Round 12, 2018: Hungary
With the Hungary (often described as being like "Monaco without the barriers" being one of the tightest, most twisty, lower speed circuits of the calendar, we have seen plenty of good points for teams down the order. Morale they can then take into the summer break. Outfits such as McLaren, despite a woeful record with Honda, have scored at all races here since the turbo-hybrid era began, thus making it a happy hunting ground. Will the Renault engine provide any similar luck? With some decent results here for Toro Rosso in the same duration of time; they will be hoping that their own Honda engine's deficiencies are similarly masked. Red-Bull, despite being far from the leaders in terms of raw pace ever since this engine was introduced, have also done well. Claiming many podiums and even a win in 2014. The point I am trying to make here, is this circuit often levels out performance in ways that provides great racing where anyone can do well. Perhaps this is something the new F1 management would do well to consider in any future formula's they come up with. Sport is loved by all because anything can and often does happen...This race weekend will hopefully be the same, especially as thunder-storms were forecast ahead.... (Before we begin: a small disclaimer. If you didn't manage to watch qualifying or are new to all this you might be a little confused by some of the times in the "grid" slot. It looks like those men at the back/middle put in faster times than those at the front! Regrettably, this not the result of a "reverse grid"...which would be fun for F1 to pursue....but because it was dry in Q1 & less wet in Q2 compared to the torrential rain in Q3! I will get into some description of that crazy qualifying as much as possible in my "events of the race" section too...)
Race Result: Lewis Hamilton (1st) & Valtteri Bottas (5th) Points Total (after this round): 345 Grid(Qualifying): HAM: 1st (1:35.658) & BOT 2nd (1:35.918) Events & Analysis: Mercedes, like all the teams, had a free choice of all different compound of tyres they wanted for the start of the race. They opted to go for the ultra-soft to make the best out of their own mastery of the wet conditions on Sunday by getting a good jump off the line and stretching their legs to prevent the Ferrari over-cut on the soft tyres. However, as Hamilton stretched his legs to take an unchallenged win, Bottas provided some much needed spice to the race. He had to pit early on lap 15 to cover Kimi's early pit-stop. But, with Ferrari messing up the change of tyres not once, but twice, Valtteri was allowed an easy mid-race 2nd place. Yet, all that came undone as the Finn messed up his defending on consecutive laps. He hit both Vettel on the outside of turn 2 and Ricciardo into turn 1 much to Toto Wolff's irritation. With the resulting damage he fell to 5th.
Race Result: Sebastian Vettel (2nd) & Kimi Raikkonen (3rd) Points Total (after this round): 335 Grid(Qualifying): RAI: 3rd (1:36.186) & VET: 4th (1:36.210) Events & Analysis: Ferrari started Vettel on the soft tyres and Kimi on the Ultra-soft to try and split their strategy. Vettel to overcut Bottas and Kimi to undercut him. However, with two messed up pit-stops from their pit-crew on either car, such moves didn't come to fruition. Bottas cleared both of them first on lap 15 & then on lap 40. Yet, in the week where Sergio Marchionne, Ferrari's president, sadly passed away-they refused to give up. With much younger tyres on both their cars (Kimi had taken a second pit-stop) they now started to hunt Bottas down for the remaining laps; finally getting so close that only 2 sec covered all 3 cars. With a handful of laps to go Vettel squeezed past into turn 2 and was very lucky not to end up with a puncture as Bottas locked up and hit him. Kimi picked up the pieces and climbed to 3rd. The champagne will have tasted extra sweet for The Finn as his drinks bottle hadn't worked all race! Ferrari will be wary of what is to come after the summer. Last season Mercedes really stretched their legs at the power circuits.
