When Lewis Hamilton failed to take the lead at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix, his big chance seemed to have slipped away. Mark Webber's Red Bull once again seemed the big threat, but once Hamilton had gone round the Australian on the fourth lap, and pole-man Fernando Alonso had pitted early for fuel, nothing could stop the world champion.
It was, Hamilton said, subconsciously going all Neil Armstrong, "One huge leap for us." A month ago you'd have thought he had more chance of walking on the moon himself than of winning a grand prix in 2009.
In Germany, Hamilton's blistering start was negated when Webber's front wing split his rear tyre, leaving him to limp to the pits. He couldn't help alluding to that yesterday. "I made a good start," he said, "had a great dice with Mark, and no puncture this time..."
With Kimi Raikkonen taking a hard-fought second for the beleaguered Ferrari team, after containing a stern challenge from Webber, it was quite like old times.
Hamilton's hopes of the lead at the start were stymied as Alonso blasted his Renault off the line, and Webber squeezed back inside on the first corner after Hamilton had briefly moved ahead. Further back, Raikkonen got off to a flier and survived moments with Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, who quickly fell from second on the grid to seventh.
"The start was very close, and mine wasn't fantastic initially on the dirty side of the track," Hamilton admitted. "Kimi got an incredible one, and got alongside me, then kind of levelled off. I don't think he saw me and when he went right to go past Mark we nearly touched. Thankfully, Seb gave me room and we were OK."
Vettel was unamused, his Red Bull sustaining the left-side suspension damage that would ultimately prompt retirement on a day when he could have snacked heartily on Jenson Button's championship lead.
"I had a collision on the first corner with Kimi. I was on the inside and had a clear run to accelerate, his car came sideways and we touched – he crashed into my car, it can happen." Renault's run didn't last, which was hardly surprising as Alonso had at least 20kg less fuel than anybody else. He refuelled on lap 12, and retired almost immediately afterwards when a loose right front wheel fell off.
Hamilton sailed serenely away, benefiting from unstinting development, which included flying new aerodynamic components in specially to Hungary. His blend of skill, opportunism and racer's aggression did the rest.
"Clearly we've made some serious improvements to the car and it's much better balanced," he said with a grin. "The car was fantastic, and when the team asked me, I looked after tyres." The win was Hamilton's first since China last year, and gave him his first podium of the season and his first points since Bahrain in April.
"It's an incredible feeling to be back here after what feels like such a long time away, and such a struggle for me and the team," he continued. "I'm very, very proud of the guys; I see at the factory how hard they are pushing to win, they want it as much as I do, and they have never given up. It's fantastic to be back on the podium, and to win."
Raikkonen was not particularly impressed with second, but it gave Ferrari something to cheer. "I was just driving my own race, trying to catch Lewis. I thought I had the speed for that but then suddenly he started to go the same speed and then a little bit faster."
Webber's third place moved him within 19.5 points of Button, whose seventh-place finish brought his score to 70 on a day when their immediate rivals, Vettel and Rubens Barrichello, did not score.
"I expected us to be a little bit quicker after our running on Friday, but I'm happy to get the result we did today," Webber said. "I think we would have had a better chance to fight with Kimi if we'd made a slightly different pit stop and chose a different tyre for the middle stint, but that was my call.
"Overall we still have a lot of positives to take away from here – we're still up there, we're in the hunt."
Jenson Button was disappointed yet again, with only two points in the bag. "We felt positive that we could get a good result but unfortunately it turned into damage limitation," he said.
"I was heavily fuelled and our plan was to get a good start, stay with the cars in front and then I was going longer at the first stop. But my rear tyres grained massively, which took away any chance that I had."
Hungarian Grand Prix: Results and standings
*Finishing places at Hungaroring
1 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1hr 38min 23.876sec
2 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:38:34.881
3 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:38:39.884
4 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams 1:38:49.885
5 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 1:38:57.879
6 T Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:38:58.878
7 J Button (GB) Brawn GP 1:39:18.876
8 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:39:31.877
9 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams 1:39:31.883
10 R Barrichello (Br) Brawn GP 1:39:32.878
11 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:39:33.882
12 N Piquet Jr (Br) Renault 1:39:34.881
13 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:39:37.876
14 G Fisichella (It) Force India at 1 lap
15 J Alguersuari (Sp) Toro Rosso at 1 lap 16 S Buemi (Swit) Toro Rosso at 1 lap
17 S Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 29 laps completed;
18 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 15 laps completed;
19 A Sutil (Ger) Force India 1 lap completed.
Did not start: F Massa (Br) Ferrari
1 Button (GB) Brawn GP 70pt
2 Webber (Aus) Red Bull 51.5
3 Vettel (Ger) Red Bull 47
4 Barrichello (Br) Brawn GP 44
5 Rosberg (Ger) Williams 25.5
6 Trulli (It) Toyota 22.5
7 Massa (Br) Ferrari 22
8 Hamilton (GB) McLaren 19
9 Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 18
10 Glock (Ger) Toyota 16
11 Alonso (Sp) Renault 13; 12 Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 9; 13 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 6; 14 Buemi (Swit) Toro Rosso 3; 15 Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber; 16 Bourdais (Fr) BMW Sauber 2; 17 Fisichella (It) Force India 0; 18 Nakajima (Japan) Williams 0; 19 Sutil (Ger) Force India 0; 20 Piquet Jr (Br) Renault 0; 21 Alguersuari (Sp) Toro Rosso 0
1 Brawn GP 114pts
2 Red Bull 98.5
3 Ferrari 40
4 Toyota 38.5
5 McLaren 28
6 Williams 25.5; 7 Renault 13; 8 BMW Sauber 8; 9 Toro Rosso 5; 10 Force India 0
Next race: 23 August: European Grand Prix (Valencia)