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Formula 1 Nostalgia: 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix
In his seventh season in Formula 1, after 113 race starts and thirteen podiums, Jenson Button claimed his maiden victory at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix. In a display of pure driving skill the Briton, who started the race from fourteenth on the grid, cleared his way through the field in difficult conditions to take the checkered flag for the first time in his Formula 1 career.
The 2006 Formula 1 season marked the move from 3.0 liter V10 engines to 2.4 liter V8 engines, and was the last year with two tire manufacturers supplying the teams. It was also a year that saw near total dominance from Ferrari and Renault. The Drivers’ Championship was a two-man battle between Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher and Renault’s Fernando Alonso, the Italian and French constructors dominating the season and winning all but one race: the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Summers in Hungary are often hot and humid and the Hungaroring has a reputation for being a difficult circuit to pass; it is narrow and crooked, and often very dusty from the heat and infrequent use. Therefore the Hungarian Grand Prix is usually associated with races, cars following each other, unable to pass. However 2006 is different; Hungary hosted its first wet Formula 1 Grand Prix and rain sent the race into chaos, providing one of the most action-packed races of the year.
Officials were kept busy in the lead-up to the race: Championship leader Alonso was given a second penalty for overtaking under a yellow flag during Friday’s practice session, and was hit with a second penalty for breaking Red Bull. test driver Robert Doornbos. During the final practice session, Schumacher received a second penalty for overtaking under a red flag while Button’s Honda was caught after an engine failure (which then led to an engine change and earned the Briton a 10-place grid penalty).
McLaren’s Kimi Räikkönen took the lead, ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Honda’s Rubens Barrichello; while Schumacher started eleventh, Ghobo fourteenth and Alonso fifteenth. There was standing water on the field making for an eventful first lap; while Räikkönen held the lead Massa dropped to seventh, Schumacher and Alonso shot up to fifth and seventh respectively. Button used his wet weather driving skills, gaining traction on the damp track to make up significant ground in the early stages of the race.
On a track infamous for its failure to overcome mud, drivers bravely put their skills to the test amidst the rain-induced chaos. Toro Rosso’s Tonio Liuzzi spun out of control giving teammate Scott Speed fourteenth place, while Barrichello dove into the pits to change tires from wet to medium; a move considered unusual as weather conditions worsened. Massa had his hands full after spinning his Ferrari costing Red Bull’s David Coulthard a place, then taking a wide lane allowing BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld to pass.
Schumacher found himself under fire from Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella, as did Alonso’s Pedro de la Rosa. Barrichello was benefiting from Massa’s Ferrari so the team brought him to the pits for a tire change; however, Barrichello quickly went off the road but was able to recover. Fisichella made a sharp move on Schumacher but eventually released the Ferrari’s wing which sent the German into the pits. Shortly after, Fisichella’s afternoon ended when he flew into the gravel and crashed into the barrier. Nico Rosberg has joined the retirement race after suffering an electrical problem.
The drivers had to contend with difficult weather conditions as the heavy rain eased and the sun dried the track, placing great emphasis on tire strategy and at this stage Schumacher was the only Bridgestone runner in the top ten. Räikkönen’s day came to an abrupt end when he crashed his McLaren into Liuzzi’s Toro Rosso sending him airborne, no driver was injured but the safety car was deployed.
Alonso was one of several drivers to take the opportunity to pit for fresh rubber, finding himself in the lead with Button in second and de la Rosa in third. When the safety car arrived Alonso caught a minute and left, but the Button remained with the Spaniard and two pairs sold quickly, at one time the gap was less than a second. Both cars were running on medium tires and were struggling to find the wet parts of the track drying quickly, and both opted for a much-needed tire change. But when Alonso came out of the pits disaster struck as his Renault appeared to move and after a second he lost control when his right rear wheel spun and crashed into the barrier.
In treacherous conditions, only eleven cars crossed the finish line with Jenson Button in the lead, thirty seconds from Pedro de la Rosa’s McLaren in second and Nick Heidfeld in the BMW Sauber third, giving the team the first podium. But the day belonged to Button of Victory, who through unavoidable problems overtook the field to claim his first Formula 1 victory.
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