After May's Spanish Grand Prix, Nico Rosberg was sitting comfortably with a 43-point lead in the Driver's World Championship. After July's Hungarian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was leading the title race by six points, after a calculated, Alain Prost-style drive to claim a record breaking fifth win around the Hungaroring.
The Brit's commanding win was all but settled at the first turn when he got ahead of the sister Mercedes, who was briefly held up by the fast starting Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, who was delighted to hold off former teammate Sebastian Vettel to claim third place. The other Red Bull just held off the other Ferrari by 0.4s, despite Kimi Raikkonen's best efforts to get past Max Verstappen that included contact at T2 toward the end of the race.
McLaren's Fernando Alonso completed a weekend of seventh in all sessions, by finishing there in the race, to haul six points for the Woking team, fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz came home a solid P8 for Toro Rosso whilst Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the points paying positions. Renault's Jolyon Palmer was all set for a first venture into the points, but a late spin at T4 cost him his maiden points, eventually coming him a "gutting" P12, on his best drive of the year.
Button radio penalty sparks outcry
From the start, the Mercedes of Rosberg was crowded out by Hamilton and Ricciardo around the outside, although at T3 Rosberg righted that to set off after Hamilton, with a buffer of 1.5 seconds, which was eventually the final buffer between the two.
At the end of the main straight, Jenson Button's McLaren was visibly slowing and he soon reported a that "the pedal is going to the floor", indicating an hydraulic issue with the MP4-31. Soon afterwards he was told to stay out, to which the response was "this is going to be a race hell". Indeed it was as shortly afterwards, a message came across from the FIA that Button was under investigation for "unauthorised radio messages",. He was handed a drive-through penalty.
It was the brake pedal that was the problem for the British driver and over Team Radio, aimed at the FIA directed the following outburst "Its interesting that a brake pedal going to the floor isn't a safety issue, interesting". Under the new radio rules, teams may only tell their driver want to do, but then must immediately bring them in for pit-stop or to retire. In the end, Button was the only retirement, late on with a oil pressure problem.
Verstappen was behind his teammate, and felt he was being held up, describing his pace as "driving like a grandma". By this point, the Red Bulls were five seconds behind the Mercedes duo, who were in close battle throughout the race.
Later than expected the first round of pit-stops was on lap 15, with fifth placed man Vettel the first to switch to the more durable Soft tyre, A lap later Hamilton and Ricciardo made their stop, emerging free of traffic. The same could not be said for Verstappen who came out of his stop behind Raikkonen, starting on the Soft. After some intense pressure, the Finn held off the young Dutchman, although karma would come back to haunt the 2007 World Champion later in the race.
Initially Hamilton seemed uncomfortable on the Soft tyre, with Rosberg rapidly closing the gap to his teammate, although on this occasion, and throughout the race, whenever Hamilton was threatened he simply raised his pace to fend off the German, who recently signed a new Mercedes contract.
Ricciardo undercut threat
In an uncharacteristic quiet race in Hungary, around half distance Ricciardo dived for the pit-stops to attempt an undercut on Rosberg, who was being held up by Hamilton, akin to his tricks in China 2015. In order to protect his engine and tyres, Hamilton's pace was slow, and his team, to protect Rosberg against Ricciardo asked him to pick his pace up, to which the Brit did but questionning why "I'm doing all I can with these tyres".
However, the Mercedes pit-wall out thought their Red Bull counterparts as Ricciardo burnt out his tyres whilst giving chase.The ploy was also used to protect the Australian's podium against the former Red Bull driver Vettel, which was accomplished by just 1.0s.
With plenty of fresh SuperSoft tyres, Raikkonen pitted for the last time on Lap 50, for a 20 lap stint to the checkered flag. Considerably faster than Verstappen, he tried everything to pass, but couldn't. The Finnish driver accused the Dutchman of illegally changing direction more than once in the braking zone, something categorically denied by the 18-year old.
In a race devoid of memorable action, after the Verstappen/Raikkonen duel, the remaining laps passed without any further action of note, except Palmer's spin after good work by the Renault pit-crew getting him ahead of Hulkenberg's Force India in a race between the two and Esteban Gutierrez receiving a time penalty for ignoring blue-flags when being lapped by Hamilton.
The best of the rest
Sergio Perez cost himself a potential points finish with a breakdown on communication when pitting, whilst the Haas battle was won by Gutierrez. Danill Kvyat received a five second penalty for pit-lane speeding whilst the Sauber's and Manor's had a day to forget trailing home in four of the final five classified finishing positions. Williams driver Felipe Massa was compromised with a steering rack issue, the legacy of his shunt in Qualifying yesterday, coming home P18.
Advantage Hamilton. Rosberg has tried his best to maintain a positive attitude whilst his lead in the championship has been whittled down. Hamilton's 48th win is his fifth in the last six, since the duo's best efforts at Total Wipeout in Barcelona on May 15th. Rosberg's only win since then was in Azerbaijan on June 19th, only after Hamilton had crashed in Q3.
If the German wants to land his maiden world crown, he needs to find a way to beat Hamilton in wheel-to-wheel combat, although a saving grace for him is that Hamilton needs to be take an engine penalty, probably in Belgium or Italy, the legacy of his earlier season problems.
Despite Ferrari trying to put a positive spin on things, they have been jumped by Red Bull in terms of taking the challenge to Mercedes. Only separated by one point, Ferrari need to rectify their alarming slide in form and quickly.
The next race on the calendar is the 11th round of the season, the German Grand Prix from Hockenheim next Sunday.