Lewis Hamilton roared to an imperious, record-equalling eighth Hungarian Grand Prix triumph in which the main drama happened pre and post-race.
Here are our conclusions from round three of the 2020 season in Budapest…
Red Bull boys bail out Max
Max Verstappen was voted Driver of the Day with a real zero-to-hero performance, starting seventh and finishing P2 – but it was his Red Bull crew who were the true Diamonds of the Day.
On a greasy Hungaroring that was drying out after a shower, the Dutchman slid into a barrier on his way to the grid and damaged his front suspension, driving over a piece of the wing as he headed back onto the circuit.
It looked all over for Verstappen as his broken car sat on the grid. But his mechanics – later namechecked by grateful team boss Christian Horner as Leroy, Olly et al – earned the day’s biggest accolades by accomplishing a brilliant repair job in 25 minutes that would normally take at least treble that time.
The damage to Max Verstappen's car after crashing on his way to the grid.
— Planet F1 (@Planet_F1) July 19, 2020
“I want to say a big thank you to the mechanics, they saved the day,” said Verstappen over the radio on his in-lap having secured an unlikely podium finish.
He later added on Sky Sports: “They did an amazing job and I don’t know how they did it, it was incredible. To pay them back with second position, I’m very pleased. The car was like new. I thought I wasn’t going to race and so to finish P2 is like a victory.”
With a week off before the next race at Silverstone, the Red Bull mechanics certainly deserve their short break having also worked through the night on Friday to resolve issues that emerged in free practice.
Ultimately, Verstappen was fully worthy of his second place. He held that position throughout the race after a terrific start and it will give he, and his team, plenty of optimism after a trying weekend when they were generally well off the Mercedes pace.
Hamilton on course for seventh heaven
A race that promised more than it delivered in terms of excitement, with the rain that was forecast to fall during the 71 laps failing to materialise, may have disappointed some fans – but certainly not Lewis Hamilton.
The six-time World Champion is now well in control in the chase for title No 7, five points ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas at the top of the standings, after cruising to his eighth victory in Budapest – matching Michael Schumacher’s record of wins at any single event (French GP).
— tami. (@Vetteleclerc) July 19, 2020
It was similarly dominant to his display at the Styrian Grand Prix, with the second half in particular almost being like a re-run at the front with Hamilton clear and Bottas chasing down Verstappen for second, although this time unsuccessfully.
Perhaps surprisingly considering its routine nature, Hamilton referred to this victory immediately afterwards as “honestly one of my favourite races” and as 2020 increasingly goes his way, he gives the overwhelming impression of being a man completely at ease, assured and simply oozing confidence in the job he is doing.
Mercedes are a team in a league of their own and, unless Red Bull can raise their game to aid Verstappen’s cause, the same is likely to be true of Hamilton as a racer as the year goes on – if he is not already.
Finn-s can only get better
Valtteri Bottas must have a real sense of déjà vu – a winning start to the season, high hopes of a World Championship challenge…and then a major drop-off.
It happened to Bottas 2.0 and now history looks to be repeating itself for Bottas 3.0, and unfortunately for the Finn the problems were all of his own making this time.
Starting second on the grid, Bottas reacted to a light going out on his dashboard at the start, went to launch his Mercedes and then realised he was doing so prematurely. By the time he corrected his error, the car had gone into anti-stall and Bottas got away poorly as rivals raced past him.
Bottas and Leclerc fighting for P6 ⚔️
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 19, 2020
Even at the end, as he hunted down second-placed Max Verstappen after making a pit-stop for fresh rubber, Bottas was not close enough to make a move diving into Turn 1 on the final lap. That was his last real chance to overtake and he had to settle for P3.
Having been told over the radio he needed consistent laps of 1:18.50 in his pursuit of the Red Bull, Bottas did not get onto Verstappen’s tail quickly enough.
You sense that had it been Lewis Hamilton in the same scenario, the job would have been completed – we have seen the World Champion do it so many times with victories, never mind podiums, on the line.
“It was a pretty bad race for me,” said Bottas on Sky Sports F1. “I lost many places at the start and that made it very difficult.”
Races such as this one for Bottas make the difference between being a mere title hopeful and a genuine challenger to Hamilton.
Maybe version 4.0 will finally crack it.
Early call puts Haas on a high
Further down the order, it was a big day for Haas who collected their first point of the season – all down to an inspired strategy call on the formation lap (which did come at a post-race cost).
Bizarrely, when the tyre blankets were shed on a quickly drying track, Kevin Magnussen was revealed to be on a set of full wets while everyone else lined up on intermediates. Clearly the wets would have been in bits after only a couple of laps.
Thinking on their feet, Haas called in both of their cars and put them both onto slicks. It meant they had to start from the pit-lane, but they had been P16 and P18 anyway so there was little to lose.
As everyone else then pitted for slicks early in the race, Haas capitalised on their decision and were running third and fifth until Romain Grosjean ultimately tumbled down the order.
But Magnussen clung on to a points-paying position and ended up finishing a fairly comfortable P9 – with Charles Leclerc and both McLarens among those behind him – until both and Grosjean were hit with 10-second time penalties after the race.
The ban on teams sending messages to their drivers on the formation laps has been in place for several years and as per the sporting regulations, a driver aid breach.
YEAAAAHHHH – WHAT A DRIVE K-MAG 🇩🇰🇩🇰
We’re back in the points after that bold tire call early in the race 🙌🙌 pic.twitter.com/kE4tsus0T9
— Haas F1 Team (@HaasF1Team) July 19, 2020
But, the call itself, was a great one.
“It was an amazing call by the team,” said K-Mag on Sky Sports F1. “I’d like to thank them for giving me the trust to put me on slick tyres. It was really risky but it worked out.
“I tried to hang on as much as I could and I opened a gap to the Ferrari – who would have thought that?”
Surprising, yes, that Haas held off a car representing the manufacturer of their engines.
A much-needed result for a team whose future was even called into question by one of their own drivers, Grosjean, earlier in the weekend.