2017 Hungarian GP Review By Bob Constanduros
Regular listeners to my commentary will be bored by my description of Formula One grids as being designed by Noah. Those are the ones which form up virtually as teams: two-by-two, drivers from the same team alongside one another. It happens more and more and is a reflection of the dominance of a car’s performance and capabilities rather than its driver’s. It inevitably leads to drivers from the same team racing one another down to the first corner – and that, of course, is where the trouble starts.
In Hungary we had several instances of teammates up against one another – although there’s nothing new about that. We’ve had that many times before and it so often ends in tears. Team principals usually allow their drivers to race one another – or at least, the best ones do – but there comes with it the caveat that they must not crash into one another. Hmm, it doesn’t always end up that way.
Again, we had several instances of that in Hungary and it’s probably just as well that everyone is off on holiday and the results of this racing can be allowed to cool down. It’s not uncommon for teammates to crash together and of course, they’ve probably been doing this all their lives. There’s not a lot that is new for most of these guys, they’ve been racing all their lives and they’ve probably knocked off a few competitors and even teammates on their way to the top. You have to be a bit ruthless to succeed – look at Ayrton Senna’s and Michael Schumacher’s careers.
So there was no surprise that Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo came together – although for me, that was just carelessness of the part of the young Dutchman as he rejoined. Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez seem to be a well-matched pair and that is leading to regular incidents, as is the Carlos Sainz/Daniil Kvyat interface, although not at the Hungaroring.
The big problem, particularly for those in midfield and beyond, is that they get a reputation for this kind of thing, and therefore are thought of as liabilities rather than talented racing drivers. Maybe that’s why Trident had a 1-2-3-4 in the GP3 race in Hungary where the teammates didn’t come together: too much at stake. And we saw the same thing in GP3 last year with the very competitive ART teammates – Leclerc, Albon, de Vries, Fukuzumi – largely behaving themselves.
When they move up, the stakes become a bit more crucial and so the risks taken are a bit greater. Amusingly, when Max Verstappen was asked if he would be taking more risks when racing with the halo, the 19-year old immediately replied that the wouldn’t be doing his job properly now if that would be the case. That was a very quick, mature answer. I was impressed.
But I digress; there are quite a few drivers out there risking their careers as they fight their teammates. The more mature ones don’t do it: a colleague reckons Kimi Raikkonen is one of the politest drivers on the grid, who rarely gets involved in incidents with other drivers – although Valtteri Bottas might not agree – at least, not normally is it his fault.
Perhaps more interestingly, then, was the course of action taken by Mercedes which no doubt will be the envy of their rivals – at least for the control that they were able to exercise over their drivers if not for the loss of points for their chief championship contender. They were able to give Lewis Hamilton the opportunity to battle the leading Ferrari drivers as Valtteri Bottas obeyed team orders and let his teammate past, only for that teammate to honour the deal and allow Bottas back up into third place in the closing meters of the race.
That was a pretty honourable course of action, but not one that is totally unique. I’m thinking of race winner Stirling Moss’s evidence after the Portuguese Grand Prix in 1958 which allowed Mike Hawthorn to keep his second place and eventually take the World Championship by one point from Moss two races later. But for Moss’s evidence, Hawthorn would have been disqualified and not taken the second place points; Moss would have won the championship.
Will the same situation come back to bite Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes? It was a question that was much asked by my colleagues after the race, of Lewis himself and also team principal Toto Wolff. Yes, it might come back to bite us, they both admitted, but relished the high moral ground that they had asked the drivers to obey team orders, honour the deal and they had.
At the same time, Lewis of course knows that he has an honourable teammate who he can respect and who he can rely on when the going gets tight – while the points gap between the two Mercedes drivers is now closer than before. As I say, that course of action will be the envy of many a team principal but it was the right thing to do and the drivers acknowledged that.
The weekend was a long one and ended with two days’ testing in very hot conditions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Only the top three teams really concentrated on their regular race drivers and also tended to remain on harder tyres. Some stars emerged: Charles Leclerc set fastest time on the first day on soft Pirellis for Ferrari while Lando Norris was best of the rest on day two in the McLaren. Robert Kubica made a great return in the Renault – although talking of returns, what a great job by Paul di Resta.
Which actually brings me on to another subject: Williams and their lack of form. Newcomer Lance Stroll was finally getting into the points – well, at least in Baku big time – when they introduced new parts in Austria. This was a circuit where they’d been on pole position and yet they were only marginally better than Sauber. More new parts at Silverstone didn’t help either. Paddy Lowe isn’t going to allow this situation to continue but it seems weird that a team working on constant development doesn’t seem to be reaping the benefits. At times like that, you begin to look at your wind tunnel and correlation.
The Grand Prix and testing at Hungaroring confirmed Ferrari’s suitability to tight circuits and yet the next pair of back-to-backs are the long-legged Spa and Monza – very different tracks which might see a very different result. Already some intriguing and aggressive tyre choices have been revealed for the Belgian race which starts the second half of the season – but I’ll talk amore about that in my preview. Enjoy some F1-free time for now.