Two things we learned in Hungary: that Mercedes aren’t unbeatable and that you can overtake at the Hungaroring. Oh, and maybe that Formula One isn’t in the doldrums after all.
How many people have come up to me and said how much they enjoyed the Hungarian Grand Prix? I can’t tell you; everyone has said how fantastic it was, how so much was going on. One 70-year old car enthusiast said he watched the Grand Prix all the way through for the first time ever. That’s a pretty fine endorsement.
And it was all prefaced by an emotional and tough week for the drivers. So many of them had been at Jules Bianchi’s funeral in Nice on the Tuesday before, admitting that when the visor goes down, then all non-racing thoughts are banished; yet after the race, Daniel Ricciardo in particular but several others admitted that it was tough to race so soon after the emotional moment on the grid when they got together to remember their fallen colleague.
The minute’s silence, followed by the Hungarian national anthem was planned meticulously, but the drivers took control with their placing of the helmets on the ground, the circle that they formed, including Jules’s parents in that circle and then using the anthem as their own time to remember Jules. It wasn’t quite how it was planned, but it was a suitable demonstration of just how much Formula One is a community. It was superb to see all the teams gathering behind their cars on the grid. We did that properly this time.
And then it was time to go racing – not easy after that emotional outpouring, however much a driver says he leaves his emotions behind once the visor goes down. And not too many drivers then had an entirely troublefree Grand Prix, it was almost as though something was gnawing at the back of their mind.
Starts are coming under increasing scrutiny in that certain aids will be banned from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards: for instance, the clutch bite point which is communicated to drivers prior to the actual start. That isn’t going to help Lewis Hamilton who had been almost perfect up to the Hungaroring start, being fastest in every session. The last time a driver achieved that was in Brazil last year – by Nico Rosberg.
Sure, there had been the odd off-circuit moment when exploring the limits, just as we’ve seen at every race so far this year but otherwise things had gone smoothly for Lewis. By contrast, Mercedes teammate Rosberg had never seemed happy with his car and you actually couldn’t see it getting better in the race.
But it went wrong for both of them right from the start, rapidly demoted by both Ferraris off the line and then Lewis getting it wrong with Nico at the chicane and plummeting to tenth at the end of lap one. It didn’t really get any better for Lewis until Nico tangled with a charging Daniel Ricciardo on lap 64 of the 69 causing a pit stop for both which allowed Lewis to finish ahead of his teammate and increase his championship lead. Up until that moment, it looked like he’d lost out in what he admitted was his worst race since 2008. A different tyre choice under the late safety car might have even brought a chance at victory for Nico, but that wasn’t to be either.
Even though Ferrari won, they can’t be happy with the weekend, even if they did win from the front to give Sebastian Vettel his first win at the Hungaroring. There were just so many little niggly things that went wrong: Kimi Raikkonen’s wing failure in practice, for instance, an electrical problem for Vettel, MGU-K failure for Raikkonen in the race when they might have scored a one-two, and this at a race when Claire Williams admitted that Ferrari were talking to Raikkonen’s compatriot Valtteri Bottas about him possibly replacing Kimi next year. Things aren’t that rosy at Ferrari.
Red Bull also made the best of their unfortunate situation. Here was a circuit at which Ricciardo won last year, where engine power isn’t that crucial, where good aerodynamics are rewarded. In spite of an engine failure for Ricciardo in practice, the Red Bulls lined up fourth and seventh. Kvyat made a great start but ultimately had to give way to his teammate who raced hard and fast, had a couple of contacts along the way, the second of which with Rosberg forced a pit stop which resulted in his teammate finishing an excellent second, his best placing in F1. Second and third then for Red Bull Racing, It won’t be so easy in the future and engine penalties loom. Incidentally, I’ve never seen Daniel Ricciardo so glum after a race; he says he left it all on the track and was clearly deeply affected by Bianchi’s death but the contacts with other drivers I don’t feel are his style.
Franz Tost admitted that reliability is Toro Rosso’s big problem at the moment – both drivers have only finished two races together in the ten races so far this year – but they also looked very competitive in Hungary. They might have finished higher in qualifying but varying fortunes saw a reshuffle at the start, with Verstappen plummeting and Sainz rocketing! However, the Spaniard suffered a loss of boost pressure and the Dutchman scored the team’s best result since 2008! Such were the vagaries of Hungaroring.
The vagaries are continued with the rest of the field. Disasters, for instance, for Williams with the team just falling down the order in spite of some promise; McLaren getting both cars in the points; Force India suffering car failures; Maldonado clocking up three penalties which can only be bought by massive sponsorship; Sauber salvaging a point. For Manor, it was a race to endure rather than one that they necessarily enjoyed.
What was the magic ingredient that made the 30th Hungarian Grand Prix so special? I don’t know and I’m not sure that Bernie Ecclestone or Jean Todt do. Was it the tight nature of the second shortest track in F1, which has finally been acknowledged as ‘old school’, one where you can overtake but it might just end in tears – or maybe probably will? It might have been the heat earlier in the weekend, but it was cooler for the race but still a two-stopper. Whatever, it was a humdinger, it tore up the form book and that’s what we all like. More please.
By Bob Constanduros