Lewis Hamilton proved that miracles can and occasionally still do happen in F1, as he put his tyres woes in Germany behind him with an impressive run on Sunday to claim victory in the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix. In doing so, Hamilton clinched his first win for his new team Mercedes at the same time as equalling Michael Schumacher's record of four wins at the Hungaroring and earned his 22nd career Grand Prix victory.
A strong start was vital for Hamilton's hopes, but after that it was a case of brains as much as raw race pace that allowed Mercedes to control the unfolding proceedings, as glitches on the Red Bull and traffic on the circuit held up Sebastian Vettel's attempts to get back on an even footing at the front with Hamilton until he was forced to concentrate instead on scrapping unsuccessfully for second place with Lotus F1's Kimi Raikkonen.
Despite temperatures approaching 38C (100F), the cars ironically still had had to weave their way around the 2.722-mile circuit in order to get their tyres up to operating temperature in time for the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix, with the front four rows all starting the race on the fast but short-lived soft option tyres.
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton put them to good use and when the race got underway he was racing down to turn 1 before Sebastian Vettel had a chance to counterattack. The Red Bull was disadvantaged by being on the dirty side of the grid and barely held on to second place from a determined but well-handled lunge by Romain Grosjean in the Lotus.
Hamilton's team mate Nico Rosberg also had a sniff at overtaking but instead fell foul to a dazzling move around the outside from Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari, leaving Rosberg fighting off Alonso's team mate Felipe Massa. He ran off the track twice in the process which did damage to his Mercedes and ended up dropping him out of the top ten altogether by the time he recovered. Massa sustained some front wing damage to his car in the exchange, but not serious enough to require a pit stop for a replacement.
Hamilton used all of this activity going on behind him to ease his way into a one second lead over the still-distracted Vettel by the end of the first lap. While Grosjean was unable to make any in-roads passing Vettel, he could at least take comfort in knowing that the trio were quickly moving comfortably clear of Alonso and Massa behind him, with Kimi Raikkonen up to six ahead of Mark Webber - who's opted to start on the harder medium tyres - and Jenson Button up into eighth place in the McLaren after a flying start that had put him ahead of Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo and his own team mate Sergio Perez who was holding position in tenth.
With things settling down after the frantic, the anxious faces on pit road were awaiting the next significant moment of the race - the first round of pit stops. Mercedes' tyre management hasn't been the best in 2013 and they had also admitted that they were on the back foot after missing the Silverstone test of the new Pirelli tyres being introduced from this Grand prix in response to the series of high profile blow-outs seen at in the British GP in June. The question is, how long could Hamilton make his first set of tyres last - and would it be far enough to keep him in contention?
Sure enough, Hamilton was on pit road before anyone else and swapped to the more durable medium rubber at the end of lap 9; he exited pit road and resumed in eighth place immediately behind his old McLaren team mate Jenson Button, who was obliging enough not to impede him too long or make him work too hard to get by - which proved crucial when Vettel responded too laps later. The Red Bull came out behind not only Hamilton but also behind Button, who was already on the medium tyres and not in any hurry to make a stop just yet. Nor did he appear as ready to yield the position to Vettel as he had been to Hamilton.
Alonso lasted until the end of lap 12 before needing to relieve himself of the shredded first set of soft option tyres, and the two Lotus double-stacked on pit road next time around. That left the still-to-stop Mark Webber minding the store on his medium tyres still five seconds ahead of Hamilton, with Button in third place still stubbornly resisting Vettel's advances, one of which resulted in slight front wing damage to the front wing of the RB9. To add to Red Bull driver's headaches, there was an issue with his KERS and he was also being warned by the pit wall to get out of the McLaren's dirty air in order to cool the car down. All the time, Grosjean was behind him just waiting for any opportunity to apply some DRS in order to pounce on one or both of them.
With Hamilton bearing down on him, Webber came in from the lead at the end of lap 23 for a new set of medium tyres, emerging in sixth place. That called time on all the cars that had started on a set of mediums and Button was due in next time around for his own change clearly struggling on the worn set - so much so that Vettel was able to jump ahead of the McLaren through turn 4 before Button could get back to pit road. Grosjean felt he could follow the German through, but he failed to leave enough space on he outside for Button and the two banged wheels in a heavy contact undoing all that good work by the Briton as Fernando Alonso was also able to stream past the pair while they sorted themselves out.
