A rare wet race at Hungary produces extreme drama

While every previous edition of the Hungarian Grand Prix was staged in hot and dry conditions, 2006 was cold and wet. Conditions were very slippy, with Pedro de la Rossa managing to spin and recover his McLaren on the warm up lap.

Championship protagonists Fernando Alonso (Renault) and Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) had both been handed penalties in qualifying for overtaking under yellow/red flags and would be starting from midfield (Alonso in 15th and Schumacher in 11th). Jenson Button, still without a Grand Prix victory to his name, was also struck with a penalty for an engine change to his Honda, and he started down in 14th.

At the start Kimi Raikkonen led away from pole in his McLaren. But behind both Schumacher and Alonso were in no mood to mess around, both producing stellar opening laps. By the end of lap one Schumacher was up to fourth and Alonso up to sixth. Schumacher made a good start and was more confident than those around him going deep into the outside of Turn 1 , climbing to 6th by the time the cars turned into the first corner. He was 5th a few corners later, taking advantage of Trulli’s Renault losing momentum trying to outmuscle Massa in the Ferrari, with Massa then allowing his team leader through into 4th. Championship leader Alonso meanwhile produced the kind of lap that fits into discussions of the greatest lap ever. With a vacant grid position ahead of him (left by Christian Klein’s Red Bull starting from the pit lane) Alonso pulled away cleanly at start, passing Button in the first phase of acceleration and clearing Trulli’s Toyota on the run down to Turn 1. Alonso tried for the outside on the approach, but was left with no room, putting a wheel over the white lines as David Coulthard’s Red Bull came across the track to deny him space. Alonso had to back off and tuck in behind Coulthard, now in 12th as he tried to hang around the outside of turn 1, managing to get around Toyota’s Ralph Schumacher. As Alonso (now 11th) dragged down to turn 2 he braked later than Mark Webber’s Williams, driving around him into 10th. Next up was the BMW-Sauber cars of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica, separated by David Coulthard’s Red Bull. Coming out of Turn 4 Alonso had better traction and took Heidfeld heading into Turn 5, continuing around the outside to pass Coulthard. Alonso then tailed Kubica, getting a better run out of Turn 8 and diving upside the inside into Turn 9. Alonso, now in 7th, then went then caught Massa, before going the long way around the outside of Massa in Turn 13, gaining the inside line for the last bend and squeezing ahead as he exited onto the main straight in 6th. What a lap!!

On lap 2 Alonso got past team mate Fisichella, while Button took Heidfeld as Kubica span down the order. By lap 3 Button was up to 8th past Coulthard.

The cold conditions would prove to favour the runners on Michelin tyres, with the Bridgestone shod cars (mainly Ferrari and Toyota) struggling on the wet track. This was highlighted by the manner in which Alonso, who was all over the back of Schumacher, serenely swept around the outside of his title rival at Turn 5 to take fourth place lap 4. Raikkonen was edging away up front, with teammate Pedro de la Rossa passing Honda’s Barrichello for second. This prompted Barrichello, who had started on full wet tyres, to come in to put on intermediates, the extra stop dropping him down the field and effectively removing him from contention for the race win.

Button meanwhile continued to progress, passing first Massa, then Fisichella and finally Schumacher to move up to 4th position by lap 7. Alonso, who had started the race on a heavier fuel load was now in third, and was promoted to first when the McLarens pitted. The race seemed to be falling into Alonso’s hands at this stage, as he stayed on track and built a healthy lead while the others pitted, only to see the safety car come out when Kimi Raikkonen smashed into the back of and climbed up and over Liuzzi’s Toro Rosso on lap 25 while coming up to lap him. Alonso now led from Button as de la Rossa dived into the pits. Alonso pitted for dry tyres on lap 51 to hand the lead back to Button (still on intermediate tyres), but Alonso’s hopes of regaining the lead were dashed when a wheel was not attached properly at the stop. Alonso wobbled around the first corner before sliding off the track and into the barriers at Turn 2. Button had time to stop for dry tyres and continue to lead comfortably.

Schumacher climbed to second as the others pitted for dry tyres. Schumacher, who had already had to change front wing following a coming together with Fisichella earlier in the race as Fisichellla passed him into Turn 1, was trying to hang on to position in the drying conditions, staying out on his worn intermediates Bridgestones, but by the end of the race was much slower than the cars behind him.He lost out first to de la Rossa and then with 3 laps to go to Heidfeld, with Schumacher clattering into Heidfeld as he attempted to keep position, damaging his suspension and retiring, only to gain 8th place after the race as Kubica was disqualified for being underweight and none of the remaining cars made it as far as Schumacher! Button meanwhile kept his cool to bring the car home and record his first ever Grand Prix Victory to end a sensational race.

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