Lotus have been slowly chipping away with their performance this season and, statistically, are looking one of the most consistent teams on the grid — one of only two teams to have claimed two double podiums and one of very few that have shown performance on a wide range of different tracks.
In Hungary, victory was again elusive but they moved a step closer when they finally secured a front row slot. Romain Grosjean qualified second behind Hamilton and, starting from there, they had claimed, they would have the chance to chase down the win.
Indeed, Grosjean was within a second of Hamilton and was matching the McLaren's times until the second set of stops but running in dirty air hurt his ability to protect his tyres. He was the first of the pair to stop and McLaren were comfortably able to cover.
In contrast, his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen may have had to fight through the field having started fifth on the grid, but he was on the attack right to the finish.
Raikkonen dropped back to sixth behind Fernando Alonso on the first lap after which, as you would expect in Hungary, he got stuck until the first round of pit stops. But the key to Raikkonen jumping up through the field was his ability to maximise the length of his tyre stints, as shown in the pit stop strategies below:
Raikkonen's first stop was around 0.4s slower than Alonso's, but it was the fact the Finn stopped three laps later than Alonso that got him past. In those three laps, Alonso had an out lap then ran a 1m29.1s and a 1m28.1s while Raikkonen, who had been right behind the Ferrari, did a 1m28.3s, 1m27.6s and 1m27.7s - plenty to get him ahead.
It was the second stint that played out best for Raikkonen, however. Having come out in fourth with a five-second gap to third-placed Vettel, whose true pace was slowed by the McLaren of Button in front of him, the Lotus driver had the space to manage his pace well.
In the early part of that stint (laps 20-30), all the lead bunch were running in the mid-1m27s but Raikkonen was averaging a little better and also punched in three laps in the 1m26s to close the gap when he had the space to do so without damaging his tyres.
Button moved out of Vettel's way on lap 34, when McLaren opted for a three-stop strategy (which ultimately proved the wrong one to take), and that put the Red Bull driver's speed up dramatically — although Raikkonen was still consistently faster than all three men in front of him, as shown below:
The clean air meant Raikkonen was able to go six laps further than Grosjean and seven laps further than Vettel on his second set of tyres before they started to show signs of fading — and that allowed him to comfortably jump Vettel and narrowly move ahead of Grosjean for second.
It was then on to race for the win.
With tyres three laps fresher than Hamilton's, he could push to close the 4.4s gap and it dropped to just under a second in six laps. But, Hungary being such a difficult track to overtake on, that is where it stayed. Even DRS could not help Raikkonen get that final push.
The satisfying thing for Lotus, however, is that not only did they show they had the race pace they also took a new approach to qualifying that enabled them, for the first time, to hit the front of the grid.
On any other track, victory could have been theirs. Surely, now, it's only a matter of time.
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- Kimi Raikkonen
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