Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Hamilton duels

There were two great wheel-to-wheel battles in the Hungarian Grand Prix, both, predictably, featuring Lewis Hamilton. First off was the Hamilton-Vettel duel between laps 1 and 5, and then there was the equally thrilling Hamilton-Button contest between laps 47 and 52.

The first lap saw Hamilton and Button side-by-side, scrabbling for grip coming out of the first corner on their intermediate tyres, Hamilton taking second place down the outside into turn 2 as Button backed out of it. Lewis then set off after Vettel, the McLaren spectacularly sideways accelerating out of turn 2 on the second lap.

Once again, the McLarens were the only leading cars generating strong wing-tip vortices down the main straight, and Lewis clearly had a grip advantage over Vettel in these early laps on a damp track. Vettel, however, provided a robust defense.

On lap 3, Lewis decided to try the outside of Vettel into turn 2, briefly putting his outside wheels onto the grass as he did so. It was remarkably similar to the moment in Canada this year when Lewis was attempting to overtake Schumacher into the hairpin, although on that occasion Lewis was badly squeezed by the Mercedes driver making a second move under braking. This time round, Lewis was able to take a run around the outside of turn 2, but Vettel anticipated the move and simply ran Lewis out to the edge of the track, forcing him to back off and drop in behind the Red Bull.

On lap 4, Lewis again got a run on the Red Bull into turn 2, but this time decided to try the inside. Yet again, however, Vettel had an answer, and simply carried enough speed around the outside to retain his place into turn 3. Vettel was demonstrating all the racecraft which some have accused him of lacking, but on lap 5 he finally over-egged it into turn 2, running wide and letting Lewis into the lead.

The later Hamilton-Button duel was triggered, of course, when Lewis spun at the chicane on lap 47, Jenson taking the lead. Being on softer tyres, Lewis was potentially at an advantage in the battle which ensued, but Lewis's tyres were also wearing badly, to the extent that he was forced to pit at the end of lap 52. It's possible, therefore, that the two drivers actually had comparable levels of grip.

By lap 49, Button was extending the gap to Lewis, demonstrating he had superior grip on a mostly dry track surface. On lap 50, however, the rain began to fall again, and by the exit of the chicane, Lewis was back in the wheel-tracks of the other McLaren. Into turn 2 on lap 51, Jenson's famed ability to magically sense the levels of grip available, momentarily deserted him, and he ran ride, letting Lewis back into the lead.

Lewis immediately gained a 2 second gap over Button, but struggled badly with grip over the remainder of the lap, and coming onto the main straight to start lap 52, Button was right behind him. With the advantage of DRS, Jenson overtook his compatriot into turn 1, a quartet of wing-tip vortices briefly streaming in their joint wake.

Down they went into turn 2, and Jenson turned into the corner a little defensively on a tighter line than normal, and missed the apex, Lewis cutting underneath to re-take the lead. Great stuff!

Battle was then suspended over the remainder of the lap as both drivers attempted to absorb the information and instructions the McLaren team were communicating vis-a-vis the potential requirement to fit intermediate tyres. Lewis was able to receive messages from the team, but unable to make himself heard in response, whilst Jenson was at one stage invited to queue behind Lewis as both cars were fitted with intermediates.

Ultimately, of course, Lewis's race-winning prospects were already done-for, and the vital decision, the race-winning decision, was Jenson's choice not to pit.

No comments: