The Hungaroring has witnessed numerous milestones in regards to Formula One. We could talk about the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix in which Fernando Alonso became at the time the youngest ever driver to win a Grand Prix or we could talk about the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix where Lewis Hamilton notched the first win in a car equipped with a regenerative brake system (KERS). Instead, we have decided to focus on the 2006 Hungarian GP. In a race that many have described as the most exciting race this side of Y2K the drama started in qualifying.
It was race 13 of 18 in the 2006 Formula One season and Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher were battling for the Drivers’ World Championship. The two studs had a rough go of it in qualifying, however, as Alonso was given a two-second qualifying penalty for dangerous driving under a yellow flag during Friday practice and Schumacher was given a two-second penalty for overtaking Alonso and Robert Kubica under red flag conditions during Saturday free practice. That meant that both Alonso and Schumacher had two seconds added to their times in each part of qualifying. The penalties didn’t end there though. Both Christijan Albers and Jensen Button were given ten-place grid penalties for engine changes. By the time the stewards were done and qualify was over we had a top three of Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Rubens Barrichello. Schumacher was in eleventh, Button in fourteenth, Alonso in fifteenth and poor Albers in dead last.
When Sunday rolled around, the skies opened up. It was the first ever wet Hungarian Grand Prix and each and every team started on wet-tyres. Raikkonen rocketed off the start line and took the early lead. Amazingly, Schumacher climbed from eleventh to sixth place by the first corner and Alonso dazzled his way into seventh place by the end of the first lap. The race was on. For several laps the two front runners battled it out with Alonso eventually pulling ahead of Schumacher for third place. At that point, both McLaren cars, driven by Pedro de la Rosa and Kimi Raikkonen, pitted for new tyres leaving Alonso to take first place. For whatever reason the Bridgestone tyres, normally king of wet conditions, were struggling that day. McLaren and Ferrari were struggling because of it. It looked like it was Alonso’s race to lose. Schumacher was stuggling to stay in fourth place and eventually lost his front wing in a battle with Giancarlo Fisichella. The German pitted, going down a lap.
Meanwhile, Jenson Button was pulling off a little magic of his own. Out of nowhere the Englishman had passed Massa, Fisichella and Schumacher in the span of two laps. Then came the chaos of a safety car. Raikkonen had struggled with his second set of tyres and crashed into the back of Vitantonio Liuzzi’s Toro Rosso. Numerous cars, including Alonso, dove into the pits. The beneficiaries: Jensen Button and Micheal Schumacher. Both decided not to pit allowing Schumacher to get back on the lead lap and Button to jump all the way into second place. Button was gearing up to challenge Alonso when the weather started to change. The track was beginning to dry out. The majority of cars, including Button and Alonso, came into the pits for dry weather tyres. Alonso came out of the pits as the loser, however, as his right-rear wheel nut soon deteached causing the Spaniard to lose control and crash. His day was over and Button was the new race leader.
I mentioned the majority of cars changed to dry weather tyres. Schumacher took a different approach. He gambled by staying on intermediate tyres and had made his way into second place. As the final laps of the race approached, however, that gamble back fired. The dry tyres were much faster and Schumacher was battling just to stay in the points. Eventually Schumacher was passed and during an especially desperate moment Schumacher banged wheels with Nick Heidfeld. The damaged Ferrari had to pit with three laps remaining. With Alonso and Schumacher out of the race, Button cruised to victory. It was Button’s first win in Formula One. Completing a brilliant drive from fourteenth to first, Button was overcome with emotion on the podium. The first of many for a fan favorite.