At this point we have reached at the half-way stage of the season. What a season it has been so far. We arrive in Hungary with the two major protagonists of the title-fight separated by just a single point and both Vettel and Hamilton will be champing at the bit to go into the summer break on top, in both the table and therefore mentally as well. However, certainly don’t make the mistake of writing off Bottas yet either. What is more for this fight, at this circuit every moment counts: it’s winding, driver oriented and often narrow surface is famous for being known as “Monaco without the barriers” and as such it is similarly difficult to overtake. That being said, we can expect plenty of action into some corners; particularly turn 1 and the chicane at the beginning of sector 2. The start is also often incredibly frantic. This race has provided some modern classics in this hybrid era; both 2014 and 2015 were won by less competitive cars with Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel at the wheel respectively. This will provide a lot of hope to the cars lower down the grid that they can get some good points and possibly punch even higher.
The cars that will be worth looking out for will be the Red Bulls, with their new aerodynamic package. They looked fast in free-practice this weekend and their starting position of locking out the 3rd row on the grid gives them every chance of a podium if the play their cars right with strategy. Another team to focus on is McLaren-Honda; this circuit has been a happy hunting ground for them in these uncompetitive years, especially with Alonso. His 5th place here in 2015 remains his best result. I fully expect McLaren to finally leapfrog Sauber and jump off the bottom of the constructor table; both drivers should score points as long as they remain reliability and incident free. There are a few others who will be under a lot of pressure to deliver before the summer break too; Jolyon Palmer absolutely needs a good race this time round with Robert Kubica being confirmed to drive the 2017 Renault in the post race test. He is running out of time fast to convince the powers that be that he deserves his drive. Paul DiResta also somewhat amazingly starts this race, having been catapulted into the seat to replace an ill Felipe Massa: he will want to show teams that he still has what it takes to be in F1 having not raced in 4 years or so. It is a vital weekend then for many in the paddock. Let’s see how they got on in the last race of this side of the season.
Mercedes (3rd & 4th)
Valtteri Bottas, P3: Bottas’ race was much quieter than Lewis’ after his good qualifying and decent start allowed him to stay in P3. There was possibility that he might catch the Ferrari’s ahead due to Vettel’s slow pace at the front. However it transpired that a slow pit-stop of 3.5 seconds and Hamilton’s better performance in the latter end of the race meant that it wasn’t possible. Valtteri was asked to swap positions with Lewis as the Brit looked to attack the red cars ahead but he was allowed back through on final corner in a sporting gesture. A good outing, but that he was so off the pace from Lewis in some areas of the race will be a concern for the Finn. He isn’t out of touch with the championship race just yet though and there is a long way still to go.
Lewis Hamilton, P4: The Brit seemingly had a bit of a defeatist attitude before the race. Perhaps his low confidence in the ability of his car was why he lost a place to Verstappen on the opening lap and maybe the time he lost behind the slower car came back to bite him later after his pace improved. However, from a fairly poor start he began to fight back and gained a lot of ground on Bottas in the pitstop. Also, he could have narrowed that gap even further had the Mercedes team not had radio problems. The team could not hear the drivers talk, meaning that Hamilton had to just respond to the pre-established strategy and not absolutely 100% make use of his tyres. He even said “I could have gone longer on the last set of tyres; this radio stuff sucks!” to Pete Bonington his engineer, once the radio was back. Once he was allowed past Bottas he began to gain on the Ferraris due to Vettel’s handling issues. However, the dirty air from Raikkonen meant he could not get as close as he would have wanted and so he allowed Bottas back through on final corner and dropped to 4th. Whilst he lost even more points to Vettel it was the morally correct thing to do if team orders are going to be implemented at all. I respected his attitude in that regard. So in a way he grew from strength to strength both performance wise and mentally in the duration.
Team Summary: Radio issues for both cars definitely complicated the race for Mercedes; however Ferrari also had their issues and at the end of the day the deficit probably equalled itself out when all is said and done. I don’t think they would have got close to winning the race had Raikkonen been allowed through by the Scuderia; but more on that topic below in the Ferrari section. Spa will suit their car much better, as will Monza; so Hamilton and Bottas will bounce back in the standings I am sure.
