Date: 6 August 2006
Winner: Jenson Button
If ever there was a definition of a ‘rollercoaster career’, Jenson Button’s name would surely take pride of place in the dictionary!
Since beginning his career at the turn of the century, Button has largely languished on the periphery of the sport. That was until the late 2000s when Brawn GP provided him with the ultimate machine that enabled him to take an unprecedented place amongst the immortals in November 2009.
Today, he finds himself marooned near the foot of the standings, representing the completion of a full circle, but his maiden F1 win in August 2006 was arguably the start of a drastic spike that culminated in his championship win of 2009.
Prior to the race, Button had endured an inconsistent season. A podium in Malaysia, combined with several more 4th place finishes, was severely hampered by no less than four retirements.
Yet more forebodingly, no British driver had won a Grand Prix since David Coulthard emerged victorious in the 2003 Australian Grand Prix.
The qualifying round was to give no indication of how the race would unfold, as Kimi Räikkönen claimed pole position, with Felipe Massa and Rubens Barrichello starting in second and third positions respectively.
After a spirited performance, Button claimed the fourth-best time but found himself fourteenth – he incurred a ten-place grid penalty for an engine change.
Having never previously been raced in wet conditions, the steady flow of rain in the 2006 race ensured that all drivers were be faced with a new test that would test their natural driving skills to the limit.
Kimi Räikkönen began the race in strong form, leading from pole in the early laps. Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher, the only two drivers in real contention for the world title, made good progress from the middle of the grid.
Eventually, Alonso reached the heights of third place, but it was not long before, unexpectedly, all drivers Bridgestone tyres began to struggle for pace.
In no time at all, Schumacher’s race turned irrevocably sour as a collision with Giancarlo Fisichella forced the German legend to pit and lose a lap. This gave Button the initiative, and his surge began by overtaking Felipe Massa, along with Fisichella and Schumacher, in the space of just two laps.
Almost inevitably, Räikkönen (now on a second set of tyres) began to struggle, culminating in a collision with Vitantonio Liuzzi. With the safety car deployed, tactics across the track were now rendered completely useless, and the outcome of the race would be decided by shrewdness and diligence over skill and machinery.
During the safety car period, Button was the only driver not to pit and was rewarded with a brief stint in second behind Alonso before finally pitting for fuel. However, mechanical problems for Alonso (and a forced pit) swung the race decisively in Button’s favour.
The Brit took the lead and never looked back, claiming his very first F1 victory with ease.
Jenson Button would end the season with a flourish, experiencing no further retirements and finishing no worse than fifth in the remaining races. A podium finish in the season finale at Interlagos yielded a final position of sixth, representing a good foundation on which to build.
Button’s status as Britain’s number one seemed to be cemented. Then a young British rookie by the name of Lewis Hamilton arrived on the scene....
For live updates of the Hungarian Grand Prix, visit Motorsport24 – race begins at 12.00 UTC on 26 July
By Tamhas Woods