Mercedes decided to go out of their comfort zone with tyre preparation in Hungary, and pole for George Russell followed.
The Silver Arrows, without a pole or victory to that point in 2022, arrived at the Hungarian Grand Prix with many once again tipping them for a strong result, Lewis Hamilton an eight-time winner at the Hungaroring.
However, the race weekend did not get off to a very competitive start, with the wet conditions of FP3 dropping Mercedes even further off the pace.
Mercedes’ experiments with setup had not paid off, but as their trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin humorously put it to Auto Motor und Sport, “at least we learned what not to do”.
Despite the funny intent, the statement rang true, as Mercedes went into qualifying and thrived on a track that was now dry.
But, few expected Russell to do what he did as on his final flying lap, the Brit snatching pole for the Hungarian Grand Prix, the first pole position of his Formula 1 career.
Team principal Toto Wolff explained that Mercedes had gone with a riskier strategy in qualifying, overlooking the steady warm-up laps to preserve the tyres, and instead giving them a tougher out-lap to build temperature.
“We were less conservative than usual with the rim heating,” Wolff stated.
Qualifying then was a far cry from the scenes of Friday, when Shovlin said that Hamilton and Russell “had no confidence in their car”.
“They had the feeling that the rear end would smear away when they went to the limit,” he added.
“In certain types of corners we suffer from instability in the rear. It’s the long corners like in the third sector at Paul Ricard. The short ones go better. So we could be faster than the others there in the first sector all the time.”
But the opportunity was very much there for Mercedes in the race at Hungary. Sunday’s usually play to the strengths of the reigning eight-time Constructors’ champions, though the key difference was that this time, in Russell’s case, there was no need to make up places on the grid, qualifying having in past rounds proven something of a Mercedes weakness.
Shovlin admitted that the team were unsure “if our good speed could be transferred to a lap in the race”, and though Russell did lead for the early stages, the pace advantage of Ferrari and Red Bull, the latter starting out of position in P10 and P11, started to overpower the Silver Arrows.
However, Ferrari’s botched strategy call to put Leclerc onto hard tyres, coupled with a slow stop for Carlos Sainz, brought Mercedes right back into play, Russell passing Leclerc on his way to a P3 finish, while Hamilton was mighty on the soft tyre, passing Sainz and Russell to claim P2. Consecutive double podium finishes it was then for Mercedes.
“None of the changes turned our car into a rocket,” said a Mercedes technician, with Shovlin concluding that the team simply “had the tyres in the right window, others didn’t”.
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