Race Result: Daniel Ricciardo (4th) & Max Verstappen (DNF) Points Total (after this round): 223 Grid(Qualifying): VER: 7th (1:38.032) & RIC: 12th (1:36.442 in Q2) Events & Analysis: Ricciardo started on the soft tyres and Verstappen on the ultras as Red-Bull looked to undo a poor qualifying performance in the ever-changing wet. It was unusual to see them flounder so much in the rain, especially at this circuit which is good at eliminating power deficit and a happy hunting ground for them. But flounder they did. That left them in a difficult position at the start, but both men did well to gain a handful of positions in the opening lap, even with other driving recklessly in and around them. Looking at you Ericsson. All was going especially well for Verstappen, who was up to 5th before yet ANOTHER Renault mechanical issue forced him to retire. He put his own opinion across clearly, turning the radio blue. All was left to Ricciardo to salvage the race and he duly obliged, utilising his excellent over-taking on turns 1 and 2 to dispatch driver after driver in quick succession. He also went very long into the race on his soft tyres, stopping on lap 45 or so. That was supposed to allow him to make the most out of his US tyres, but pace seemed strangely lacking until Bottas ahead incurred some damage from Vettel. He completely out-foxed The Finn when they went head to head, so much so that Valtteri hit him too under braking. But finally, Ricciardo absolutely did him. Taking a wide line into turn 1 and cutting back as Bottas ran wide on exit for a beautiful clean move. Given the strong race pace a podium could have been on the cards for RBR. On to better things soon.
Race Result: Carlos Sainz (9th) & Nico Hulkenberg (12th) Points Total (after this round): 82 Grid(Qualifying): SAI: 5th (1:36.743) & HUL: 13th (1:36.506 in Q2) Events & Analysis: Sainz made a terrible start on his soft tyres, dropping 3 places from the grid to 8th place. Hulkenberg, meanwhile, had a much better go of it, rising up to 9th to allow the two Renault's to run next to each-other. The German pitted on lap 24 for the medium tyres to try and go to the end, but it turned out to be a poor decision as he had to pit again towards the end with tyre-wear issues. Sainz, meanwhile (who's future in the team is in doubt with rumours circling that Renault are courting Force-India's Ocon) did drive well, but was gifted a couple of places from retirements ahead (notably Vandoorne who he could replace at McLaren) and came home in 9th place. Renault might have been hoping for much better here, given how well Red-Bull have utilised their engine in recent years at this track. Instead they will look to take stronger strides after the summer.
Race Result: Kevin Magnussen (7th) & Romain Grosjean (10th) Points Total (after this round): 66 Grid(Qualifying): MAG: 9th (1:39.858) & GRO: 10th (1:40.593) Events & Analysis: Both Haas men started on the ultra-soft tyres today after a decent show in the wet on Saturday. They also went strongly from the off, rising up a good few places. There was question over whether Grosjean's move on Alonso was illegal, given how the VSC had just ended and Alonso was perfectly on the delta time (designed to keep the gap between cars same during the conditions) but it stood. Magnussen did some excellent defending from RIC for back to back laps, but eventually lost out to a big sweeping move round the outside of turn 2. An awful pit-stop then dropped him to 9th. However, he recovered well. Grosjean became exasperated towards the end of the race, at how the McLaren's had managed to jump everyone in the lower points scrap. Soon he got his silent wish and Vandoorne retired, gifting him the last points place on the day.
Race Result: Esteban Ocon (13th) & Sergio Perez (14th) Points Total (after this round): 59 Grid(Qualifying): OCO: 17th (1:19.142 in Q1) & PER: 18th (1:19.200 in Q1) Events & Analysis: It was announced this week that Force-India have entered administration. Usually, in F1 terms, this means that a sale of the team is imminent as we saw with Lotus in 2015 most recently. Apparently "many parties" are interested in doing a deal. Including Lance Stroll's very own billionaire father, which would see the Canadian jump ship from the sinking Williams. But, that is in the possible future. Today we must focus on track once again. They had dismal qualifying on Saturday, completely misjudged the conditions in Q1 and going far too early onto the dry compound tyres. You can see the fruits of their labour above. The race went slightly better, with Ocon rising as high as 10th. A little duel with team-mate Perez also occurred. But all that, as far as I can tell, was before they had pitted. Thus, they fell down the order. In truth, points were never truly on the cards due to the tight characteristics of this circuit. But with European power tracks such as Monza and Spa coming up after the summer, they will look for better as they try to reclaim their "best of the rest" from Renault. It will be a tough ask, especially as they have now lost 5th to Haas.
