Monday, 27 July 2009

Hamilton shines at the Hungaroring while Raikkonen gets Ferrari their third podium of the year

After a very dismal start to the season, reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton finally seems to have turned around his fortunes as he took the top step of the podium at the Hungaroring. Before the last race at the Nurburgring, McLaren-Mercedes introduced a host of new upgrades to the car and those upgrades did seem to be working. It was only an unfortunate tyre puncture in the opening moments of the German Grand Prix that spoiled Hamilton's race. However, that would not be the case in Hungary as the Briton drove a beautiful race to get his first podium and race victory since the 2008 Chinese Grand Prix.

Starting from 4th, Hamilton made very good use of his KERS to get into 3rd place and then pull a brilliant overtaking move on Webber on lap 2 to move up to 2nd. Sebastian Vettel, who started from 2nd, was immediately jumped by his team mate and then by Hamilton followed by Rosberg and Raikkonen as well. By the time Vettel was approaching turn 2 on the opening lap, he was down in 7th place. The young German eventually was forced to retire at around lap 25 due to a front suspension failure.

Up front though, Fernando Alonso made a good start from pole and because he was very light on fuel, he was pulling away from the rest of the field at almost half a second per lap before Hamilton started catching him. The McLaren was managing the tyres very well while Alonso was struggling with graining. That meant by lap 6 or 7, Hamilton had already made up about 3 or 4 seconds and was now right on Alonso's tail.

The lone Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen also was managing the tyres very well and was by then up into 4th place. Raikkonen, like Hamilton, also used his KERS well to get a very aggressive start. After that, he continued to put in some blistering laps and was catching up with Webber in front of him. Mark Webber's Red Bull was the only car among the front runners to have started with the prime (soft) tyres on, which are the harder of the two tyre compounds. All the other cars around him were on the super-soft option tyres, and were thus posting faster lap times.

With his rear tyres now graining badly, Alonso had to make his first pit stop very early on lap 11. This was another very quick pit stop, indicating that the Spaniard was on a three-stop strategy. However, coming out of the pits, it was shown on the television replays that his front right wheel had not been attached properly. About halfway around his outlap, the wheel came off entirely and that pretty much meant race over for Alonso after starting from pole. His front suspension was damaged which forced him to retire at around lap 13. It was this incident because of which, after the race, the race stewards felt that Renault had breached the safety regulations by failing to take any action once they found out about Alonso's loose wheel. As a result, Renault had been banned from the next round of the World Championship at Valencia, which is hosting the European Grand Prix.

Raikkonen and Webber both made their first pit stops at the same time, at around lap 19. A little mistake by the Red Bull Racing pit crew allowed Raikkonen to get ahead of Webber in the pits. However, when Raikkonen was cruising down the pit lane after finishing his pit stop, Webber was released right in his path and Raikkonen had to take evasive action to avoid a collision. The Ferrari driver however came out in front which meant that he was able to finish the race in 2nd place, in front of Webber. This was Raikkonen's 2nd podium finish of the year, the first one being at Monaco. This was also Ferrari's 3rd podium finish and their best result so far this year, after Felipe Massa's 3rd place finish in Germany.

Mark Webber should be relatively happy with his 3rd place finish, because the guys in front of him, Hamilton and Raikkonen, are not the Championship contenders this season. Among his main contenders for the Driver's Championship, his team mate Vettel did not even finish the race while his BrawnGP counterpart Jenson Button only managed to finish in 7th place. Because of this result, Webber has been able to leapfrog Vettel in the Championship to go to 2nd in the standings and is not too far behind Button.

It was quite surprising to see BrawnGP struggle so much during the race on Sunday. Although they had decent pace throughout the practice sessions, during the race Button particularly was struggling with graining. So his car was not working well, he did not have enough grip and the car was oversteering as well. Overall, Button was very dissappointed with the way the car was behaving. This is in stark contrast to the early part of the season where the BrawnGP cars were managing their tyres better than anyone else in hot conditions. Here in Hungary though, their main Championship rival Red Bull Racing were not only faster than them but were also managing the tyres better. So BrawnGP seems to have taken a step backwards while many other teams including Red Bull Racing, McLaren-Mercedes, Ferrari and even Williams have improved the performances of their cars by a big margin since the start of the season. It will be interesting to see that in the last part of the season, given their limited budget and resources, if BrawnGP are really able to keep up in development with their big spending rivals such as Red Bull Racing, McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari. Although Ferrari and McLaren are not the title contenders this year, they can easily knock BrawnGP off the points in the remaining few races this season while Red Bull goes on to win several of those races. So if BrawnGP wants to defend its lead in the Constructors' Championship and for Button in the Driver's Championship, they really have to get their act together and very soon.

This has been a pretty strange race weekend at the Hungaroring. Although it was really heart-wrenching to see Felipe Massa's garage empty during the race on Sunday and his pit crew sitting idle, the good news is that he is responding really well to all the treatments he is getting at the AEK military hospital in Budapest. It was really touching to see Massa's pit crew, led by his race engineer and close friend Rob Smedley, put up a message on his pit board just before the race which went like this: "Forza Felipe, siamo con te". Translated from Italian to English, it means "be strong Felipe, our love is with you".

Throughout the day, almost all the drivers sent their best wishes to the Ferrari driver. Commercial rights holder Bernie Ecclestone visited Massa twice, once on Saturday evening and then again on Sunday morning to check on his progress. The Ferrari team has obviously been with him constantly to show how much they feel for him, and at the end of the race weekend his race engineer Rob Smedley stayed back in Budapest to be with him. Smedley looked absolutely devasted since the accident and quite understandably so, as him and Massa had been working closely for quite a long time now. Team principal Stefano Domenicalli, speaking to reporters after the race, praised Kimi Raikkonen's 2nd place finish in such difficult circumstances for the team and dedicated the result to Felipe Massa.

Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo also flew in from Italy today to visit Massa. He told reporters that Massa is not just a part of the Ferrari team but is more like a member of the Ferrari family. Di Montezemolo said that Ferrari's primary concern now is Massa's full recovery, no matter how long it takes. In the mean time, they will have to decide on a secondary driver to temporarily replace Massa but the Ferrari president said that they will take that decision in due course. Doctors say that the Brazilian may take anything from several weeks to months just to fully recover let alone get back to racing. So it is a dilemma for Ferrari as they have to choose someone to take Massa's place until he is able to come back to racing. Although some sensational media reports have suggested that 7 time World Champion Michael Schumacher may come out of his retirement to replace Massa for a few races, I personally think that the more likely replacement will be one of Ferrari's two test drivers - Spaniard Marc Gene or Italian Luca Badoer. Above all that though, me and I am sure every other Ferrari fan all around the world are primarily concerned with Massa's full recovery and nothing else.

Formula One now takes a break which means all the teams will shut down their factories for two weeks, to let their workers relax a bit and get some well deserved rest. The next race, Round 12 of the World Championship, is the European Grand Prix at Valencia in just under four weeks' time. Until then though, I will be keeping a very close eye on Felipe Massa's condition and hopefully he will continue to improve. He has got his whole family with him in Budapest now including his parents, his brother and his pregnant wife Rafaela. On top of them though, he is in the hearts and minds and thoughts and prayers of millions of his fans around the world and like them, I wish him a speedy and full recovery. Forza Felipe, siamo con te!

Until next time, drive safely everyone!

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