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Lewis Hamilton 5th in Hungary

It’s not exactly what you would call success to start on pole position for a Grand Prix but finish fifth. Yet that’s what Lewis Hamilton did in the Hungarian GP and celebrated afterwards.

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton after gaining pole in Hungary

In mitigation, he lost out to a bullish start by Felipe Massa who gambled on an outrageous outside passing manoeuvre on the first bend. Hamilton later suffered a puncture, but managed to limp to the pits and re-enter the race.

Hamilton was helped by his nearest rival, Massa, blowing his engine three laps out. He thus retains his World Championship lead by 5 points from Kimi Raikkonen.

The race was won by Hamilton’s McLaren team-mate, Heikki Kovalainen.

Earlier
On a track notorious for the difficulty of overtaking, Lewis Hamilton is in pole for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

After a courageous win in Germany a fortnight ago when his team made a crucial mistake that initially sent him backwards through the field, and a stunning performance at Silverstone, Hamilton is now four points ahead in the Drivers’ Championship.

His McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen is beside him on the front row. The Ferrari of Felipe Massa is in third, while Kimi Raikkonen’s recent run of poor form continued as the current world champion qualified in sixth place.

With a fair wind and a bit of luck, Hamilton should make it three in a row. This season though has been characterized by the ups and downs of unforced errors and rotten bad luck.

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Lewis Hamilton romps home at Silverstone

On a wet weekend in England, Heikki Kovalainen managed the first pole position of his career and succeeded in putting his McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the shade, back in fourth spot on the grid.

Lewis Hamilton wins at Silverstone
Lewis Hamilton greeted by his team at Silverstone

That was Saturday’s Qualifying. The British Grand Prix itself was a very different picture.

Former World Champion, Jackie Stewart watched Hamilton complete the drive of his life to claim a race rendered treacherous by torrential rain.

He later said, “What we saw was a masterful drive. He really behaved himself beautifully. The outstanding talent this young man has was fully demonstrated, because you couldn’t get conditions any more difficult than that.”

This was Hamilton’s third win of the season, and puts the British ace into a share of the championship lead with chief rivals, current Champion, Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa. The two Ferrari drivers were among many to spin on a track often awash with water.

The 90,000 crowd gave Hamilton an overwhelming ovation, well aware that this victory puts him in serious contention for this year’s title. He just needs to avoid the kind of rush of blood to the head we’ve seen too often this season, and his tendency to “overdrive” on occasions.

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What’s Wrong With Renault?

The world champions are in trouble so far this season, their car apparently not as good as they had hoped, their drivers unconvincing and team boss Briatore already talking about next year’s car. Things could be worse, as demonstrated by McLaren and Williams last year, but not much; when you’ve been used to winning, it hurts to know that you are no longer in the running.

Fizzy

Giancarlo Fisichella

All this was fairly predictable (in fact, I did so in November last year), although we may not have expected the car to be as poor as it has turned out. Much of that drop in performance can be attributed to the change to Bridgestone tires, Renault having experienced more problems in this area than most teams, but there seem to be design weaknesses too. Otherwise Briatore would not be mumbling about next year’s car already.

The big question is how much Alonso’s departure has contributed to Renault’s fall from grace. That it has had some effect is undoubted – Alonso is so strong a driver that he would have hauled the car into higher positions than Fisichella has managed to; but it is doubtful that even he could have turned it into a race winner.

I think that little blame can be heaped on the shoulders of the Renault drivers. Fisichella is doing his best with the machinery he has been given and Kovalainen has made the usual rookie mistakes but should get better with experience. Unfortunately for Fisichella, the failings of the car will be blamed on him to some extent at least; this is his make-or-break year and it grows ever more likely that he will find himself out of a job at the end of the season. No doubt Briatore is already looking for a replacement.

And he will want a proven driver to lead the team although, with the sudden influx of new talent, there aren’t that many of the old guard left to choose from. I have seen Webber suggested but the Australian will have learned the lesson of patience from his time at Williams; Red Bull’s RB3 may not be as competitive as Webber had hoped but it does show that the team are heading in the right direction, perhaps to make a big breakthrough next year. Mark will stay with them, I think.

So who else is there? Raikkonen is pretty securely contracted to Ferrari and Alonso to McLaren – not much hope there. Heidfeld will stick with BMW if he has any sense at all, Ralf and Trulli are in their make-or-break years too and will probably break. Of the experienced drivers, there is just one possibility left and, although it may seem utterly ridiculous, it may be forced upon both parties.

Jenson Button could be the one that Briatore’s eye alights upon. He is contracted to Honda but, as we have seen in the past, neither Button nor Flavio take much notice of contracts. The Briton’s talent is doubted now but he has never had a decent opportunity to prove himself; he is quick and just might come good in the right car. It’s a chance that Briatore might be prepared to take.

As for Button himself, he must have realized by now that he made a bad mistake in going to Honda. The fact that they have had persistent problems with the front of their cars and been unable to solve them is worrying, to say the least. He could be open to an approach, despite recent assertions to the contrary.

All speculation, of course, and things may happen this season that make such an eventuality impossible. It is very early in the season still and one cannot discount the possibility of Renault solving their problems and returning to competitiveness in the coming races. It just doesn’t look likely, with Briatore becoming so desperate that his public pronouncements get wilder and wilder…

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Changes at Renault

Pat Symonds, Renault’s Director of Engineering, will be less involved in the race team in future, reports Autosport magazine. This has meant that there will a personnel reshuffle within the team, with Fisichella’s race engineer, Alan Permane, taking control of the teams overall engineering oversight and other engineers moving around to fill the gaps.

These are changes with the future in mind but they may have an immediate impact upon Renault’s competitiveness for 2007. It takes time to adjust to re-arrangements and, taken with the driver changes, especially the loss of Alonso, the team might not be as strong as we have come to expect, at least for the early part of the season.

Kov

Heikki Kovalainen

The drivers are the biggest question mark, of course. I have been a fan of Fisichella’s over the years but, to be brutally honest, he has disappointed a little. There have been half chances for the taking but, generally, he has missed out on them. And this coming season with Renault has to be the make or break year. As the driver with experience, he should take the team forward and start to win consistently; others have risen to the occasion in the past and surprised us with suddenly-masterful performances (remember Patrick Tambay in Gilles’ shoes?). But can Giancarlo do it? I am not sure.

Then there’s young Heikki Kovalainen. Briatore thinks he has the makings of a star but only time will tell. His results in lower formulae are good but not record-breaking, and his year as a test driver with Renault tells us little. It seems he is pretty quick and he is Finnish, after all (and you know that counts!). But he would have to be something really special to challenge for the championship in his first F1 racing year. Again, I’m not sure.

With all these changes, the 2006 champions have to be a dubious bet for next year. And Ferrari are in the same boat, as strong as their line-up looks on paper. At McLaren, everything hinges on how good their car is – if it’s good, Alonso will be champion, if not, he’s in for a very frustrating year. And some are getting tired of waiting for McLaren to come good again…

It’s a perfect recipe for a fiercely competitive season. The big guys are busy rebuilding and the midfield runners have their acts together and are ready to take up the challenge. Ever the optimist, I hope we see a real dogfight between five or six teams with the championships not decided until the very last lap of the last race.

And I say that knowing full well that years of that sort are as rare as hen’s teeth in F1…

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