Race analysis - Honda nearly men no more 07 Aug 2006
Patience, that age-old virtue, finally brought its own reward for the beleaguered Honda team in Hungary. There was not just Jenson Buttons splendid victory to celebrate; Rubens Barrichellos fourth place gave them 15 points to take home towards a respectable 52 points for their fourth place in the constructors championship table.
"There are hardly words to describe this moment, said team CEO Nick Fry. It is an historic day for Honda and the most incredible occasion for the whole team, its associates and fans all over the world. Everyone has worked so hard for so long to savour the taste of victory. Jenson has remained positive, as has the whole team, and I am immensely proud of everyone today, especially as the CEO of Honda Motor Company, Takeo Fukui, was here in Hungary to receive the trophy on our behalf. Now that we have reached this important milestone, we know we have what it takes to go on and do it again and again."
Whether they can do it again this season remains to be seen, but finally breaking that elusive duck is going to be crucial to the future of a team that as recently as July appeared to have lost its way completely. Thanks to a concerted technical development programme overseen by Jacky Eeckelaert, they turned things round in a manner unseen in Formula One racing since Jordan in 1998 or McLaren in 2004, and they deserve full credit for that.
Perhaps this could have been McLarens race, but the different strategies of early leader Kimi Raikkonen and team mate Pedro de la Rosa - two and three-stop races respectively - proved their undoing. As for Raikkonen getting caught out by the slowing Tonio Liuzzi in front of him, the Finn later admitted that he was watching his mirrors, contemplating letting a closing De la Rosa by as he was at that stage faster, and that when he looked back ahead he was suddenly confronted by the innocent Toro Rosso.
De la Rosa took up the cudgels superbly, and thoroughly deserved a second place (and his first-ever podium) after a drive that eradicated memories of a spin on the formation lap. Just as in Hockenheim, the team were able to demonstrate a convincing improvement in recent performance.
Initially, BMW Sauber had much to cheer, with Nick Heidfeld finishing a battling third and debutant Robert Kubica a strong seventh. But then a hair blew on to the cake when the unfortunate Pole was disqualified later in the evening. His F1.06 was 2 kg underweight through unforeseen tyre wear (and therefore weight loss). This was one of those corollaries of the uncharacteristic Hungarian weather (there had never been a wet race at the Hungaroring), and all of the teams data was amassed from dry-road tyre wear. The stewards praised BMW Saubers helpfulness and spirit of cooperation, but rules are rules and Kubica was excluded.
That cost them two points, which means that instead of regaining the fifth place recently lost to Toyota, they now share it, 26 points apiece.
Ferrari, hitherto a big loser in Hungary, inherited two points for Felipe Massa and one for Michael Schumacher, so instead of one they got three times as many. That meant that the team move within seven points of Renault in the constructors championship with five races left.
The respective performances of Ferrari and Renault were the focal point of the weekend. The indications are that Michelin hit back strongly at Bridgestone and had the better tyre; Williams, for example, planned four stops had it been dry because of graining problems.
Reversion to the old rear suspension layout, allied to Michelins latest offering, transformed Renault, even though they ran both R26s without the controversial mass dampers. Alonso was in a class of his own, and should have won comfortably. Remember that the safety car intervention for the Raikkonen-Liuzzi accident wiped out a 39.1s lead for the Spaniard. He opened a gap again and looked a certainty for a crucial win when, it was said, a driveshaft broke. Later team insiders confessed that the right rear wheel had not been properly secured in Alonsos lap 51 pit stop. On a weekend when his fortunes went up and down like a yo-yo, it didnt help that Giancarlo Fisichella failed to bring any points home after crashing out, but Schumachers problems meant that championship-points damage was kept to a minimum.
Red Bull Racing had reason to be cheerful. An unobtrusive run from David Coulthard (who had contact clashes with Schumacher, Barrichello and Jarno Trulli) netted four points for the team on a day when Christian Klien put his car into the wall, but Toro Rosso had a painful time with Liuzzis accident and Scott Speed being hit at one stage by Barrichello. Speeds gamble of being the first to stop for dry tyres backfired and he needed four pit stops in total on his way to 12th place.
Both Midlands finished ahead of the American, Tiago Monteiro leading home Christijan Albers by four seconds, three laps down. Monteiro survived one big off at the first chicane, while Albers was upset to have been started on standard wet Bridgestones rather than intermediates.
It was good and bad news for Toyota, with Ralf Schumacher making the most of the weather window in which Bridgestone had the advantage to catch and pass Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica for a valuable sixth place, but Trullis chances of points ended in engine failure after he had been the first Bridgestone runner to plump for dries.
Williams lost both cars early on. Mark Webbers strong grid position was instantly negated by the superiority of the intermediate Michelins in the early going, before he slid off and bent his front wing under the chassis and had to quit. Nico Roberg also crashed, after his engine had cut out due to an electronics glitch.
Finally, Super Aguri brought Takuma Sato home 14th and last after an adventurous afternoon in which he struggled with clutch and gearbox problems. Sakon Yamamoto didnt get round the first lap after his engine stalled.
With five races left the championship fight could scarcely be more finely balanced. In a season when only Renault and Ferrari had won, Hondas breakthrough was timely and welcome.