HE may not have won in Hungary, but Sebastian Vettel opened up his championship lead to an ominous 85 points going into the summer break.
The 2010 world champion extended his lead with a second place finish in tricky conditions at the Hungaroring circuit on Sunday as team-mate Mark Webber faltered back in fifth.
The British McLaren pairing of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were keen to build on their performances at the last round in Germany, and looked impressive in the free practice sessions ahead of qualifying.
But Vettel secured his 23rd pole position ahead of Hamilton, with Webber struggling behind both McLarens and the Ferraris in sixth place.
Come race day the heavens opened, meaning the cars had to start on the intermediate tyres. Vettel got a good start, but was unable to break away from Hamilton, who hounded the German in the opening stages. Webber meanwhile, dropped further down the order behind the fast starting Mercedes cars.
Hamilton forced Vettel into an error at Turn 2 and took over the lead, opening up a gap to the championship leader, who fell into the clutches of Button.
Webber was making slow progress up the order, helped by off-track moments from Michael Schumacher, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso.
The track began to dry as the field changed onto dry tyres, and Button made light work of overtaking Vettel for second place as Hamilton extended his lead at the front of the pack.
Webber found his feet in the dry and posted a series of rapid lap times, closing the gap to Alonso ahead.
The rain began falling once again, though only two drivers risked going back onto intermediate tyres - Webber and race leader Hamilton, who was also handed a drive-through penalty for dangerous driving following a spin.
But unfortunately for the Australian, the rain proved nothing more than a light shower, and he was forced back into the pits again to change back to dry tyres.
Hamilton, serving his drive-through, came out just behind Webber on a charge. The pair quickly dispatched Felipe Massa, who was struggling after an early spin damaged his Ferrari, and fought to the end for fourth place.
At the front, Button benefited from his team-mate’s misfortune, but couldn’t drop Vettel as the laps ticked away.
Button crossed the victory line just four seconds ahead of Vettel and Alonso, with Hamilton winning the battle against Webber for fourth.
The result sees Vettel open up the gap to Webber to 85 points – the biggest his lead has been all season.
Vettel said: “I was struggling a bit in the first stint with the Intermediate tyres, Lewis (Hamilton) was a bit faster, then I lost it down into Turn 2,
“I felt that I had a bit more speed in the car but I had a couple of problems with the brakes and it was difficult to know how the car would be at the end.
“I couldn’t push as hard as I would like to, second today is an important step, but I think the win was within reach and we didn’t get it.
“We need to work hard because both of the McLarens are very, very strong in all sorts of conditions, so it’s clear now for a couple of races that they have done a step forward. We need to make sure that we come back, definitely.”
Webber’s fifth place came with five visits to the pits during the course of the race, but was left to rue the decision to change onto inters for the second time.
“It was quite an enjoyable grand prix up until we made the wrong decision from the cockpit,” said Webber.
“You look completely stupid when you’re only on the intermediates for two laps. If it rains heavier for another three or four minutes then that’s the right the decision, but that’s the roll of the dice you’ve got to make.
“Obviously the difference between the slicks and the inters when it was wet was a lot. It was my call and I decided to roll the dice, if it worked you win big, but if you lose, well obviously I lost a position.”
The teams now have a three week break before they return to action at the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August.