Issue 26: Hungarian Grand Prix Review

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17 August 2014

Race Summary: Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo won a superb race at the Hungaroring. Fernando Alonso put in yet another spectacular drive to claim second closely followed by Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Williams took fifth and eighth and Jenson Button a disappointing 10th for McLaren.

F1 ain’t broke Bernie

There’s nothing wrong with ‘The Show’ in F1. Cancel all future meetings aimed at ‘spicing it up’. A heavy pre-race shower, two early safety car periods and several world-class drives turbo-charged the Hungarian Grand Prix from a traditionally processional race into scintillating sporting entertainment. The race round the Hungaroring had it all: wheel-to-wheel combat, bold overtaking moves, some hero-to-zero and zero-to-hero results and (yet again in F1) on-track controversy over team orders. F1 – on-track at least – ain’t broke, so don’t try to fix it Bernie with more gimmicks like double points in the final round.

What gripped me to the race was the turnaround in fortunes at Mercedes as well as the final phase of the race when Ricciardo, Alonso and Hamilton all seemingly had a chance of winning. Every sport needs a degree of unpredictability and competition at the front and the Hungarian Grand Prix delivered plenty of both. Success at the Hungaroring on 27 July 2014 came down to a combination of luck, good race strategy and management of the wet/dry conditions. The podium finishers all had a slice of luck, but Ricciardo, Alonso and Hamilton managed the conditions well and were handed good race strategies by Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes. On the day, relative pace was less significant in the eventual result.

Alonso delivered the drive of the race, for my money at least. Like Rosberg, Bottas and Vettel, the Spaniard was disadvantaged by the timing of the first safety car period and was forced to cruise round most of the lap at 55% racing speed. However, he fought back from that setback and put in an extraordinary 32-lap final stint on soft tyres that were projected to last no longer than 20-22 laps. Although passed by Ricciardo, Alonso managed to hold the faster Hamilton at bay in the closing laps to claim a quite incredible second place. This was Alonso at his very best.

Like Alonso, Hamilton drove superbly to make up for the fuel leak that put him out of qualifying and forced him to start the race from the pitlane. His fortune on race day was the first safety car period that wiped out his 30-second deficit to the leading Mercedes on Lap 8. On the first racing lap after the safety car period (Lap 14), Hamilton overtook four cars, which left only Vettel standing between him and his team-mate. A startling recovery from the back. On his way to the podium, Hamilton also put in the overtake of the race, in my view, by going around the outside of Jean-Eric Vergne at Turn 4. That ballsy pass had me out of seat!

Like Alonso, there was nothing Hamilton could do to hold off the hard-charging Ricciardo in the dying laps, but he too managed an impressively long stint in the medium tyre. Nonetheless, the final few laps were nail-biting as Rosberg closed in on the pair of them at an alarming rate following a late pitstop.

Ricciardo showed what a top performer he is to win again this season. Unreliability and misfortune at Mercedes created the chance for the Australian to seize a second win. He took it beautifully. Sure, he had some luck – the timing of both safety car periods fitted in well with Ricciardo’s first two pitstop windows – however, he made the win happen by passing two world champions, albeit while on much fresher tyres. Another error-free race, unlike his team-mate who spun rather carelessly on Lap 33.

The big losers in Hungary were McLaren and Williams. McLaren found themselves (surprisingly) leading after the pitstops in the first safety car period had been made. Unfortunately, they gambled on more rain and put the intermediate tyre on again when everyone else went to slicks. They would have been heroes if it had rained again. It didn’t and they looked rather foolish. Williams, on the other hand, lost out in the first safety car period with Bottas dropping from second to 11th place, although Massa succeeded in moving up from eighth to third, which quickly turned into a temporary second place. Nevertheless, Williams struggled to get the most out of their tyres during the Grand Prix due to car set-up reasons.

Team orders controversy (again)

Team orders rows in F1 just won’t die. However, in my view, this latest row at the Hungarian Grand Prix was clear-cut. Hamilton was right NOT to move over for his team-mate as ordered to do so by Mercedes. Normally, the driver on the slower race strategy, but ahead on the track, would be expected to move over so that the team can maximise its points haul. However, Mercedes have all but won the constructors’ title, so points should not have been a factor in their decision-making. Moreover, Hamilton was right to point out that Rosberg simply wasn’t close enough to justify him moving aside and losing time to Alonso. The German barely got within one second of his team-mate; hardly all over his gearbox. The Mercedes drivers are now in a private battle for the world championship and they should be left to get on with it. Mercedes have admirably let them race so far this season. There’s no reason to change that policy now. It’s unlikely that Mercedes ordered Hamilton to move over because they favour Rosberg, as some fans on Twitter have suggested. That order is not evidence of a conspiracy theory. In fact, Niki Lauda highlighted the more likely explanation for why the order was given: the Mercedes strategy team was ‘under stress’ due to the wet/dry conditions and multiple safety car periods. In such a dynamic and high-pressure environment, it isn’t surprising if not all strategy decisions are perfect.

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