Ferrari (1st & 2nd)
Sebastian Vettel, P1: According to the German his car’s steering was broken by hydraulics issue right from the very start of the race. If that is the case it is highly impressive that he won the race at all; as he had to get used to the wonky configuration of the car. You wouldn’t have noticed the problems at the start of the race though as in a classic Vettel move he basically vanished up the road after the safety car re-start. By lap 14 the gap to Bottas in third was already 6 seconds. However, as the car developed and perhaps due to tyre wear the steering issues began to become more apparent and he was told numerous times to “stay off the kerbs” by the team. Meanwhile Raikkonen began to seem faster behind him and was calling over the radio to be let by for the good of the team. Sebastian was weirdly the cork in the bottle at the front; all three of Kimi and the Mercedes were catching him fast and at one point I was sure they would all eventually get past him. For me the smart thing for the team do would have been to let Raikkonen go. However, perhaps Vettel and Ferrari are playing the drivers championship with more severity than the constructors and in that regard Vettel gained 13 points on Hamilton in this triumph of a weekend for the German after the disaster of Silverstone.
Kimi Raikkonen, P2: Kimi was excellent this weekend and was rightfully awarded “driver of the day” by the F1 fans over at Sky for his performance. He kept excellent pace with Seb throughout and at times he was even quicker than his team-mate. Unfortunately the way that the cars work this year, as well as the nature of the track meant that no clear opportunity to pass ever presented itself. Where Kimi could and arguably should have won the race was when he was clearly the best option for the win for his team. Vettel’s problems were seeming to get worse and Mercedes were catching the Ferraris. The clever thing to do would have been to release Kimi for the win instead of risking it to the resurgent Silver Arrows.
Team Summary: A good weekend for Ferrari and exactly what they needed to bounce back after Silverstone. Whilst I have been critical of their decision to not let Kimi get past Sebastian and secure the race win instead of risking it, in the end they still come away with a triumphant 1-2 result and that is really all that matters. The next two tracks might well be Mercedes territory; but when we look at Monza then the passion of Ferrari at home can achieve sheer wonders sometimes and has done through the years.
Red Bull-Renault (5th & DNF)
Max Verstappen, P5: Verstappen’s collision with his team-mate is hardly backing up Christian Horner’s claims that he has become a “better driver in adversity” of the recent weeks. Whilst I am of the opinion that it was just an honest mistake that he hit Ricciardo, I have no doubt that the mistake itself was caused by a hot head on the young man. He was obviously trying to make up time and the place which he had lost to Daniel and so pushed it too far; locking up into turn 2 and understeering into Ricciardo’s side-pod. The subsequent 10 second penalty also ruined his race as well for good measure. He tried to make that time up and was 10 seconds off the lead at the end of the race; perhaps if it wasn’t for the penalty and collision he would have had a shot at the podium too?
Daniel Ricciardo, DNF: I have a feeling that had Ricciardo not had his tyre punctured and radiator burst on lap 1 by his own team-mate that he might have challenged for the win. He had made a good start and was up to 4th place. After he had got out of the car he was very vocal in his irritation. He called Verstappen’s actions “amateur to say the least” whilst also calling him a “sore loser” so maybe there will be added tension for the Red Bull team unless they can manage that over the summer break.
Team Summary: Red Bull were impressively quick as had been predicted by most in the sport. I have a feeling that had Daniel and Max not come together then they could perhaps have at least got another podium to add to their collection this season. But it is very difficult to judge as the incident happened so early in the race. A big missed opportunity at a favourable track then; Spa will be harder for them.
Force India-Mercedes (8th & 9th)
Sergio Perez, P8: The Mexican put in one of the better starts I have seen in recent years, rising from 13th on the grid to 8th by the end of the first lap. That is hugely impressive especially as turn one also brought yet more contact with his team-mate. Having been beaten in qualifying by Ocon this result where he finished above him will be a good leveller of the books in his efforts to assert himself as the biggest talent of the team.
Esteban Ocon, P9: Whilst he was beaten by Perez in the race, Esteban will take his positive vibes for this weekend from his qualifying performance where he out-paced his more experienced team-mate by about 0.2 seconds. Whilst that might not be much it is not often that he has been faster over one lap this season, if memory serves me correctly. As I have said before, I do think Ocon and Verstappen will share the future of F1 and they are the biggest talents that have come through recently.
Team Summary: Force India recently announced that they want to “grab the bull by the tail” so to speak and try to gain on the Red Bull’s ahead of them to achieve their pre-season target of 3rd. With performances like this I don’t much see how that can happen as they failed to take advantage of the early collision Between Ricciardo and Verstappen. Maybe the races coming up will be more suited to their car and power unit and they can gain more ground in those encounters.
