Rare does a Formula One Grand Prix come to pass where the outcome is so in doubt so late in a race and several drivers have a legitimate case at victory, but the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix marked one of those abnormal occasions.
Consider Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from an early tire gamble, ran slightly off sequence compared to the pair of World Champions in Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, and then delivered two passes on the two of them in the waning stages to score an opportunistic and well-played second win. Yes, he was on newer tires, but he still had to make passes at the Hungaroring.
How Alonso, in the down-on-performance Ferrari F14 T, was able to make his softs last 32 laps was nothing short of a miracle in and of itself. And he could well have won had Ricciardo not gotten Hamilton for second just prior to the ultimate winning pass; Hamilton never seemed close enough to make a winning move of his own when running second.
But still Hamilton, in the Mercedes, used a mix of well-timed strategy, the safety cars negating huge gaps and some great passes of his own to launch from a pit lane start to a near victory, which would have been the first of its kind in Formula One history.
Some races feel pre-judged, almost pre-ordained to determine a Grand Prix winner.
The stars pretty much aligned for Hamilton at Silverstone, regardless of his late fall to sixth on the grid there, to put together a home victory after a run of races where he’d fallen behind teammate Nico Rosberg.
A week ago, Rosberg’s run of personal good fortune – his marriage, his new contract and his home country winning the World Cup, all to go along with Germany’s general good luck streak in sport – set up perfectly for him to win on his own home soil in Hockenheim.
But the Hungaroring? A race that’s usually good as decided after qualifying on Saturday or at the latest, the exit of Turn 1 on Sunday? You couldn’t have predicted the way Sunday’s race would shake out even if you held psychic powers.
Yes, the crazy mixed conditions helped – same as they did for 2006 and 2011, when Jenson Button won on both occasions.
But still, teams and drivers had to make strategic calls, attempt passes at places they otherwise wouldn’t have dared (Ricciardo at Turn 2, later Turn 12 on Hamilton) and manage their tires while all driving cars with varying performance levels.
In dry conditions, there wouldn’t have been a doubt. Rosberg and his Merc likely would have walked the field from pole.
Yet on this day, each of the podium finishers – and for that matter Rosberg, as well, in fourth – had a distinct and serious claim to the win. Each would have deserved it.
Although Ricciardo won once the checkered flag flew, there were no losers. It was a treat to watch and a race that may grow in lore as the weeks, months and years go by.