The Hungarian Grand Prix was nearly a great race, but nonetheless entertaining and significant.
It was certainly a great eight days for Mercedes-Benz in general and Lewis Hamilton in particular as he took a maximum 50 points against a slightly faster Ferrari.
Rain played a part in both victories. In Germany, of course, it was Hamilton’s stellar pace on fresh ultrasoft tyres whilst all those around him were cautiously sliding about, and even off the track, for his remarkable comeback drive and victory.
In Hungary the rain played a wild role in deciding the grid, and Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas shone through along with their cars in hugely challenging conditions to deliver a front-row lockout. Seb Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen came up just short on a final qualy lap.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls clearly don’t work well with the slightly higher ride-height of the wet tyres along with the different sidewall profiles and copious volumes of water shrouding the aero surfaces of their high rake set-up. It’s the only way I can begin to explain why Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were struggling so much. The only other reasons would be high vertical stiffness of the suspension and/or poor engine driveability, but suspect it’s downforce. Their drivers seem generally pretty handy otherwise….
In the baking heat of race day, the Mercedes boys aced the start. I bet the team have been working overtime on that after Ferrari have been launching from the lights like a London bike courier in recent races. Vettel then proceeded to steam around the outside of Raikkonen in turn two, it could have been perceived as orchestrated but actually I think it was just inspired of Vettel to end up third when a corner earlier Carlos Sainz was threatening to relegate him to fifth.
Verstappen had his brain and right foot engaged from the get-go and put himself into a very handy fifth, ready for the watching brief and to punish Merc and Ferrari if they hurt their tyres on a track registering 57 degrees.
Sadly, Verstappen’s motor would expire and he would be consigned to the grass swearing like….well like anybody else would who has dedicated their exceptional talent and life to winning races but keeps being denied through no fault of their own. The inevitable PR machine publicly unraveled his angst on Monday but we all got the real message. It’s going to be a long second half of the year between Renault and Red Bull until they get their Hondas.
Pierre Gasly did a great job with his Toro Rosso Honda to finish an unlapped (yes that’s impressive if you’re not driving for Merc, Ferrari or Red Bull and there were no actual Safety Cars) sixth place. ‘Chapeau’ as they say in his native France.
Ferrari set about destabilizing Merc even before the race started by putting Kimi on ultrasoft tyres and Seb on the humble but tenacious ‘softs’. A great race tyre as it turned out. The next part of the Scarlet plan was to pit Kimi after just 14 laps such that Merc would have to pit Bottas to cover it off a lap later.
Hamilton would eke out a full 25 laps on his ultras. He explained to us on Sky F1 post race how he would use tools in the car such as the electronic differential, along with specific driving techniques, to earn a significant lead and controlling the race in preparation for the seemingly inevitable late race onslaught from Vettel.
7:07 Lewis Hamilton discusses his Hungarian GP win with the Sky F1 team
Vettel and Hamilton are quadruple world champions because they are bloody brilliant at what they do season long, year in year out. They are clearly more equal number one drivers in each team than their team-mates, and whether that’s deserved or scandalous will depend on your point of view and favourite driver.
Whatever you feel, I’m pleased you’re passionate about it.
Seb Golightly Vettel stretched his starting tyres to lap 39 of the scheduled 70 and it all looked set for a closing stages battle royal between the two main championship contenders on different strategies. Hamilton with track position, Vettel with way better tyres. Except Ferrari stood on their own tail with a 4.2-second pitstop just after Vettel had been held up in traffic whilst lapping serious drivers in serious cars.
The number 5 Ferrari exited the pits in third behind the two Mercs. He launched an early attack on Bottas and then seemed to settle in, managing his car temps. Then Bottas started to inevitably lose his long-serving tyres in the closing stages. Kimi had been pitted again on lap 38 so he was cooking on gas in then fourth place.
I liked Bottas’ spirit in Hungary, better than at any point so far. He’s been so close to winning races recently, not least Baku, Silverstone and Hockenheim, but then in the closing stages, it’s all fallen apart. On Sunday he refused to yield back to Ricciardo after a clash, fought like hell with Vettel, and initially strongly resented being referred to as a ‘wingman’ by his boss Toto. That’s the attitude he needs to have if he’s going to beat the cunning and high achieving world champions he’s currently pitched against. I think he’ll get there in terms of race wins, and time will tell regarding the championship.
Vettel cut him off hard into turn two whilst confidently claiming second place which was risky against a frustrated Merc driver on tired tyres, and they were both lucky to continue.
1:12 Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel collide at the conclusion of the Hungarian GP
Added frustration from that moment saw Bottas buried into the side of Ricciardo’s Red Bull a short while later surviving yet another close encounter, albeit now in fifth with a 10-second penalty incoming.
Credit to Daniel for his spectacular overtakes and fine drive through to fourth place, please. Congratulations as well to Red Bull building such a sturdy car which took a good wack at the very first corner and a brutal tackle from Bottas near the end, and still finished the race.
It’s been an intriguing and occasionally mesmerising first half of the season. Four drivers and three different teams have won races, the championship is wide open but Hamilton has almost a race win in hand. Hopefully Ferrari won’t fade like last year and we can look forward to the last laps of the last race to find the worthy champion.
Whilst Vettel and Ferrari are the fastest package to beat, Hamilton and Mercedes are currently the combo to beat by race end.
Once again the best of the rest was a mighty battle, confirmed by the fact that positions gained or lost on the first few corners of the race turned out to be very important 70 laps later. Well done to McLaren and Haas too, and plenty of drivers drove fine races without due reward.
Have a great summer and talk to you from the wonderful tree lined valleys of Spa.
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