BRITAIN’S Lewis Hamilton kick-started his world title defence with success at yesterday’s Hungarian Grand Prix – his first chequered flag for nine months.
Hamilton has had such a miserable season in his under-performing McLaren that he had not even been on the podium before the weekend.
But 2009 pacesetters Brawn GP and Red Bull were left in the shade at the Hungaroring, as Hamilton led home Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Red Bull’s Mark Webber did manage third place, moving him into second in the drivers’ standings, but team-mate Sebastian Vettel lost ground in the title battle after he was forced to retire with suspension trouble.
Championship leader Jenson Button also had a miserable afternoon, finishing a season’s worst seventh, while colleague Rubens Barrichello was 10th.
But Hamilton and his much-improved car dominated an eventful race, once pole-sitter Fernando Alonso came in for his first pit stop. The Englishman passed Vettel and Webber on turn one and, having briefly swapped places again with Webber, took the lead when Alonso went in.
The Spaniard then lost his wheel in an incident that saw Renault handed a one-race ban for the European Grand Prix, subject to an appeal. Raikkonen escaped punishment for colliding with Vettel, damaging the Red Bull driver’s car.
In the end Hamilton coasted to victory and, while his team’s dramatic improvement may have come too late to keep the title within his grasp, the Englishman said he was confident the win would not be a one-off.