Hungarian Grand Prix: Sebastian Vettel could extend lead over Lewis Hamilton after taking pole on tricky circuit
The 70-lap Hungarian GP, where aero and downforce come at a premium, demands driver skill like few other races. But Ferrari wouldn't mind the fact that the new-found pace and balance in their cars gives them quite a head-start on Sunday.
As we reach the half-way mark of a Formula One season that has already seen its fair share of drama and suspense, the Hungarian Grand Prix is shaping up perfectly to ensure a happening summer break in the team garages. After a Friday almost entirely dominated by Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull, fans were up for quite a surprise on Saturday, especially after a dominant performance by Mercedes in Silverstone.
Fears that Mercedes might have developed an invincible car were comprehensively dismissed after Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen locked the front row once again for Ferrari, with Vettel beating the fastest Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas by a decent 0.254 second margin to secure the 48th pole position of his career. Lewis Hamilton, who trails championship leader Vettel by just one point in the drivers' charts, complained consistently of tyre issues in his messy qualifying session.
Having qualified fourth, Hamilton seemed to be already accepting the not-so-stark possibility of him missing a podium finish. "We can't do anything in the race. We can't follow or overtake a car that is as fast or faster," the British driver said to BBC. "It is going to be a battle to get on the podium — and unless something happens with the others, that is probably going to be where we are."
Coming from a driver who has an unbeaten record of winning five times in 10 races in Budapest, the statement does seem odd, but not after one is reminded of the extremely few overtaking opportunities at the tight and twisty Hungaroring. The 70-lap race at the 4.3 kilometer circuit, where aero and downforce come at a premium, demands driver skill like few other races. But Ferrari wouldn't mind the fact that the new-found pace and balance in their cars gives them quite a head-start on Sunday.
Mercedes executive director, Toto Wolff, will remember that Hamilton has won the Hungarian GP after starting from fourth position once before, although he told the media on Saturday, "The DNA of our car seems to be running more stable on the faster circuits and Ferrari are doing well on the slower, twisty circuits."
Although slower and twisty, Hungaroring has been known to throw up some incredible races, the most memorable in recent times being Thierry Boutsen's win in 1990, beating Ayrton Senna by 0.3 seconds. In the 1997 race, Damon Hill in the Arrows sensationally passed Michael Schumacher's Ferrari only to be denied the win by technical failure on the very last lap. Later in 2003, Fernando Alonso became the youngest race winner in Formula One history at 22, and Spain’s first ever champion.
The Grand Prix in Hungary has its history rooted as much in politics as in the rise of motorsport in Europe in the 20th Century. The first official race was held in 1936, but following World War II and the building of the Iron Curtain, it was not until the 1960s that motorsports events started being hosted in the country.
In the early 1980s, there was an increasing demand for a Grand Prix to be held behind the Iron Curtain, and negotiations took place with the Soviet Union to hold a race in Moscow. But instead of Moscow, F1 administrators chose to take the race to the Hungarian capital of Budapest, whose national sporting authority was keen to put the nation back on the map of global motor racing.
A brand new circuit was constructed in 1985 right outside Budapest, which hosted its first F1 event in August 1986. This historic first outing behind the Iron Curtain turned out to be a humdinger, with Nelson Piquet eventually taking finishing ahead of countryman Senna in the 'battle of the Brazilians' in front of an estimated 2,00,000 fans. Since then, the race has been held every year, and from the Senna-Prost rivalry in the 1980s to Massa's miraculous escape in a crash in 2009, the Hungarian GP has not ceased to add to F1 folklore.
Sunday's race should not be any less exciting, especially if Red Bull can build on their upgrades for Hungary and put on a show like they did in the free practice sessions on Friday. Currently, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will start the race at fifth and sixth positions on the grid, but one hopes Red Bull will fix what they are calling "a minor hydraulic issue" in time.
McLaren managed to get both cars into Q3, for just the second time this season. The news for the team gets better as both drivers will be bumped up a slot to seventh and eight due to Nico Hulkenberg's five-place grid penalty. Hulkenberg, who looked to be on top of his form through the weekend, initially grabbed seventh place in qualifying before the penalty was awarded and will look for a finish in the points nonetheless.
A double points finish in Silverstone for Force India might prove hard to replicate in Hungaroring after both cars missed out on top 10. Esteban Ocon moved up a place due to Hulkenberg's penalty, and with a free tyre choice he is in a better position than Perez — who starts two places behind him — to bring home some points.
But it will be the front of the pack which will decide which team will have a better summer vacation. Although Vettel set a new track record on Saturday with his 1:16.276 timing, this was the first time in four years that Mercedes has missed a pole here. And with three of the first four drivers on the grid well in the competition for the world championship, we seem to have an exciting Sunday in the making.
For those who care about numbers and statistics, since 2005, no driver who has won the Hungarian Grand Prix has gone on to win the driver's championship at the end of the year. Can 2017 be different?