sport

Ricciardo wins epic Hungary GP

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo claimed his second hugely dramatic and unexpected win of the season in an epic and unpredictable Hungarian GP in which the wheel of fortune in Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s title battle turned spectacularly.

 

In a race of more twists and turns than the Hungaroring itself, as a pre-race downpour and two Safety Car periods repeatedly served to shuffle the order, Hamilton brilliantly defied the Q1 qualifying fire which left him starting from the pitlane to take advantage of all the opportunities that came his way across a thrilling 70 laps to not only claim the most unlikely of podium finishes with third but beat his championship-leading team-mate Rosberg in the process.

It means that, having expected to head into the summer break more than 20 points adrift of Rosberg in the standings, Hamilton has trimmed his team-mate's advantage to just 11 points.

However, the tension which has simmered under the surface at Mercedes since it spilled over in public in Monaco in May, may be reopened behind the scenes after Hamilton chose not to obey an instruction to let his team-mate through prior to the German's final stop.

For a while it had even looked as though Hamilton may become the first driver in history to win from a pitlane start after the pair of Safety Cars, called for big crashes for Marcus Ericsson and Sergio Perez respectively, threw up numerous strategic permutations at the front and resulted in Fernando Alonso, Hamilton and Ricciardo heading into the closing laps nose-to-tail.

But it was Ricciardo, having run a long middle stint on soft tyres, who crucially was on the freshest rubber and in a series of bold, incisive moves similar to those that took the Australian to his maiden F1 win in Canada last month passed first Hamilton and then Alonso to take the second stunning win of his fast-bourgeoning F1 career.

And while Hamilton couldn't quite deny Alonso second place and Ferrari's best result of their underwhelming season, beating Rosberg to third was of far greater championship significance - and all the more unlikely after his two-month run of qualifying woes had plunged new depths on Saturday.

Such an intra-team turnaround had certainly seemed in the realms of fantasy in the wet early stages of the race as Rosberg quickly converted his pole into a six-second lead and Hamilton, with cold tyres and brakes following the first pitlane start of his F1 career, damaged his front-wing when he spun into the barrier under braking for the second corner.

However, whether a sign that his luck in Budapest was finally beginning the turn, the damage sustained wasn't significant enough to affect the Briton's pace and he soon started carving his way up the order to the point where he was running 14th by the time Ericsson dropped his Caterham into the Turn Three barriers on lap nine.

The timing of Ericsson's crash was particularly bad for the early top four - Rosberg, Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel and Alonso - as it came just after they had passed the pitlane entry. With the quartet therefore having to complete an additional lap at a controlled speed, while the cars behind were able to pit, Rosberg fed back to the track in fourth place.

Worse was to come for the championship leader when, appearing to have a brake concern at the restart, he was soon swamped by Alonso and Jean-Eric Vergne as Hamilton swiftly made up yet more ground from 13th. It meant that, having been separated by 21 cars at the start, just Vettel stood between the two Mercedes' by lap 16.

From there the race took probably its only 'breather' with neither Rosberg unable to overtake Vergne nor Hamilton Vettel. Ricciardo, meanwhile, had inherited the lead through the pitstops and was slowly opening up a handy lead over Massa and Alonso at the front.

But on lap 23 the race was effectively reset once more as Perez smashed into the pitwall after running wide over the greasy Astroturf at the final corner. While race leader Ricciardo chose to pit, the Mercedes' continued and Hamilton's race opened up on lap 33 when Rosberg pitted and Vettel had a identical spin to Perez, the only difference being for the World Champion that he just avoided serious contact with the pitwall.

With Rosberg slowed by a 4.9-second service, and then feeding back into traffic, Hamilton went seven laps longer than his team-mate and then re-emerged back ahead, albeit on the slower medium tyres to his team-mate's soft.

With Hamilton clearly trying to the end on his compound, Rosberg caught him back up on the quicker 'option' but, in a decision that could have wider repercussions for the season, the Briton ignored several instructions to let his championship rival through.

"I'm not slowing down for Nico," declared Hamilton. "Get close and then he can overtake me." As it was, Rosberg actually slipped back slightly before pitting for fresh tyres with 13 laps to go.

As the battle for the victory between Alonso, Hamilton and Ricciardo reached a crescendo at the front, Rosberg caught Hamilton back up with two laps to go but, despite a battle through to Turn Three on the last lap, it was the Briton who held on.

Behind the top four, Massa made up for his recent woes with a fifth place for Williams, with Kimi Raikkonen securing his own much-needed strong result in sixth. Vettel, after his lurid spin, was seventh ahead of Bottas, Vergne and Jenson Button.