McLaren jump to the front as Brawn struggle (Hungarian Grand Prix analysis)

Hamilton had scored just nine points in nine races before his Hungary win

Hamilton had scored just nine points in nine races before his Hungary win

The Hungarian Grand Prix was an odd race in every respect. We saw a massive shake-up of the competitive order with McLaren and Ferrari and Brawn – the team which dominated the first third of the championship – struggling even to score.

If this sets a pattern for the rest of the year, we’re in for another unpredictable end to the season.

The start

Hungarian Grand Prix position change on lap one (click to enlarge)

Hungarian Grand Prix position change on lap one (click to enlarge)

Once again the start was a story of who had KERS and who didn’t. Lewis Hamilton gained two places – but lost one to Mark Webber straight away – and Kimi Raikkonen gained three after muscling Sebastian Vettel aside. Only Heikki Kovalainen failed to make progress.

Sebastien Buemi and Rubens Barrichello both suffered from starting on the ‘dirty’ right-hand side of the grid in tenth and 12th – but that didn’t pose any problems for Robert Kubica, who lunged past both of them down the inside from 18th on the grid.

Nelson Piquet Jnr also made a good start, sweeping around the outside of Buemi and Barrichello at the first turn.

Button vs Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button's lap times (click to enlarge)

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button's lap times (click to enlarge)

If I’d posted a graph like this last month you’d’ve thought I’d got the data mixed up.

Hamilton’s fastest lap was a 1’22.479 on lap 16, Button’s a 1’22.706 on lap 57. That may not be much, but it’s clear from the chart above Hamilton was managing his lead from a fairly early stage and not pushing hard late in the race when the track was at its best. (No other finishing driver set their fastest lap as early as Hamilton – the next earliest was Giancarlo Fisichella, on lap 40.)

Brawn’s loss of pace is mirrored by a total turnaround for McLaren, who have qualified inside the top six for the last two races having previously been mired in the mid-teens:

McLaren drivers' qualifying positions, 2009 (click to enlarge)

McLaren drivers' qualifying positions, 2009 (click to enlarge)

Brawn seem to have suffered rather more than just been overtaken by other teams – they seem to have lost some performance from their car. Button has been beaten by Nico Rosberg’s Williams for three races in a row, and at the Hungaoyring complained the BGP001 is not what it used to be.

At Silverstone and the Nurburgring Brawn’s difficulties were thought to be because of the cool temperatures, but it now seems there must be more to it than that. Have they gone the wrong way on car development?

Their only comfort for the time being is that McLaren may now be able to prevent Red Bull from taking the top scores on race weekends.

However it remains to be seen if McLaren’s new found performance will be as great at circuits that don’t share the Hungaroring’s low-speed characteristics – a track where they were always expected to perform better this year.

Race charts

Hungarian Grand Prix race chart (click to enlarge)

Hungarian Grand Prix race chart (click to enlarge)

After the race Nick Heidfeld was adamant his BMW was faster than it appeared in the race, but he spent too much time stuck in traffic to use its performance.

The race chart suggests he may have a point – he spent most of the race stuck behind other cars, whether it was Timo Glock’s heavily-fuelled Toyota at the start or Nelson Piquet Jnr’s Renault at the end.

Heidfeld ended lap one in 15th and made up four places by the end of the race – but Kubica progressed no further than 13th after his excellent start.

Hungarian Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)

Hungarian Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)

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