Mark Webber claimed his fourth grand prix victory of the season and moved to the head of the Formula One world championship standings.
The Australian, starting second on the grid, suffered from the Hungaroring’s infamous ‘dirty side’ and dropped to third on the road behind Red Bull team-mate Sebastian and Fernando Alonso, who made the most of lining up first and third to duel over top spot into the opening turn. However, when the safety car appeared just 15 laps into the race, things turned Webber’s way.
Vettel appeared set for a comfortable afternoon after bolting away in the opening laps, running nearly a second faster than Alonso to build up a sizeable gap over the Spaniard, who had Webber contained in third and attempting to keep his Red Bull cool on another hot Hungaroring afternoon.
Felipe Massa, who had lined up behind the Australian was already being dropped in fourth, while championship leader Lewis Hamilton had to find a way past a fast-starting Vitaly Petrov on lap two to remain in the hunt.
Jenson Button, after his poor qualifying show, saw his race get tougher after dropping to 15th in the first corner melee, with Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica, Rubens Barrichello, Nico Hulkenberg, Pedro de la Rosa, Adrian Sutil and Michael Schumacher between the Briton and his team-mate in fifth.
The reigning world champion was the first to pit, stopping on lap 14 to switch to the softer Bridgestone tyre option, and was joined in service by Force India’s Vitantonio Liuzzi who, for the second race in a row, needed a new front wing in the early stages.
The Italian’s problem, however, would have big implications for the outcome of the race, as the stewards decided to deploy the safety car to aid the recovery of debris from the track. That prompted the majority of the field to complete their mandatory change of tyres, with Vettel responding to a late call from the Red Bull pit by bouncing over the kerbs bounding the entry lane.
However, although the German had enough of a lead to ensure that RBR would not have to stack its drivers, Webber remained on track, moving from third to first as Alonso also stopped. Hamilton and Massa joined their fellow frontrunners in pitting, with the Briton appearing to be the big winner by vaulting past his Brazilian rival.
There was drama in pit-lane too, with Nico Rosberg losing his right rear wheel as he pulled back into the ‘fast lane’ and mechanics at Sauber and Williams being forced to scatter as the errant part careered into their garage area.
Worse still, Force India released Adrian Sutil directly into the path of the incoming Robert Kubica, to the detriment of the German’s race. While Sutil was out on the spot, Kubica resumed a lap down, was then handed a ten-second stop-go penalty, and eventually called it quits a couple of laps later.
In the meantime, the field had packed up behind the safety car, now led by Webber, but with Vettel still looking a clear favourite for victory. The question of team orders again raised its head, with suggestions that Vettel may back Alonso up enough to allow Webber to delay his stop and rejoin in second spot, creating a vital 1-2 for Red Bull, but few expected the German to make quite as big an unaided hash of the restart as he appeared to, dropping more than the permitted ten car lengths from his team-mate, who all but pushed the safety car to its departure down pit-lane.
With no distractions into turn one, Webber did indeed disappear, making full use of the fuel he had saved while shadowing Alonso to reel off a string of fastest laps, aware that he needed to build up a lead of around 20 seconds over the Spaniard if he was to slot in behind his team-mate.
Vettel’s error, however, changed the picture entirely, with the stewards announcing, first, that he was under investigation for dropping too far behind Webber at the restart and, then, that he would have to serve a drive-thru’ penalty for the misdemeanour.
Vettel’s anger was clear as he gesticulated to his team all the way down the pit-lane, but he only lost one place, to Alonso, by the time he rejoined. The German’s ire would not have been soothed much, either, by the news that championship leader Hamilton was grinding to a halt at turn three, the victim of a suspected transmission failure on the lead McLaren. With Button barely registering in the points at that stage, both title races looked set for a shake-up.
Even though his team-mate was now not the main threat, Webber still needed to open out enough of a gap to ensure that Alonso was not handed victory for the second Sunday in a row, and the Australian, despite running long on Bridgestone’s supersoft compound, responded by banging in a string of qualifying-style laps, extending his advantage each time around.
Once enough of a lead had been established, the question switched to the optimal time to make the stop, with traffic bunching at various points around the lap, and the threat of another safety car ever-present. The call finally came on lap 43, with Webber holding a 23.7secs cushion over his rivals, and the stop was perfect, the Australian rejoining still comfortably ahead. From there, it was merely a question of carrying the RB6 to the chequered flag, and Webber was never troubled.
Alonso, meanwhile, had an angry Vettel all over him for several laps, but held firm, ultimately frustrating the German further before the Red Bull dropped away by a couple of seconds in the closing stages. That, too, was tactical, as Vettel used the clearer air to bang in the fastest lap of the race, a 1min 22.362secs effort that easily eclipsed anything anyone else had managed – even his team-mate during his mid-race charge.
With Hamilton out, Massa was able to retake fourth, but had little to offer the top three on his return to the site of the accident that nearly claimed his life a year ago, coming home eight seconds adrift of Vettel, and more than 27secs shy of Webber.
The rest, however, were even further back, with Vitaly Petrov taking his best result in F1 in fifth after Barrichello’s attempt to run long before making his lone tyre stop not having the pace to keep him ahead of his rivals. The Brazilian slipped back to eleventh during his stop, but emerged behind former Ferrari team-mate Schumacher with just 14 laps remaining.
Their battle reached its climax with just a handful of tours left, with Schumacher – struggling with a ‘spongey’ brake pedal from the opening stages – clearly slower than the Williams. On more than one occasion, Barrichello looked to the inside of the Mercedes, only to be rebuffed, but Schumacher’s early defence was nothing compared to the attempted block that came with Barrichello alongside him on the pit straight.
Somehow, the two cars avoided the contact that would have resulted in a serious accident, but Barrichello, despite breaking back into the points, was quickly on the radio, calling for sanctions against the German, who ended the race under investigation.
With Barrichello’s strategy failing to pay off, it was left to team-mate Hulkenberg to bring home the biggest haul for Williams, the reigning GP2 Series champion also claiming his best result of the year in sixth, while the two Saubers celebrated Switzerland’s national day by sandwiching Button in eighth, Kamui Kobayashi having come from the back row of the grid.
Webber’s win takes him back to the top of the standings, now four points clear of the luckless Hamilton, and 14 ahead of his team-mate, who vaults past Button into third overall. Alonso has closed to within six points of Button, and less than a race win – gifted or otherwise – from the new leader.
Red Bull also leads the constructors’ standings, the 1-3 result easily out-scoring Button’s eighth and handing the Milton Keynes team an eight-point advantage as F1 heads into its summer break.