F1 Blast from the Past: Button Ends Long Wait for First Formula 1 Victory

Background

Round 13 of the 2006 Formula One World Championship was at the Hungaroring, near Budapest. Fernando Alonso continued to lead the driver’s standings coming into the weekend, but a recent drop in form coming off the back of Renault’s mass damper controversy had allowed the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher to close in. Three consecutive victories for the German had allowed him to close to the gap to Alonso to just 11 points.

Alonso and Schumacher’s title battle would define the 2006 season

Following the departure of Juan Pablo Montoya after the United States Grand Prix, another big name had left the sport before Hungary. Jacques Villeneuve was deemed unfit to drive following his crash at the German Grand Prix the previous week and was replaced by Poland’s Robert Kubica. However, the 1997 World Champion parted company with the BMW Sauber team permanently.

Qualifying

The weekend got off to a controversial start when championship leader Alonso felt that Red Bull’s third driver Robert Doornbos had impeded him during Friday’s second practice session. The Spaniard remonstrated furiously with the Dutchman and brake tested him. Alonso was handed a one-second time penalty for each part of qualifying.

To make matters worse, he incurred the same penalty for overtaking under waved yellow flags later in the session.

The only F1 race in Eastern Europe produced plenty of penalties for the top dogs. Image: ppm Hungary

The defending world champion wasn’t the only one in trouble, though. Jenson Button’s Honda engine failed in Saturday morning’s practice session, giving the Englishman a 10-place grid penalty.

However, the other championship contender also found himself in hot water. Kubica followed Alonso around the final corner as both slowed following the red flag, but Schumacher drove round the outside of both of them. Subsequently, the German also gained a two-second penalty for each part of qualifying.

Kimi Raikkonen avoided the controversy to take his second pole position in as many weeks. The Finn was ahead of the two Brazilians of Felipe Massa in the Ferrari and Rubens Barrichello’s Honda. While the penalties imposed resulted in Schumacher starting 11th, Button 14th and Alonso 15th.

Slip and slide at the start

For the first time in its history, the Hungarian Grand Prix started in wet conditions. The 70 laps got underway with Raikkonen holding his lead, but Massa made a poor getaway as Barrichello and the second McLaren of Pedro de la Rosa got ahead.

It was very much sink or swim at the start of the 2006 Hungarian GP. Image: The Checkered Flag

Further back, both Schumacher and Alonso made excellent starts. Schumacher was quickly up to fifth and by the end of the lap had disposed of Giancarlo Fisichella’s Renault for fourth. Alonso had surged through the field and was only two places behind in sixth after dismissing Massa’s Ferrari into the final corner.

Alonso then quickly got past his teammate Fisichella for fifth before hunting down Schumacher. Despite their grid penalties, unbelievably they were dicing for fourth after just a few laps.

READ MORE BLAST FROM THE PAST: SCHUMACHER AND ALONSO DUEL IN THE DESERT

On Lap Four, Alonso boldly passed Schumacher round the outside of Turn Five. Button also got the better of Schumacher on lap seven, the German had started on full wet tyres and as the track was briefly drying, the Ferrari was on the backfoot.

On Lap 17, Giancarlo Fisichella was battling with Schumacher when the German caught a snap of oversteer and tagged the Italian, damaging his front wing. Schumacher sunk to ninth, while Alonso found himself in the lead after both McLaren’s made their first pit-stops.

A race of attrition

The rain began to get heavier and on Lap 18, Fisichella spun off at Turn 8, the damage ended his race. Robert Kubica also spun at Turn Five and would head to the pits for a new nosecone. On Lap 26 the Safety Car was brought out after a terrifying incident which saw Raikkonen launch over the back of the Toro Rosso of Vitantonio Liuzzi.

The Italian had backed off to let the McLaren lap him, but Raikkonen was caught out by the deceleration and couldn’t avoid the Toro Rosso. Alonso used the opportunity to make his first pit-stop and retained his lead from Button and de la Rosa.

The race restarted on Lap 32 and Schumacher’s incident-packed race continued when he collided with David Coulthard’s Red Bull at Turn 2 and spun, but quickly recovered. Button was flying in the Honda as the track was drying out again, setting the fastest lap of the race thus far and closing in on Alonso. Kubica was also recovering well, catching Massa napping and moving into the points.

At the end of Lap 46, Button headed to the pits for his second fuel stop, he was followed soon after by Schumacher. Neither opted to change their tyres. Alonso then made his stop on Lap 51, relinquishing the lead to Button but the Englishman would have to pit again. However, the Renault had a problem exiting the pits, the driveshaft had failed leaving the Spaniard careering into the tyre barrier at Turn 2 and out of the race for the first time in 2006.

READ MORE BLAST FROM THE PAST: SCHUMACHER AND ALONSO DUEL AT IMOLA 2005

Button was then left with a comfortable lead, Schumacher was up to second but his gamble to stay on intermediates didn’t pay off as de la Rosa and Nick Heidfeld, both on dry tyres, began to catch him. With just six laps to go, de la Rosa made a move down the inside going into the chicane, Schumacher straight-lined the chicane and refused to concede the position to the Spaniard.

On the next lap, de la Rosa attempted the manoeuvre again, Schumacher cut the chicane for the second time but the McLaren made it through to second place. One lap later at the same spot, Heidfeld tried the same move, Schumacher refused to yield and there was contact, it was the Ferrari that came off worse with a broken right-front track rod. A frustrating weekend finally came to an end for Schumacher.

At the front, Jenson Button, in his 113th Grand Prix, finally scored his first victory after a brilliant drive from 14th on the grid. Pedro de la Rosa followed him home in second for his first career podium finish, and Nick Heidfeld took BMW Sauber’s first podium finish. There hadn’t been a happier podium for a long time.

Barrichello completed Honda’s day with fourth place ahead of Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher. Robert Kubica finished seventh on his debut but was excluded for an underweight car. Leaving Felipe Massa picking up two points and Michael Schumacher salvaging the final point after been classified two laps down.

It had been a long time coming but Jenson Button had answered his critics and had become a Grand Prix winner in one of the most entertaining races in modern Formula 1 history.

Grid Talk Podcast

If you want more content to preview your Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, the Grid Talk crew have you covered with their latest podcast. George Howson hosted Jack Watson, Alex Booth and Phil Mathew in their Hungarian GP Prixview. Both audio and video versions of the show are available below:

Leave a Reply