2018 Hungarian GP Review – By Bob Constanduros
What an eight days for Lewis Hamilton. Two races he probably didn’t think he would win, and 50 points the result. That mantra of his, ‘never give up’ sure does work, at least for him. But at the same time that he had good fortune allied to his outstanding tenacity and skill, you could say that main rival Sebastian Vettel had the reverse, as did his own Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Valtteri Bottas.
The extraordinary – and sad – thing is that we’re talking here about two teams: Mercedes and Ferrari, and yet it was Red Bull who even engineered themselves to be at the greatest advantage coming in to this race and yet never really featured. This was their race, they believed; neither driver was lower than third on Friday but by the end of qualifying in the rain, Daniel Ricciardo was down in 12th place and Max Verstappen 7th, sandwiched by Toro Rossos.
Daniel may have then put in a storming drive worthy of Lewis Hamilton the week before, but Max was soon out in a shower of expletives which had the buzz-o-meter overheating – like everyone else – and Daniel never got any further than fifth when he collided with Bottas who was then penalised which resulted in Ricciardo salvaging fourth – but it was meant to be so much more.
Red Bull Racing – for whatever reason – have really slipped out of contention. After Canada, Ricciardo was two points behind third placed Bottas. After the triple-header, he was ten points behind third placed Raikkonen. Now he is fifth, 28 points behind third placed Raikkonen.
At the front, Vettel was in the lead by a point after Canada building that to eight points after the triple header, but after the crucial mistake in Hockenheim and defeat in Hungary, the advantage is now to Hamilton by 24 points. They are over forty points ahead of third placed Raikkonen. Bottas was 34 points behind his teammate after Canada. He’s now 81 points behind him. Raikkonen, more regularly slower than his teammate, is 43 points behind Vettel.
The ups and downs, high and lows of the championship battle are widely debated but it is a fact that Ferrari now have the faster car and therefore should be reaping the benefit. But Vettel has a list of errors and failures behind him which has cost him dearly, so while he’s fishing or relaxing in Switzerland, he can ruminate on that.
Mercedes, however, won’t be resting on their laurels. Knowing that they have this margin to make up, they will be devoting their time as to how they can get back to Ferrari, knowing, for instance, that they have Singapore coming up which won’t be to their advantage, and other races besides.
Following the death of chairman Sergio Marchionne, there is a little bit of instability at Ferrari, but that shouldn’t make the car any slower. Indeed, the new chairman is a former colleague of Maurizio Arrivabene, so the team principal should actually feel more comfortable now.
Whether there is a change of policy now at Ferrari will be watched for carefully. While both championship contenders are under extreme pressure, Ferrari are more protective of their man, even though he is perhaps the more available. Mercedes ask more of Hamilton, although the man himself is more guarded. It is a fascinating dynamic to watch and monitor; each will take advantage of his own situation and take advantage of what is suited to himself.
In each case, the teams are beginning to calculate and run their own preferences. In both cases the teammates have been told just what they can and can’t do. That, of course, won’t change but the team bosses can’t do anything about qualifying. When both cars have been healthy, Hamilton has outqualified Bottas 7-4. In similar circumstances, Vettel has outqualified Raikkonen 10-3. Bottas, then, has a greater chance of upsetting the applecart than Raikkonen – and that’s the way Ferrari want it. Incidentally when they’ve both finished races, Vettel has only beaten Raikkonen 5-4… it was 4-4 until Hungary.
Behind them, things had changed in the midfield with excellent performances from Toro Rosso – as their technical director was announced as being off to McLaren – Carlos Sainz starring for Renault in qualifying while the engine was derided by Verstappen, and Haas confirming Ferrari’s engine performance in the wet qualifying. Stoffel Vandoorne seemed happier with a new chassis, while Force India’s financial problems were reflected by the team’s performance on this track, never particularly good to them.
It’s sad, but almost understandable, that James Key is leaving Toro Rosso. The 46-year old is one of the really promising technical directors and has transformed the Italian team in recent years, sometimes trouncing the Red Bulls. I haven’t been able to ask him why he has decided to leave and join struggling McLaren but it could be any one of the following: made an offer he couldn’t refuse, Red Bull using the same Honda engines in future and therefore lack of freedom, desire to return to England for family reasons etc.
The announcement triggered the immediate announcement of the departure of Matt Morris from McLaren, following the earlier resignations of Tim Goss and Eric Boullier. And Red Bull countered saying that Key had a long contract with them, also suggesting that they were frustrated that McLaren had announced it while negotiations were still continuing. Sounds like Mr Key’s garden could be one of the best in the neighbourhood by 2020 but that the only trophies he may see are at local flower shows by the time he joins his new employers in the next decade!
The Force India situation is one of hope and optimism. Vijay Mallya has been a loyal and enthusiastic shareholder in the team but his financial situation is dire and not going to improve; in fact he would see the team as a major asset to help finance his lifestyle, rather than one that he would invest in, as in money out rather than in. One of his co-shareholders in India has been under house arrest for years, so that doesn’t help, while Michiel Mol (49 on Saturday) is a left-over from Jordan days (think Lost Boys) and has never chosen the right moment to get out.
However, with the Sergio Perez’s legal initiative, the situation is out in the open, new investors are popping up (five were being mooted but the situation is fluid) and they have the support of the Formula One Group as chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer was joined by F1 CEO Chase Carey when he addressed the troops in the Force India garage on Sunday morning.
In the true tradition of Formula One, however, there is still the strong possibility of a bullet/foot interface as three teams – Williams, McLaren and Renault – are opposing the continuation of the use of name and management company if the team is taken over, objecting to the fact that they would simply take over the (considerable, given that it was 4th in last year’s championship) prize money structure as Force India, therefore depriving the teams mentioned of an increase in their financial situation, something which two of them, at least, desperately need.
So it’s all fluid as we go into the summer break. There were other matters I could write about – Liberty’s continued habit of two steps forward and then one back – but I’ll leave it out for the moment and see how it develops. Until then, enjoy the break, back in Belgium.