BUDAPEST, Hungary — Jenson Button’s masterful Hungarian Grand Prix victory for McLaren may have signaled a more competitive second half of the Formula One season. Sebastian Vettel, however, remains the clear favorite for the drivers’ title.
Button celebrated his 200th GP by expertly navigating a slippery course for his 11th career victory. It was McLaren’s second straight win since Silverstone, when the British team was struggling to compete with Red Bull and team principal Martin Whitmarsh was under scrutiny.
McLaren and Ferrari now appear the teams to watch the rest of the way.
“We are very quick in the race, and in qualifying it is nice to see we have made some improvements,” Button said. “And it’s nice to see we are up there with the Red Bulls now. They should be worried.”
But McLaren’s improvement looks to have come too late to stop Vettel. The German extended his lead over Red Bull teammate Mark Webber to 85 points. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton is next, 88 points back while Fernando Alonso is 89 points behind and Button 100. A race win is worth 25 points.
“I know it is very difficult to fight for the championship,” Button said. “I am taking it one race at a time. I don’t look at the numbers. I will just keep my head down and concentrate on doing the best I can at each race. I have to beat Seb in every race from now on, and we’ll go out and try and do just that.”
Hamilton led most of the race at the Hungaroring, but some tricky tire calls and a drive-through penalty dropped him to fourth behind Alonso, who has been on the podium for four straight races.
Red Bull’s inability to hold the pole is a problem. The team has started all 11 races first, winning six of those.
“We need to work hard as both of the McLarens are very, very strong in all sorts of conditions so it is clear now for a couple of races that they have done a step forward and we need to make sure we come back, definitely,” Vettel said.
Vettel has won six races this season, finishing outside the top three only once when he was fourth at the German Grand Prix. Button and Hamilton have two wins each and Alonso has one.
The series now takes its summer break, resuming with the Belgian GP at Spa on Aug. 28. Vettel’s rivals hope they’ve given him something to think about.
“The chance for the world championship, it is for sure very difficult,” Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali said. “The only thing that we can do is to try to win in the next couple of races and then we will see.”
“Maybe Sebastian will start to be a little worried, I hope,” he added. “Difficult, but I hope. Our aim is really to believe in it and to fight it out till the end.”