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FIA F1 - Hamilton Wins Hungary

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Budapest, Jul. 29, 2012: It may have been a slow-burning affair, but Sunday's Hungarian race didn’t lack drama with Mclaren’s Lewis Hamilton expertly resisting pressure throughout from the Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean to win from the front.

On a day when the best that title contenders Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel could muster was fifth, eighth and fourth respectively, the McLaren driver’s result was the perfect success as Formula One racing heads into its summer break.

Now the points situation is nicely poised, with Ferrari’s Alonso on 164, Red Bull’s Webber on 124, team mate Vettel on 122, Hamilton on 117 and Raikkonen on 116 with nine races to go. In the constructors’ stakes, Red Bull have 246 as McLaren move back into second with 193. Just to rub salt in Ferrari’s wound, Lotus now have 192 to the Scuderia’s 189. Mercedes are fading with 106 ahead of Sauber’s 80, Williams’s 53 and Force India’s 46.

Hamilton took the lead at the start but could never break clear of Grosjean as team mate Jenson Button fended off Vettel, Alonso, Raikkonen and Webber. Button was the first to stop for fresh tyres, on Lap 15, followed by Vettel two laps later, then Hamilton on Lap 18 and Grosjean on 19. Raikkonen, however, lasted until Lap 20.

Still it was Hamilton versus Grosjean, with Button continuing to hold off Vettel as Raikkonen resumed in fifth ahead of an outclassed Ferrari, and this was the point where Hamilton, on mediums, faced his toughest challenge as Grosjean had switched to softs. The Frenchman got the gap down to 0.9s by Lap 31, but some minor mistakes set him back.

Button pitted again on the 34th lap, followed by Vettel on the 38th, Grosjean on the 39th and Hamilton on the 40th. Button took a set of softs, but the rest went for mediums. That appeared to hand the advantage much more securely to Hamilton, but Raikkonen made his soft tyres last until the 45th lap before taking some mediums.

When the Finn rejoined, Grosjean was headed for Turn One at the same time and Raikkonen flexed his muscles and left his team mate nowhere to go but the dirt on the outside of the corner. So now it was Hamilton versus Raikkonen, who was only 4.4s behind. Given the way the Lotus uses its tyres it seemed inconceivable that the Englishman could hold on for another 24 laps. And indeed Raikkonen soon cut the gap until less than a second separated them by the 52nd lap.

But that was as close as Raikkonen could get, and he admitted afterwards that his sole hope then rested on the McLaren running into rear-tyre degradation problems. They never came, and a delighted Hamilton was able to speed home to the 19th victory of his career just when he needed it most.

Grosjean hung on for third, as Red Bull gambled on third stops for both Vettel and Webber. The German’s did him no harm as he retained fourth and slashed the deficit to the Frenchman’s Lotus from 14 seconds to one by the flag, but Webber couldn’t pass Bruno Senna’s extremely well-driven Williams for seventh and finished a half second adrift of the Brazilian.

Ahead of them Alonso had a muted 31st birthday celebration as he brought a less competitive Ferrari home fifth from Button, who lost his chance of a podium when a switch to three-stopping 'Plan B' saw him trapped too long behind Senna.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa had a subdued race after a horrible start, and claimed two points for ninth ahead of Nico Rosberg, who while unobtrusive at least had better fortune than Mercedes partner Michael Schumacher. Confusion over an aborted start prompted Schumacher to switch off his engine on the grid, as the rest of the field left on a second formation lap. After starting from the pits he then got a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane and later became the race’s first retirement having never featured.

Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta were 11th and 12th for Force India. The Scotsman was momentarily pushed off track by a too forceful Pastor Maldonado on the 47th lap, for which the Venezuelan was later awarded a drive-through penalty which dropped him to 13th for Williams.

Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi had unhappy days for Sauber which left them 14th and 15th, and the Toro Rossos were 16th and 17th with Daniel Ricciardo leading home Jean-Eric Vergne who made four pit stops.

Heikki Kovalainen led home Caterham team mate Vitaly Petrov in 18th and 19th, ahead of Marussia’s Charles Pic, HRT survivor Pedro de la Rosa and Timo Glock, whose race began badly with a spin on the third lap and never got any better. Narain Karthikeyan’s HRT stopped on the 64th lap with broken front suspension.