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Hungary Flashback 2008 - Kovalainen capitalises on Massa misfortune 24 Jul 2009

Fans in the grandstands.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, 2 August 2008 Post qualifying parc ferme (L to R): Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren, second; Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren, pole position.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Budapest, Hungary, Saturday, 2 August 2008. © Sutton Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2008 retires from the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 3 August 2008. © Sutton Race winner Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) McLaren on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, Hungarian Grand Prix, Race, Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, 3 August 2008

While McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton arrived in Hungary last year fresh from two consecutive race wins, team mate Heikki Kovalainen hadn’t been faring so well, having endured a four-month absence from the podium. He’d scored 28 points, but it just wasn’t what Kovalainen had hoped for when he’d joined McLaren, especially considering how strongly the MP4-23 had been performing.

During Friday’s first practice at the Hungaroring it was Ferrari that dominated, with Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen leading Hamilton and Kovalainen, from Renault’s Fernando Alonso and Toyota’s Timo Glock. After lunch McLaren’s pace seemed a little stronger, with Hamilton first and Kovalainen third behind an impressive Nelson Piquet in the Renault. The Ferraris were fifth and sixth, behind Alonso in fourth.

On Saturday morning it looked as though Ferrari had found their way back into the mix, with Massa second-quickest behind a dominant Hamilton. Glock was third for Toyota, ahead of Kovalainen, Piquet, BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld, the Toro Rossos of Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Vettel, and Raikkonen.

But if Hamilton had looked strong in practice, he’d obviously still left a little in reserve for qualifying, as he took pole with ease. Kovalainen was almost as quick and clinched second on the grid. With the track conditions changing throughout the session, tyre selection had been tricky, but Kovalainen was pleased with his performance and convinced that he could he could have gone quicker.

“It was difficult to choose the right tyre for the final session and I felt I could have done a slightly faster lap in Q3, but I was a little cautious in Turn Two,” said the Finn. “Still, we’ve found a great direction with the car and I’ve got a great opportunity to win the race tomorrow. It’s fantastic to be starting on the front row alongside Lewis."

Massa, meanwhile, was less happy in third, complaining of traffic in Q3, while BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica finished fourth, ahead of Glock, Raikkonen, Alonso, Red Bull’s Mark Webber, Toyota’s Jarno Trulli and Piquet. It looked like the race would be a McLaren whitewash, and with Kovalainen so confident, there was a real possibility he could take a maiden win.

The start, however, changed everything, with Massa making an aggressive (and fruitful) getaway to vault past both Hamilton and Kovalainen. The Brazilian went on to dominate, with his lead strengthened when Hamilton suffered a deflated front-left tyre on the Lap 41. It dropped the British driver down to 10th, leaving Kovalainen to take up second.

As the final laps approached, it looked as if the result was all but settled, with Kovalainen only gradually closing on Massa, But on the 67th of the 70-lap race, disaster struck for the leader, with his Ferrari suffering a spectacular engine failure. Kovalainen swept past the stricken F2008 and into the lead. Three laps later he took victory, ahead of Glock in an excellent second and Raikkonen third.

After his puncture, Hamilton had made his way back up the field, but Alonso resisted his old team mate’s advances until the line to take fourth place. Piquet confirmed Renault’s improving pace with an accomplished sixth, ahead of Trulli and Kubica. Just missing out on the points were the Red Bulls of Webber and David Coulthard, who sandwiched Heidfeld’s BMW Sauber in 10th.

A post-race talking point was the minor pit-stop fires that befell Williams’ Nakajima, Bourdais and Honda’s Rubens Barrichello, all apparently caused by the Hungaroring’s high temperatures. But the real story was Kovalainen’s dramatic first win and the Finn himself couldn’t believe his luck after he climbed out of his McLaren.

"I feel sorry for Felipe because he drove a great race, but my car felt good and I knew I could push for the victory,” he said. “This is a great moment for me, something I’ve been targeting for many years. Hopefully, this victory will be the first of many."

Unfortunately for Kovalainen, his dream of ‘many wins’ hasn’t yet come to pass and he is still awaiting a follow-up victory. However, with the clear upswing in pace of the MP4-24 at the last round in Germany, one never knows what might happen at the Hungaroring this weekend - especially if he’s dealt another lucky hand.