Button pitted next time around and reported no significant damage to his car - proving it by punching in some fastest laps once he resumed in eighth position, ironically immediately behind his sparring partner Grosjean who'd also been forced into a rapid second stop for a checkover and new tyre. The Frenchman was also under investigation by the race stewards for causing an avoidable collision, but before any word came down Grosjean pulled off a spectacular move around the outside of Felipe Massa up the hill into turn 4 to pick up sixth spot. Button fancied some of the same action and on lap 32 he pulled off a nice move of his own on the Ferrari at the chicane, with Massa clearly struggling for grip on worn tyres and forced to pit next time by for a fresh set.
This latest turn of events meant that Hamilton was enjoying an expectedly cushy 12 second lead over Vettel, with Alonso unable to pull up closer to Vettel than six seconds. But Hamilton was due for this own second stop of the afternoon, which dropped him down to fourth place slotting in behind Webber in third place; his fresh set of tyres made easy work of Webber, and after seeing this both Vettel and Alonso opted to bail into pit road before they could became the next target for the storming Mercedes.
Hamilton was back in the lead, while Vettel's latest stop had dropped him to sixth right behind Jenson Button for the second time today. Fortunately for Vettel, Button was in for his own stop at the end of lap 38 and Vettel then picked up an extra position when word came that Grosjean had indeed been handed a drive-thru penalty - not for the clash with Button which would be reviewed after the race, but rather for putting all four wheels off the track in his successful pass on Massa a few laps later.
Grosjean wasn't the only driver on the naughty step, with Nico Hülkenberg also handed a drive-thru for speeding on pit lane. He was the only Sauber driver left in the race by this stage, Esteban Guttiérrez having retired on lap 30 with a drivetrain issue. His was the second retirement of the day, after Adrian Sutil, had ended his 100th Grand Prix on lap 20 after a hydraulics leak on the Force India consigned him to the garage for the remainder of the afternoon. Valtteri Bottas was the next to exit on lap 45, pulling his smoking Williams off onto the grass verge at the exit of the final corner.
With 25 laps remaining, Lewis Hamilton was still in control of the race and Sebastian Vettel was 15s behind after a new round of pit stops for Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, while Jenson Button was in sixth still scrapping with the ever-feisty Grosjean, who finally put a nice and clean move on the McLaren with the help of a dab of DRS on lap 50.
That coincided with Hamilton's final pit stop, which put him back out on track side-by-side with Mark Webber for second place. Webber won the initial encounter but Hamilton quickly struck back at turn 3 which saw Webber fly clear off the side of the track in order to avoid a collision. The Red Bull quickly resumed, but the battle for second was now concluded.
Vettel handed over the lead when it came time for his final pit stop on lap 56, putting him over 10 seconds behind Hamilton when he resumed in third place immediately behind Raikkonen, who proved impervious to being passed despite being on significantly older rubber. Webber's final stop dropped him back into line just ten seconds off the back of his team mate in fourth, comfortably ahead of Fernando Alonso who was being harried by Romain Grosjean.
A dramatic retirement for Nico Rosberg on lap 65 with the back of his Mercedes ablaze with an engine oil fire would have been a sobering reminder to Lewis Hamilton that as good as things looked heading into the climax of the race, it could all change in an instant. The Mercedes pit wall redoubled their scrutiny of the telemetry from the race leader and upped their stream of advice to Hamilton over the team radio to help him micromanage his car's engine temperature to avert any similar
Despite the scare, Hamilton's car lasted the distance and triumphantly claimed the chequered flag, while Kimi Raikkonen's seemingly impossible task of holding on to second place on worn tyres proved a success and saw him finished in second ahead of Sebastian Vettel, with Webber coming in behind after a series of 'fail' messages form the Red Bull pit wall had blunted his hopes of closing up on his team mate by the finish.
Fernando Alonso succeeded in narrowly holding off Romain Grosjean to the line for fifth, with Button, Massa, Perez and Maldonado rounding out the remainder of the points positions. Sauber's Nico Hülkenberg was left on the outside looking in after his peeding penalty, together with Toro Rosso's Jean Eric-Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo who had put in a rather anonymous run all afternoon. Two laps off the lead lap at the short Hungaroring were the remaining backmarkers, with Giedo van der Garde claiming the honours with 14th place ahead of Caterham team mate Charles Pic and the Marussias of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton after a late retirement sidelined Paul di Resta and meant the second race in a row that Force India have failed to score any points.
That's a gloomy way to go into the month-long August break before the next Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps on August 25. By contrast, the celebrations for Mercedes and for Lewis Hamilton will likely last long into the night in Budapest as they celebrate would could be a pivotal breakthrough moment in the 2013 world championship if they're to bring the battle to Red Bull's door in the second half of the season.See full race results from Hungary.