Lewis Hamilton: 'Miracles' do happen in Hungarian GP

 

So miracles do happen, at least when it comes to Lewis Hamilton and the Hungarian Grand Prix.

That's what the Mercedes driver said it would take to win the race after he had taken a third consecutive pole position on Saturday, and yet Hamilton went and produced one of the season's most dominant wins on a track that seems as if it might have been created for him.

Of course, Hamilton is blindingly fast anywhere, but he has a special relationship with this deceptively challenging, dusty little autodrome 12 miles or so outside historic and beautiful Budapest.

This was Hamilton's fourth win there in seven visits to the track, and his fourth pole position as well.

Hamilton is, as Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe says, "pretty special" around there. Lowe should know - he has watched all those wins from within, having left McLaren, where he was technical director for several years, only this year to join Mercedes.

The cards did fall for Hamilton in the race to make it easier than it might otherwise have been, in that his main rivals Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull and Lotus's Romain Grosjean were taken out of the fight for victory after tangles with other drivers. But by then they were already on the back foot, with Hamilton 10 seconds up the road.

Hamilton in Hungary

Lewis Hamilton has won four times in seven attempts at the Hungaroring, taking victories with former team McLaren in 2007, 2009 & 2012

He earned himself that position with typically incisive and aggressive driving.

Rejoining after his first pit stop, he found himself behind McLaren's Jenson Button, and knew if he got stuck there it could wreck his race.

Within a lap, he was past his former team-mate, diving down the inside into Turn One.

Vettel also rejoined behind Button, and just ahead of Grosjean. But without the straightline speed of the Mercedes he remained stuck there for 12 laps - in which Hamilton built up a 13-second lead. Then, when the world champion did finally get past, he damaged his front wing in the process, ending any chance of closing on Hamilton.

Hamilton made two crucial passes after both his other pit stops too, both on Red Bull's Mark Webber, and both hugely impressive, around the outside of Turn Two and into Turn Three - not a traditional passing place.

It was a race Hamilton grabbed by the neck and refused to let go. That overdue first win for Mercedes - which by rights should have come at Silverstone a month ago - is now his, and the pressure is off.

His first half-season with the team has not gone entirely smoothly. He struggled to adapt to the car initially, particularly its braking characteristics, and there was a run of three races earlier in the season from Bahrain to Monaco where he was out-qualified by team-mate Nico Rosberg, not something that anyone expected to happen regularly when Hamilton first joined the team.

Since then, though, what many would call the 'real' Hamilton has returned and he has out-qualified Rosberg for four races in a row, with significant margins, too.

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton's Hungary pole lap

The German has had problems in the last two events. Nevertheless, increasingly it appears as if those who were beginning to say that Rosberg's surprising pace was forcing a reassessment of Michael Schumacher's comeback in the previous three years had overlooked the obvious.

Schumacher was basically competing on equal terms with Rosberg last year, the last of the three seasons of his ill-fated return, and there were those who suggested Hamilton's struggles proved Schumacher had been better than he looked.

But while it is still early days, a trend is now emerging that suggests Hamilton was right when he said in his BBC Sport column on Friday that non-drivers underestimate just how difficult it is to perform at your best immediately in a new team having known only one in his entire career so far.

The big surprise in Hamilton's victory was how the Mercedes was able to overcome its traditional flaw and keep its rear tyres in good shape despite the searing temperatures.

At the airport on Sunday night, Lowe and team principal Ross Brawn were joking that perhaps the answer was always to go into a race in the dark - a reference to their lack of experience on the new design of Pirellis before Hungary.

On the face of it, though, it is a good sign. And, if it continues, Hamilton could yet become a serious title contender, although he played down that possibility after the race.

For those who have been the main championship protagonists so far this year, Hungary reinforced the feeling that Vettel is well on his way to a fourth title.

Despite finishing only third in Hungary, behind his title rival Kimi Raikkonen, Vettel actually extended his lead over his nearest pursuer - because Raikkonen's second place vaulted him ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who finished only fifth.

It was not the result Ferrari needed, for more reasons than simply the points table.

World championship standings

1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 172 points

2. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 134

3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 133

4. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 124

5. Mark Webber Red Bull 105

Sunday was dominated by fevered discussion about Alonso's future, following claims that his management had approached Red Bull offering his services for next year.

Were the claims true? Ferrari said not, and insisted that Red Bull - from where they said the story originated - were simply trying to destabilise them.

But Alonso was not exactly convincing in his denials of the story, and some say that all is not well between the great man and his team, despite a contract that runs until 2016.

If that was the case, it would hardly be a surprise. This is Alonso's fourth season with Ferrari and that elusive third title seems no closer.

There are suggestions that Ferrari feel their lead driver does not always get the best from the car in qualifying and that Alonso in turn feels he is constantly driving to the very edge trying to make up for an inferior car.

That last point, at least, is definitely the case. But on the face of it, however appealing a Red Bull might be on paper, it makes no sense for Alonso to want to jump now, regardless of the fact that it is extremely unlikely that Red Bull would take him and risk a nuclear explosion in the team as he went head to head with Vettel.

Former Lotus technical director James Allison is about to join Ferrari as their design chief, a move approved if not actually demanded by Alonso. And the new rules being introduced for next year - on both chassis and engine - mean there is far greater uncertainty that Red Bull will remain the car to beat than there would otherwise be.

In the circumstances, it would make more sense to wait to see how next year goes before agitating for a move.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton joy at first Mercedes victory

Sources have told me that, although they deny they have had "discussions", Alonso's management did make an approach to Red Bull.

Was it seriously in search of a move? Or might it have been an attempt to put pressure on Ferrari to up their game? To suggest that - contract or not - he is not necessarily there forever and is not prepared to accept any more years of under-performance?

Alonso talked after the race of how Ferrari have had to go back to a car of a specification from several races ago after new parts introduced at Silverstone a month ago did not work.

"We need to improve and make the step forward we thought we would make in Silverstone with these couple of tenths that didn't work," he said.

"We need these to come immediately for [the next races at] Spa and Monza to be able to have the same performance as the cars we are fighting for the world championship.

"We need to react. We need to win three or four races in a row to close the gap."

Right now, that looks as unlikely a prospect as Alonso moving to Red Bull next season.