In his 200th Grand Prix start, and on the return to the track which yielded his first Formula 1 win, Jenson Button took a welcome chequered flag in Budapest. The McLaren driver was tipped by many on the wet Sunday morning; greasy conditions have favoured his smooth racing style in past races.
But whilst Button celebrated, his team-mate Lewis Hamilton rued a missed opportunity to close the championship gap to Sebastian Vettel. His decision to switch to Intermediate tyres during a brief shower in the closing stages of the race cost him, as the rain stopped and the former world champion struggled for grip.
Despite finishing 2nd in Hungary and a season’s-worst result 4th in Germany, Vettel now holds the biggest points lead he has all season. The world champion started from pole after an excellent qualifying, but once again showed he is mortal, making mistakes which may have cost him maximum points.
Ferrari also managed two top-ten finishes; an impatient Fernando Alonso showed great race pace to fill the final step of the podium – repeated mistakes in the tricky conditions having cost him a chance for the win.
Toro Rosso too, had both drivers in the top ten. An incredible drive from Sebastian Buemi saw him overcome a grid-place penalty for causing an accident at the Nurburgring. Buemi finished 8th after starting from 23rd on the grid, quelling the rumours that he will be the driver to make way for Red Bull protege Daniel Ricciardo.
Another notable finish was Paul Di Resta’s. The Scot achieved a career-best 7th in his first season (not that you’d know it) in F1. The rookie driver out-qualified and out-raced his more experienced team-mate Adrian Sutil, and will definitely be drawing attention to himself from bigger race teams.
Now into the Summer break, Ferrari and McLaren will try and reinforce the improvements the two teams have enjoyed over the last few races. Red Bull will be desperately trying to re-discover the advantage they had at the start of the season over the rest of the grid. Now that Vettel isn’t dominating the season quite so much, opportunities should surely arise for other teams to make a bid for the title. But, due to the sheer amount of race wins Vettel accrued, McLaren and Ferrari cannot afford to share wins between their drivers if they are to have a hope of winning the driver’s championship. With McLaren allowing their drivers to race (unlike Red Bull) and Massa simply lacking pace, I don’t see either team singling out one of their drivers to mount a challenge against Vettel. As a result, I’m sceptical as to whether or not the driver’s championship remains a contest.
However, what I thought was a lost cause may now be a rekindled opportunity, at least for one team, for some silverware. The constructors championship has been Red Bull’s to lose all season. Even now, they remain 103 points ahead of McLaren. But with 25 points for a 1st place, McLaren’s improved form could see them narrow this. Certainly, if Mark Webber’s 6th place finish – below both McLaren’s 1st and 4th – is representative of his form for the rest of the season, F1 fans could have a closely contested championship once more…