There’s something about Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel. Unlike Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, they are unable to place a firm grip on the Drivers’ Championship despite having the best all-round package for the first time in this hybrid-turbo era (since 2014). At last weekend’s German Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel’s driver error saw Ferrari lose the race while leading at the front. At this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, Ferrari’s decision to not pit Vettel when approaching backmarker traffic possibly cost their German driver a shot at victory. For Ferrari, they lost two races back-to-back, ones that they should have actually won, under different racing circumstances. Result? They trail Mercedes by 10 points in the Constructors’ Championship, but most crucially, Vettel is now 24 points behind Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship.
Hamilton — Unbeatable
After storming to an unexpected pole position (Hamilton’s fifth pole at the Hungaroring) on Saturday’s wet qualifying session, Hamilton claimed his sixth win at this historic Formula 1 circuit. The reigning World Champion looked in control all through the race — one that was was strategic in nature. The wet qualifying session followed by dry weather on race day opened up the tyre choice for the race. Vettel and Hamilton ran inverse tyres strategies — one that offered an interesting narrative for the viewers and saw the top-three drivers run varied strategies to race their way to the podium. Maybe Formula 1 should consider letting go of their ‘top-10 drivers to start the race on the set of tyres they clocked their fastest lap in Q2 on’ rule. While this rule is to help P11 and lower-placed drivers a better chance in the race, it does end up making tyre strategy for the top-10 more predictable.
The hotter track temperatures (up to 51 degrees Celsius) did raise pre-race concerns among most teams with ‘tyre management’ being the unanimous answer to what the biggest challenge in the race would be. Given Mercedes’ tyre woes in higher temperatures, one expected the reigning World Champion team to struggle in comparison to Ferrari. However, the tyre wear for both front-running teams seemed equal enough for it to not draw excessive attention to.
Raikkonen’s Unmatched Podium Appearances
Kimi Raikkonen, who had a drinks bottle-related problem from the start of the race, claimed his fifth consecutive podium finish when he clinched 3rd place for Ferrari. His run of podium finishes is more than any other driver in the current season. Ferrari did well to split their driver strategies with the hope to be able to penetrate the Mercedes cars ahead. But of course, Raikkonen’s strategy was to aid Vettel’s charge against Valtteri Bottas and it did. In fact, in the initial stages, it seemed that Ferrari’s tyre strategy for Vettel was one that could help him challenge for race win. However, the team’s indecision to pit Vettel while approaching backmarker traffic saw them lose not just the possibility of fighting Hamilton for race win, but also covering for Vettel to not rejoin the race behind Bottas. However, a slow stop for Ferrari did Vettel in. He rejoined behind Bottas; needing to do overtake him on a track notorious for not being an easy one to do so on.
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Vettel - Damage Limitation
Vettel’s move on Bottas was well-planned and much-awaited, but Bottas’ aggressive defence and reluctance to give up position saw the Finn lock up his tyres while on the inside of Turn 2. He rammed into the back of Vettel who was already ahead of him leading to front wing damage on his Mercedes. Vettel, though lucky to escape damage, may relook at the replays and consider leaving more room next time. The Hungaroring is known to be a dusty circuit, especially off the racing line, and a bit more room to brake would’ve made his (Vettel’s) move less risky. Of course, one could also argue that Bottas could have braked a bit earlier knowing that he was on the inside.
But these are the best racing car drivers in the world — no inch given, no inch taken! Bottas should have finished second. However, in an attempt to fend off Raikkonen’s early race tyre switch, Bottas was made to pit 10 laps earlier than Hamilton. Maybe Mercedes had little option but to cover for Raikkonen; else they could have risked both Ferraris slipping past their second car and charging Hamilton for the lead. While this eventually did happen 5 laps to the end, it still helped team secure a race win for Hamilton. Bottas’ run-in with Vettel escaped a penalty from the FIA, but he did receive a 10 second time penalty post-race for his run-in with Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo. However, his 23-second gap to Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly in 6th meant that Bottas retained 5th place irrespective of his penalty.
Bottas - The Sensational Wingman
Post-race Toto Wolff hailed Bottas as a ‘sensational wingman’ to Hamilton, a comment that upset the Finnish driver. Whether designated as a wingman or not, Bottas’ holding up of Vettel for nearly 25 laps is what safeguarded Hamilton’s win — one that saw him add a vital 7 points to his existing 17 points lead in the Drivers’ Championship. The best way to put Hamilton’s 24-points lead into perspective is by calculating how many races Vettel would require to claim the lead back from Hamilton even if they finished first and second respectively. The answer would be four races and there are only nine races remaining this season.
After qualifying P12 in Sunday's qualifying, Ricciardo charged up the order to finish 4th. The Australian driver chose Turn 1 as his primary overtaking spot as he overtook nearly six drivers at that corner — Sainz, Hartley, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Grosjean and Vandoorne. On the other hand, Max Verstappen suffered his third retirement of the season as his Renault power unit gave up on lap 6. Red Bull Racing’s performance gaps are accurately depicted in their Constructors’ Championship standing. They are nearly 100 points behind Ferrari but a whopping 140 points ahead of Renault in 5th. For Red Bull Racing, Pierre Gasly’s 6th place finish in the Toro Rosso-Honda would bring much joy too. On a weekend when Renault was the cause of failure on one of their lead cars (Verstappen), Honda helped deliver a strong result for their second team.
The Mid-field Battle
Kevin Magnussen drove a lonely race to 7th while Romain Grosjean claimed the last championship point in 10th. Haas was the only mid-field team to score a double points finish — their second such result this season to overtake Force India for 5th in the Constructors’ Championship. Fernando Alonso (who turned 37 on Sunday) ran an alternate tyre strategy compared to the other top-10 drivers (soft-medium) to finish 8th, while fellow Spaniard and Renault driver Carlos Sainz Jr. managed 9th on a similar strategy.
The most notable exclusions among the points scorers were Renault’ Nico Hulkenberg and both the Force India drivers — Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne suffered from a late race gearbox failure that saw him retire from the race while in the points. The Belgian driver has failed to score points in the last 8 races of this season. Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, who has had a very positive first half of the season, suffered from his second retirement in three races as a first lap incident ended his race prematurely on lap one.
Force India - Future?
The one story that hogged headlines in Formula 1 paddock was that of Force India entering ‘administration’ — a move that will define the future of the ‘best of the rest’ team from 2016 and 2017. Apart from all the rumours and attention, it would be prudent to point out the fragility of the business models of the mid-field racing teams — ones that don’t benefit from ‘bonuses’ that Formula 1 pays five of the ten competing on the grid. While efforts are on to improve the on-track performance of the cars, Liberty Media would need to urgently focus on the financial health of the teams and hence the sport — their first such issue since taking over Formula 1. After all, what’s the point of improving the show if there aren’t enough cars to go racing with?
Updated Date: Jul 30, 2018 17:02:21 IST