Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium during the Hungary Grand Prix in Budapest yesterday. Pic/Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel soaked up the pressure and extended his championship lead by nursing his Ferrari to victory yesterday in a tense Hungarian Grand Prix.
The German, battling steering issues with his car, crossed the line just 0.9 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who despite champing at the bit to be let through past his hobbled team-mate, completed Ferrari’s second one-two finish of the season.
Valtteri Bottas finished third, swapping positions with Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton on the last lap, after earlier having let the Briton past in order to allow him to challenge the Ferrari pair.
Yesterday’s win was the 46th of Vettel’s career and came on his 50th start for Ferrari. It also allows Vettel, who went into the weekend leading Hamilton by just one point in the standings, to head into the sport’s annual summer break with a 14-point advantage over his rival.
“It was a really difficult race,” said the visibly relieved four-time champion on the podium.
“The steering started to go sideways. Kimi obviously could go faster, I didn’t have the pace,” added the German, acknowledging the role the Finn played as buffer between him and a charging Hamilton.
Vettel and Raikkonen kept the lead off the line even as chaos unfolded behind them. Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo both made lightning starts with the Red Bull pair challenging the two Mercedes into the first corner.
But Verstappen locked up and ran wide, slamming into the side of his team-mate’s car. The contact punctured Ricciardo’s sidepod, with the Australian spinning on the fluid spilling out of the hole in his car’s side and bringing out the safety car. Verstappen was handed a ten-second penalty by stewards for causing the collision.
Vettel and Raikkonen stayed in front at the restart and looked on course for a straightforward one-two finish before the steering issue struck the German.
Vettel was told to drive cautiously and keep off the kerbs which brought Mercedes back into play and allowed a charging Hamilton to pile the pressure on the Ferraris.
The Briton’s pace pushed the Italian outfit into a dilemma about whether to let Raikkonen through and guarantee victory for the team, with the 2007 champion calling for it, or risk Hamilton getting past both the red cars.
But with overtaking at the tight and twisty Hungaroring track proving difficult, Ferrari chose to leave Vettel out in front.
“Not ideal, I want to win, but it’s great for the team,” said Raikkonen, who nevertheless seemed upbeat.
“The other guy has to do quite a bit mistake, it’s not easy to overtake, especially with a team-mate, where you take more care.”
Mercedes had problems of their own. Both drivers had trouble with the radio, with Hamilton in particular, able to hear but not talk to his team for much of the race.
The triple champion, already the most successful driver in Hungary, had gone into the weekend poised the seize the championship lead with a record-extending sixth victory.
But he ultimately chose to hand the final podium spot back to Bottas as had been agreed, netting three fewer points than if he had held on to third.
“I was getting a little bit worried as the gap was increasing,” said Bottas on the podium.
“But really, thanks to Lewis to keep the promise and let me by.”
Verstappen recovered from his penalty to finish fifth just 0.391 seconds behind Hamilton.
Alonso, who celebrated his 36th birthday yesterday finished a strong sixth for McLaren, bagging the fastest lap of the race at the very end.
Carlos Sainz finished seventh for Toro Rosso, ahead of the two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon.
Stoffel Vandoorne handed McLaren their first double points finish of the season in tenth.
Paul di Resta, parachuted into Felipe Massa’s Williams at the last minute in place of the unwell Brazilian, was forced to retire with an oil leak on the 62nd of 70 laps. The Scot, who last raced for Force India in 2013, was running 16th at the time.
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