Conclusions from the Hungarian Grand Prix

Date published: August 5 2019

Conclusions from the Hungarian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton won the day in Hungary but his title as the best in Formula 1 is under threat. 

Hamilton rises to the occasion as Merc play a blinder

Lewis Hamilton’s greatness as an F1 driver is not in doubt. But sometimes there is a sense that Hamilton needlessly makes a big deal out of certain issues when he need not. It may be in the form of a radio message saying his tyres are shot, only for him to comfortably go the distance on them. Heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton said he was “surprised” that Mercedes “were so close to the Red Bulls and Ferraris”, despite Mercedes clearly showing excellent race pace in free practice.

It was thus no surprise to hear Hamilton on team radio questioning his team’s decision to pit him for a second time from second place during the Hungarian Grand Prix. The net result was that the Brit had to make up 20 seconds to catch Max Verstappen, a task he completed with three laps to go with what he called “qualifying lap” pace.

After claiming the win to extend his lead in the standings to 62 points, Hamilton said of Mercedes: “Sorry I doubted your strategy. That was definitely a tall order but I’m grateful we did it.”

The strategic call was brilliant but so is the dynamic between driver and team – it is indeed this dynamic that has made the combination just about unstoppable in the turbo-hybrid era. Mercedes know what it takes to set him targets that force him to keep pushing, and Hamilton keeps delivering. And to be fair to Hamilton, this was an occasion when he was well within his rights to make a big deal about the task ahead.

Verstappen: Hamilton’s next challenge

Hamilton won the day in Hungary but there is a growing feeling that Red Bull Honda and Verstappen will present a greater threat to Hamilton’s dominance than any previous challengers.

Verstappen kept Hamilton at bay after the pair had pitted for new rubber in some thrilling close action. Even though the young Dutchman had no answer to repel Hamilton later in the race, Verstappen’s sequence of two wins and a second at the Hungaroring in the last four races underscores his class and consistency.

Red Bull team boss said they had to option but to leave Verstappen to run long, rather than respond to Hamilton’s second stop with a pit stop of their own. Horner nonetheless praised Verstappen for “getting everything out of the car”. Verstappen may not have won but it was another fine weekend that included no major mistakes despite heaps of pressure and a first ever pole position. No doubt there will be many more to come.

Ferrari: In no man’s land

Despite having a quick car in both 2017 and 2018, Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel found it impossible to sustain a title challenge against the indomitable Mercedes machine. The Scuderia had high hopes for 2019 and have had chances to win at least four races, though failed to convert in Bahrain, Austria, Canada and Germany.

The visit to Hungary, though, can only be described as catastrophic. Outqualified by Verstappen and both Mercs, Ferrari then lacked any real pace in the race and quickly fell more than a pitstop behind the leaders.

Finishing more than a minute behind the winner, Vettel said “I can’t be happy”, even though he passed team-mate Charles Leclerc late in the race to secure a podium.

Vettel identified corner speed as Ferrari’s weakness, saying wrly: “the nature of race tracks is that they have corners in them; so we’d like to build a car faster in the corners”.

Other conclusions

* Hungary was another nightmare for Valterri Bottas, whose race was compromised by two lock-ups on lap 1 and contact with team-mate Hamilton and the Ferrari of Leclerc. Bottas admitted his race was “a mess” but what is most worrying for the Finn is how hard he found it to come through the field, despite Mercedes having the fastest car on the day. Hopes of winning the title have all but evaporated and Verstappen’s recent form means that the Red Bull man is just seven points in arrears.

* Carlos Sainz and McLaren continue to build momentum and his fifth in Hungary follows P5 at Hockenheim and P6 at Silverstone. He is now just five points behind the struggling Pierre Gasly, who endured yet another difficult afternoon.

* George Russell finished 16th and remains the only driver in 2019 not to score a point. Yet the young Brit heads into the summer break as one of the form drivers in the pack. His qualifying time in Q1 fell just short of reaching Q2, but he clearly extracted everything from his Williams, qualifying an extraordinary 1.3 seconds ahead of his team-mate. Although it is still too soon to talk of a Williams revival, Russell made a statement in Hungary that did not go unnoticed in the paddock.

Richard F Rose

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