The 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix is best remembered for being Jenson Button's first victory, but it was Fernando Alonso's pace in the early laps which really captured the imagination
It had been an unusual weekend in which both title contenders got a bit hot-headed during the build-up. During practice, Alonso brake tested Robert Doornbos’ Red Bull and was given a penalty of having two seconds added to his qualifying time. Michael Schumacher then overtook under red flags and got the same penalty, meaning he would start only 11th, whilst Alonso was way back in 15th.
Race day was wet, however, and Fernando put in what must still rank as one of his best performances. The first lap was sensational, as was his subsequent battle with Schumacher.
Alonso went from 15th to 12th by the first corner, and over the course of the rest of the first lap appeared to be racing in an entirely different category as he passed six more cars in places that would never be considered overtaking spots - including two drivers around the outside of Turn 5.
By the end of that first lap, he up to was sixth from 15th on the grid. As good as Ayrton Senna at Donington in 1993? Maybe, maybe not - but surely it’s damn close.
Admittedly, the conditions suited the Renault and Michelin’s intermediates were far better than the Bridgestone’s on the Ferrari. Even taking that into account, Alonso was on another level.
By lap 18 he was in the lead (courtesy of running heavy with fuel) and extending his lead by several seconds a lap. On lap 25 he was 40 seconds ahead of second-placed Kimi Raikkonen and 49 seconds ahead of eventual winner Button. In other words, he could almost afford to pit twice and still remain in front.
A safety car then wiped out his advantage and although he quickly set about building it up again, it wasn’t to be. During his final stop for slick tyres, a wheel nut failed to go on properly. The left-rear wheel came loose at Turn 2 and he was out.
Although it certainly doesn’t take anything away from Button’s well-deserved maiden victory, it was cruel luck for Alonso’s exceptional performance to go completely unrewarded. Still, we’ll always have the onboard footage to enjoy…