and the man he will replace at Red Bull Racing next year, David Coulthard, got a little too close for comfort and the two duelling Hondas traded places during an energetic opening tour.
Whilst Hamilton was keeping pace with Massa at the front, Kovalainen had dropped four seconds within three laps, though the Finn would go on to stabilise the gap as the opening phase of the grand prix wore on. Behind the second McLaren, Glock was running a lonely but no less impressive fourth, under no threat from Kubica behind as the leaders began to spread out around the circuit and Alonso continued to frustrate Raikkonen's intentions.
Eight laps in and Massa had extended his advantage to two seconds – though with suspicions he was running somewhat lighter than his pursuer – whilst one of the closest on-track battles was being waged between Webber and Trulli for the final points-paying position.
Fastest lap for Massa on lap 15 stretched the lead to more than three seconds, with Kovalainen a further six seconds in arrears and the increasingly impressive Glock still keeping well in touch with his McLaren quarry, ahead of Kubica, Alonso and Raikkonen all disputing fifth place more than ten seconds behind the Toyota.
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