Hamilton ends his nightmarish run

Published : Aug 01, 2009 00:00 IST



The McLaren driver rewards his team’s efforts to return him to the podium with his first win of the season. By Maurice Hamilton.

Lewis Hamilton had almost forgotten the routine for the first three finishers. On July 26 the world champion, for two seasons so familiar with it, had to remind himself of the procedure after winning the Hungarian Grand Prix and finishing on the podium for the first time in 2009.

“Great to see you. It’s been a long time,” he said as he walked beaming into the conference room along with Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber.

Hamilton’s obvious pleasure came from reacquainting himself with spraying victory champagne and appreciating the McLaren team’s efforts in returning him to the podium. “This has been a huge leap for us,” he said. “We definitely deserve this after such a long time and after a season that has been very hard on everyone in the team.”

Once the McLaren engineers had finally established the fundamental faults with a car that Hamilton had — which he, at times, found impossible to drive — the Woking team worked flat out to produce and test new parts, the latest changes to the front wing arriving two days before the race. Hamilton rewarded the effort by qualifying fourth but confessed that he did not expect to win.

“It could have gone either way,” he said. “But everything just sort of fell into place. I had quite a good start. It was very close and I immediately got into a fight with Mark (Webber). He was very fair and I was able to use KERS to good advantage.”

McLaren and Ferrari are the only two teams persisting with KERS energy retention, a system which was not expected to deliver a significant performance advantage on the twists and turns of the Hungaroring. But Hamilton and Raikkonen, who finished second for Ferrari, used the 6.5sec power boost on the main straight as a means of keeping the opposition at bay.

Hamilton’s cause was helped by Renault’s plans for a first win this season coming apart within 12 laps. Fernando Alonso had claimed pole position by running with a light load of fuel during qualifying and planning to stop three times for fuel as opposed to the two-stop strategy favoured by everyone else. Alonso took the lead as planned but was soon slowed by fuel pump problems. The denouement for the former world champion was more embarrassing when he lost a front wheel shortly after his first pit stop, letting Hamilton into a lead he would not lose.

It might have been Raikkonen assuming the lead had the Finn managed to overtake Hamilton during an eventful first lap as the Ferrari driver elbowed his way past Nico Rosberg’s Williams, the McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen and Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull.

“I had a collision on the first corner with Kimi,” said Vettel. “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. At some point the front-left suspension gave up and we had to retire the car. There are still a few races left this season and the championship fight is still on.”

Vettel dropped to third place in the points standings after Webber finished on the podium for the fourth race in succession. “I think Lewis thoroughly deserved to win today,” said Webber. “It was a good day for the sport to have McLaren and Ferrari back up there.”

Jenson Button, although disappointed with the performance of his Brawn, ought to agree because Hamilton and Raikkonen claimed points that otherwise would have gone to Webber, now Button’s closest championship rival.

Button’s team never fully recovered from the setback during qualifying when a rear spring fell off Rubens Barrichello’s car and caused the serious accident involving Felipe Massa.

Button’s qualifying was compromised as safety checks were made to his car but the championship leader was not happy from the outset of the race, complaining that he could barely drive the car.

Hamilton had made similar comments about his McLaren during previous races and Button can only hope that his team can recover lost ground during the summer break before the European Grand Prix on August 23.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009* * *FIA suspends Renault for the next race

Renault have been banned from the European Grand Prix in Valencia on August 23 by the International Motorsports Federation (FIA).

The FIA took the drastic action after a wheel flew off the car of former world champion Fernando Alonso during the Hungarian Grand Prix with the team accused of not respecting security rules.

“Renault are suspended from the next event of the 2009 World Championship,” said a FIA statement.

The French outfit announced they would appeal the ban.

“Renault F1, by this document, formally registers its intention to appeal against the decision by the officials,” Renault wrote in a letter to the FIA.

Stewards summoned Renault officials to explain why pole-sitter Alonso’s front right wheel was incorrectly fitted and was allowed to leave the pits. Video and radio transmissions were studied, and found that Renault “knowingly” allowed the Spanish driver to rejoin the race with a loose wheel nut.

The stewards’ statement said Renault “knowingly released car No. 7 from the pit-stop position without one of the retaining devices for the wheel-nuts being securely in position, this being an indication that the wheel itself may not have been properly secured.”

It added that Renault, “being aware of this, failed to take any action to prevent the car from leaving the pit lane.... (and) failed to inform the driver of this problem or to advise him to take appropriate action given the circumstances, even though the driver contacted the team by radio believing he had a puncture.”

The stewards said that the French team’s actions had compromised safety in breach of Article 3.2 of the Sporting Regulations and in breach of Article 23.1.i had released the car from the pits before it was safe to do so.

The decision means that, if their appeal fails Alonso will miss one of his two home races this year. Alonso was leading the race before his pit-stop when the right front wheel was not fitted properly. It became loose and flew off, luckily not striking anybody or anything before ending up resting against crash barriers.

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