By Bob Constanduros
In theory, Lewis Hamilton’s win in Hungary was a perfect one. He made a great start which brought him out in the lead. He maintained what was a sufficient advantage over his teammate throughout the first half of the race, although it was never more than 2.8s. Nico Rosberg lost out in the pit stops and when he rejoined, he was 4.5s behind Hamilton, but that soon shrank to under 2.0s, then growing to 2.9s again.
It certainly looked as if Hamilton was the master of the situation throughout, easing away when he had to, although of course this is a very difficult circuit on which to overtake. We had seen a pretty lively race the year before when there had been nine normal overtakes and 16 DRS overtakes, but that was a very different race.
Rosberg, however, only got close when Hamilton was either held up in traffic – Gutierrez on lap 52 – or slid wide ten laps later. Even so, the winning margin of 3.0s after 70 laps was as large as it had been since lap 44.
You could say that Rosberg had actually made fewer mistakes over the weekend than Hamilton. The reigning World Champion slid into the barriers on Friday afternoon, and the next day, in qualifying, could well have been demoted in Q2. He was tenth at that time, and Sergio Perez was behind him, but then the Mexican slid wide at turn five which cost him a full second which saved Hamilton’s bacon, and allowed him to have a crack at pole – so he at least started from the front row of the grid. Otherwise, this race might have had a very different complexion.
It was a great start, both Mercedes being completely shadowed by a Red Bull each. Ricciardo and Verstappen were right there and we had a great starburst under braking for turn one. Hamilton, of course, was ahead, Ricciardo ready to get around him, Rosberg dropping back and then asserting himself strongly to grab second place. But then it was just a matter of watching and waiting for the Mercedes pair as they passed into the second half of the championship and to the chequered flag, where Hamilton took the lead of the series for the first time this year.
Then we had the tetchy exchange about whether Rosberg slowed down enough for yellow flags in qualifying the day before. It was good that Hamilton, having made his statement, was then asked by his teammate if he could reply, and you had to say that the reply was perfectly convincing, as it must have been for the stewards. However, if there is a grey area then it has to be cleared up.
Sadly, behind we eventually had two Red Bull versus Ferrari battles. This was an important one for Daniel Ricciardo as he tackled his 99th Grand Prix, to come out ahead of his new teammate for the first time. It was his third consecutive appearance on the Hungaroring podium, including his win in 2014. I loved watching his teammate’s racecraft against the experience of Kimi Raikkonen and was only sad that Kimi’s reaction was to complain about the young Dutchman. Max Verstappen has a massive following worldwide – only rivalled by Kimi’s – so Kimi wingeing about the Dutchman won’t do him much good.
Elsewhere, it was great to see that 21 out of 22 starters finished the race, but there had been reliability concerns about four cars from four different teams in practice. Is this the effect of six races in eight weeks, either from an engineering or even human point of view? It’s something to watch out for this coming weekend.
After another delayed EasyJet flight on Sunday night, I was home at 2am on Monday morning, ready for four nights four nights in my own bed before an early flight to Frankfurt on Thursday. After a relatively relaxed weekend in Hungary, I fear that Germany is going to be tense after the recent security alerts. Not only that, we have the sad kidnapping situation regarding Bernie Ecclestone’s mother-in-law which we so hope will be resolved positively. It’s also alarming to see that she was taken in the Interlagos area, exactly where the home circuit of the Brazilian Grand Prix is located. But Bernie has friends in high places in Brazil and Sao Paulo in particular and I’m optimistic of a positive outcome.
It’s been a very busy time in motor sport, particularly in Germany and Belgium. While the Hungarian Grand Prix was going on last weekend, there was the Nurburgring round of the World Endurance Championship, followed this weekend by the German Grand Prix and the Spa 24 hours. Rallye Deutschland is in mid-August.
And so to Hockenheim, a shadow of its former self although still a challenge. There used to be four long straights where drivers reached over 180mph, with little chicanes to interrupt the high speed nature of the circuit. We still have a 1.1 kilometer straight and a tight hairpin at the end of it; if Christian Horner’s estimate that Renault lack 47bhp in comparison to Ferrari is correct, then that could be the game-changer for Red Bull this weekend.
The circuit was revised in 2002 and there have been nine races there since. In theory, it should have alternated with Nurburgring which had hosted European Grands Prix and three German Grands Prix in 2009, 2011 and 2013 but failed to come up with the goods last year when there was no German Grand Prix at all. We shall see if we return there in 2017 but Hockenheim struggled to attract a sufficient crowd in 2014 – I’m told 60,000 is needed to make the race pay – and the security situation won’t help that this weekend.
Both Mercedes drivers have won there from pole and no one beyond third on the grid has won there since the redesign of the circuit. Alonso is a three time winner there, including from his last pole in 2012. He turns 35 on the Friday. Kimi has been on pole twice but never finished higher than third and only finished half his Grands Prix at Hockenheim. Vettel has won at the ‘Ring but never finished higher than third at Hockenheim.
But with the Renault power disadvantage, Ferrari could be Mercedes’ biggest challenger this weekend. Interestingly, they have chosen nine sets of Pirelli’s supersofts, like Sauber and McLaren who have gone for only three sets of soft tyres whereas Force India have gone the other way, preferring three sets of the hardest medium tyre and only six sets of the supersofts.
Temperatures can often be very high in that part of the world – I used to spend time there with Keke Rosberg when he lived at Eppelheim, 14kms from Hockenheim. We would play tennis indoors because Keke was always giving up smoking and therefore trying to control his weight and we would sweat buckets. It’s one of the hottest parts of Germany but that sun can be interrupted by torrential downpours. A recent press conference had to be halted because of the noise of the rain on the roof of the press centre.
So nothing is certain and rain is forecast for the weekend. Let’s hope it’s a peaceful one and that we have a clean race for Mercedes at their home circuit. It’s also Nico’s, so he claims, but that doesn’t give him any rights to victory; who will take the World Championship lead as we head into the summer break? Time will tell.