In his seventh season in Formula 1, after 113 races and thirteen podium finishes, Jenson Button took his first win at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix. In a display of sheer driving brilliance, the Briton, who started the race from the Fourteenth on the grid, he made his way through the field in challenging conditions to take the flag for the first time in his Formula 1 career.
The 2006 Formula 1 season marked the move from the 3.0-litre V10 to 2.4-litre V8 engines, and was the last year with two tire manufacturers supplying the teams. It was also the year that saw the near total dominance of Ferrari and Renault. The Drivers’ Championship was a two-man battle between Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher and Renault’s Fernando Alonso, with the Italian and French constructors dominating the season and winning all but one race – the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The Hungarian summer is usually hot and dry and the Hungaroring has a reputation for being a difficult circuit to overtake; it is narrow and winding, and often very dusty due to heat and infrequent use. As such, the Hungarian Grand Prix is commonly associated with processional racing, with cars following one another, unable to pass. However, 2006 was different; Hungary hosted its first wet Formula 1 Grand Prix and rain turned the race into chaos, delivering one of the most action-packed races of the year.
The stewards were kept busy in the run-up to the race: championship leader Alonso was handed a one-second qualifying penalty for overtaking under the yellow flag during Friday’s practice session, and was handed an additional one-second penalty for testing Red Bull’s brakes. test pilot Robert Doornbos. During the final practice session, Schumacher was handed a two-second penalty for overtaking under a red flag, while Button’s Honda was recalled after suffering engine failure (resulting in an engine change and earning the Briton a 10-place grid penalty).
McLaren’s Kimi Räikkönen took pole ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa and Honda’s Rubens Barrichello; while Schumacher started eleventh, Button fourteenth and Alonso fifteenth. There was standing water on the track for an eventful first lap; while Räikkönen held the lead, Massa dropped to seventh, Schumacher and Alonso rocketed to fifth and seventh respectively. Button used his wet weather handling skills, finding grip on the wet track to make up significant ground in the early stages of the race.
On a track known for its lack of overtaking muck, the drivers bravely put their overtaking skills to the test amid rain-induced chaos. Toro Rosso’s Tonio Liuzzi spun out of control and gave teammate Scott Speed fourteenth position, while Barrichello dove into the pits to change tires from full wet to intermediate; a move considered very strange as weather conditions worsened. Massa had his hands full after he spun his Ferrari, costing him a place in David Coulthard’s Red Bull, and then took a wide line that allowed BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld to pass.
Schumacher found himself under fire from Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella, as did Pedro de la Rosa’s Alonso. Barrichello was gaining ground on Massa’s Ferrari, so the team took him to the pits to change tires; however, Barrichello soon went wide but was able to recover. Fisichella made a bold move on Schumacher, but in the process he removed Ferrari’s front wing, sending the German into the pits. Not long after, Fisichella’s afternoon ended when he flew into the gravel and crashed into a barrier. Nico Rosberg joined those withdrawn from the race after being the victim of an electrical failure.
The drivers had to deal with challenging weather conditions as the heavy rain subsided and the sun dried out the track, putting a heavy emphasis on tire strategy and at this stage Schumacher was the only Bridgestone rider in the top ten. Räikkönen’s day came to an abrupt halt when he crashed his McLaren into Liuzzi’s Toro Rosso sending it airborne, neither driver being injured but the safety car deployed.
Alonso was one of several drivers to take advantage of the pit lane for some fresh rubber, also finding himself in the lead with Button in second and De la Rosa in third. As the safety car came in, Alonso seized the moment and drove off, but Button stayed with the Spaniard and the two traded fastest laps, at one point the gap was down to less than a second. Both cars were on intermediate tires and struggling to find wet parts of a quickly drying track, and both opted for a much-needed tire change. But as Alonso exited the pits, disaster struck when his Renault appeared to wobble and at turn two he lost control when the right rear wheel nut dislodged and he crashed into a barrier.
In the treacherous conditions, only eleven cars crossed the finish line with Jenson Button in the lead, thirty seconds ahead of McLaren’s Pedro de la Rosa in second and Nick Heidfeld in the BMW Sauber third, taking the team’s first podium finish. But the day belonged to the triumphant Button, who through insurmountable odds battled his way through the field to claim his first Formula 1 win.