Race Result: Fernando Alonso (8th) & Stoffel Vandoorne (DNF) Points Total (after this round): 52 Grid(Qualifying): ALO: 11th (1:35.214 in Q2) & VAN: 15th (1:18.782 in Q1) Events & Analysis: The McLaren's opted to start on the soft compound tyre and it was a decision which made their race. Whilst it looked like they were simply moving backward at a track they have enjoyed in recent years, it was all part of their long-running strategy. By lap 30 Alonso led them in a 9th and 10th, even if they hadn't stopped . They perfectly followed each-other all day and pitted on lap 40, coming out into the low points again. Yet, all was not to be rosy for the Woking team, as the under-pressure Vandoorne was incredibly unlucky and suffered a DNF with only a few laps to go. He will be looking over his shoulder as a possible Carlos Sainz deal seems to be on the cards. But today he did do quite well and that has to count for something in the eyes of the management. McLaren are unlikely to do well at the power tracks coming up, let's be honest. But Singapore, where Alonso qualified well last year and got up to 3rd before crashing out might be the target to aim for. He is good at making his car wide and defending well, as shown today and that will be the best possible trait on those twisting streets.
Race Result: Pierre Gasly (6th) & Brendon Hartley (11th) Points Total (after this round): 28 Grid(Qualifying): GAS: 6th (1:37.591) & HAR: 8th (1:38.128) Events & Analysis: Via good reading of the conditions and the rain (and winding track) undoing the Honda power deficit, STR-Honda found themselves in very lofty territory for today's start. They chose to begin on the Ultra-soft tyres to try and cling on to the points. However, they actually offered much more than that today in the shape of a very strong outing from Pierre Gasly. The young frenchman was up as high as 3rd by lap 18 due to retirements and early pit-stops from Kimi and Bottas. Whilst Hartley was in and around the points all evening, before sadly finishing just outside, Pierre also put in some good defence against Ricciardo's lightning over-takes. A 6th placed finish is a great treat for the team before they have to embark on the woes McLaren know too well: the power tracks of Europe with an underperforming Honda engine. There will be opportunity for points again this year, notably Singapore, but it might be few and far between. That makes this effort today even more valuable.
Race Result: Marcus Ericsson (15th) & Charles LeClerc (DNF) Points Total (after this round): 18 Grid(Qualifying): ERI: 14th (1:37.075 in Q2) & LEC: 16th (1:18.817 in Q1) Events & Analysis: Despite his excellent showings earlier on this season, this was not a great weekend for LeClerc. He was outqualified by Ericsson, which is a rare occurrence for anyone and then had the misfortune to suffer a mechanical failure on the opening lap to boot. His Swedish team-mate decided that turn one was a good chance for him to brush up with the faster cars...quite literally. He cannoned into Ricciardo's tyres. Both of them were lucky to escape worse damage. Marcus then pitted under the VSC caused by Verstappen's retirement. He went for a bold choice of medium tyres. It turned out to be a poor choice as well. Whilst he did do the required remaining laps on the compound, his pace was absolutely nowhere and as a result he couldn't take advantage of other people's pit-stops. He finished lower than he started even with other's DNF-ing.
Race Result: Sergey Sirotkin (16th) & Lance Stroll (17th) Points Total (after this round): 4 Grid(Quali): SIR: 19th (1:19.301 in Q1) & STR: pitlane start (1:18.560 in Q1) Events & Analysis: With Stroll (who might be bound for Force-India: see above) starting from the pit-lane and Sirotkin having a characteristically poor qualifying, the Williams decided to start on medium and soft tyres respectively to run longer through the race. But, by lap 20 they were running in 16th and 17th...which is where they finished. I often try to give as much time to the low runners as the heavy hitters, but this week it was very hard. Stroll fought with Perez for a while, who might be his team-mate next year but that was the only notable occurrence I could see. Yet, their chassis is awful and so, this very twisty circuit was always going to be a tough gig for this embattled side. Maybe, just maybe the faster European circuits will provide some respite.