Kovalainen wins Hungarian Grand Prix
Sunday 03 August 2008
Heikki Kovalainen became the 100th winner in Formula One history with the first victory of his career to cap a surprising Hungarian Grand Prix.
The triumph was totally unexpected as Felipe Massa was on course to comfortably take the chequered flag, only for the engine in his Ferrari to blow just three laps from the finish.
The bitter blow for Massa means Lewis Hamilton now has a five-point lead in the title race from reigning world champion Kimi Raikkonen as the young Briton could only finish fifth due to another tyre problem.
When Kovalainen crossed the line, team boss Ron Dennis told him over the radio: "Welcome to the world of winning. The first of many. Well done."
In hindsight it should have been a straightforward afternoon for Hamilton as he came into the race enjoying undoubted domination of his sport.
Successive wins in Britain and Germany had propelled him into a four-point lead - and he appeared on course to become the first British driver since Damon Hill in 1996 to make it a hat-trick.
In practice, Hamilton had blitzed the field, and then in qualifying he was head and shoulders above the rest.
Starting from the 10th pole position of his career, and with Kovalainen alongside him on the front row, the McLaren duo should have repeated such a one-two in the race.
Even one of the Bridgestone chiefs had mentioned Hamilton was far more balanced on his tyres these days than Ferrari, and that was part of the reason as to his recent success.
But Formula One always throws up the unexpected, and at a tight, twisty Hungaroring where overtaking is virtually impossible, the sport conjured more surprise moments.
Once the five red lights disappeared, Massa initially blazed past the first McLaren of Kovalainen before reeling in Hamilton.
Around the outside of turn one, Massa made his manoeuvre stick, even though his British rival attempted to push him wide.
Following Hamilton's brilliant move on Massa in Germany, that must have tasted like sweet revenge for the Brazilian.
Perhaps even more remarkably, there was virtually no response from Hamilton as Massa eked out a tenth of a second here, a tenth there and by the first round of pit stops the advantage was 3.5secs.
Even on fresh rubber Hamilton failed to make any impression on a Ferrari that had notably struggled at Hockenheim a fortnight ago.
Again Massa eased away, slowly but surely, and by lap 40 the lead had grown to 40 seconds, and then came the second surprise.
Those Bridgestone tyres that had apparently been working so well for Hamilton suddenly failed him, in particular the front left.
Hamilton lost pressure, forcing him to brake heavily into turn two, and from that point it resulted in a slow tour back into the pits, occasionally running wide as he struggled to corner.
It is not the first time Hamilton has had problems with his tyres, and he has become renowned for being hard on his rubber.
In this instance the issue did not appear to be of his own making, which is likely to result in an investigation from Bridgestone.
Inevitably, Hamilton lost valuable time on his in-lap, with his only saving grave the fact his stop occurred naturally in the second window.
However, once the dust had settled on the second round of stops, Hamilton had dropped to sixth, and he must have thought that with it would go his lead of the world championship.
But then came Massa's engine blow-out, robbing him of 10 points and with it the lead of this current remarkable season.
In another sensation, Toyota's Timo Glock took second just two weeks after his horror shunt at Hockenheim, with Raikkonen third and Renault's Fernando Alonso fourth, followed by Hamilton.
The remaining points-scoring positions were taken up by Nelson Piquet in his Renault, Toyota's Jarno Trulli and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, whose own title challenge continues to falter.
Given the conditions, the fact there was little overtaking of note was of no great surprise, although there were pit stop incidents.
Sebastien Bourdais, Kazuki Nakajima and Rubens Barrichello for Toro Rosso, Williams and Honda respectively, all endured re-fuelling flash fires.
These days a pit crew member is on hand with an extinguisher, and for Bourdais - who twice encountered the problem - and Barrichello, their cars were quickly sprayed with foam.
But with the fuel rigs supplied by the FIA, the teams are likely to demand answers from the sport's governing body.
A thrilled Kovalainen said: "I'm very happy.
"There have been various incidents this season that have happened when I've been in a position to fight for a victory.
"At the end I tried to put pressure on Massa and hoped something would happen, and it worked out that way.
"The team have kept pushing and I'm very glad to get this first win.
"It's fantastic, a great moment, something I've been targeting for many years. Hopefully this is the first of many."
Glock, taking more points from this one race - his maiden podium - than he had in the previous 10 this season, remarked: "It's just unbelievable.
"I couldn't believe it when I saw Felipe's engine go and I was P2, so this is remarkable after the race in Hockenheim and the big crash.
"To get a podium is just a perfect weekend."
Raikkonen, who had started a disappointing sixth, was reasonably happy with his third place.
"We could have managed to do the race a little better, and I was stuck behind Alonso all the way to the second stop," said Raikkonen.
"I'm a little bit lucky with other people going all over the place.
"We have the speed in the race, but if I can't get qualifying right then we will always end up like this.
"We just need to sort out the problems and then we will be fighting for wins."
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