Williams-Mercedes (14th & DNF)
Lance Stroll, P14: Paddy Lowe did say that it would be difficult for either driver to get into the points due to their lack of pace at the circuit this weekend. Stroll proved that as the more experienced driver of this car despite his young years. There is not much more to say about this race; other than that in all honesty. Future races after the summer break will be more suited to the Williams car and that will provide more hope.
Paul DiResta, DNF: Having been drafted in at just 30 minutes notice for Felipe Massa after FP3, Paul would have been forgiven for just simply making up the numbers. Whilst many might argue he did just that it is still true that he did not qualify last and was not running last in the race before he was prompted to retire by the team. That is highly impressive for a man who had never driven this car in the flesh; his only time has come on the simulator so far. When he was lapped by Raikkonen the Finn said “Eh, maybe if he cannot see me coming then he should stay doing the reporting stuff” but I don’t think that is fair at all. It has been 4 years since Paul sat in an F1 car and like he did at Force India he showed that he could still cut the mustard if he was given more time in a race seat. Maybe if teams join he could get a seat there. I think he was & is a decent F1 driver.
Team Summary: Another tough weekend for Williams might not have come as a surprise given that their cars in recent years tend to follow a low drag and slippery set-up. With a circuit that is often compared with Monaco maybe we could all have suspected a result this disappointing. Felipe Massa’s absence from the race also did not help by any means; even if it was nice to see DiResta back in the car. I really do want to see Williams get much better next season and hopefully with Paddy Lowe at the helm they might do. They are a huge name in F1 and need to be at the top.
Toro Rosso-Renault (7th & 11th)
Carlos Sainz, P7: This is much more like it from Carlos, especially if he wants to prove to other teams that he should be racing for them and not for the second-rate sister team of Red Bull. He had a quality start where he rose from 9th to 6th. In his scrap with Alonso he also showed some good defensive abilities before before and after the pit-stop window. Whilst he did lose the fight no-one can blame him as a hungry Alonso is hard to contend with. Sainz also showed a little bit of his frustration to his team as he snapped “Leave me alone” on the radio to his engineer. I still get the feeling he isn’t a happy man.
Daniil Kvyat, P11: If it had not been for his 3 place penalty for impeding Lance Stroll in qualifying then Daniil might have finished this race in the points as well. On the by it also added a further couple of points to his super-licence meaning that he is only 2 away from a race ban. He really needs to keep his head as that might be another nail in the coffin of his F1 career; which would be a big shame as I do think he has the pace to be in the sport, even if his trajectory has been downwards in recent years.
Team Summary: McLaren are now quicker than Toro Rosso apparently; which as much as it is testament McLaren and Honda’s hard work it is also showing that the second Bull team might be falling off in their development race with the teams around them after their good start to the season. It will be interesting to see if they can fight off the teams below them and stay in their 6th place in the table, especially if their drivers remain a little discontented with their lot in life in the paddock.
Haas-Ferrari (13th & DNF)
Kevin Magnussen, P13: Magnussen had quite an eventful race himself in the end despite saying that Hulkenberg’s behaviour towards his team-mate heralded a “dirty race” over the radio. Perhaps towards the end of the race he got pay-back for his team in a way as he pushed Hulkenberg onto the grass for 11th place. But it bit him back once more as the resulting 5 second penalty dropped him from 11th on track to 13th and also added two penalty points to his licence. Insults apparently were exchanged in the media pen between the two of them as well.
Romain Grosjean, DNF: A disappointing race for Grosjean started with a collision with Hulkenberg at the start. From there the spiral continued downwards as the contact arguably contributed to his slow puncture on lap 21 where he came in to change tyres. That very pit-stop put him into retirement as a mechanic crossed a wheel-nut from that pitstop brought him into an early retirement.
Team Summary: Much like Renault below, this circuit provided Haas with a real chance to stretch their legs and gain points. However, they never had the pace on Saturday or in the race and the missed opportunity was basically confirmed when Grosjean’s race was ruined by a poor and amateur mistake from the pit-crew with his tyre. They are under investigation for an unsafe release to boot. As for Magnussen he wouldn’t have got points even if he hadn’t been penalised for his late race incident. The team as a whole will seek to do much better when the opportunities come around.
Renault (12th & DNF)
Jolyon Palmer, P12: The best thing that can be said about Jolyon’s race was that he had supreme reactions to avoid the stricken Ricciardo when he spun on track during the opening lap. Whilst his pace was by no means terrible throughout he was unfortunately asked to move aside for Hulkenberg as early as lap 19. He did however finish above him if only for a DNF. All eyes will be on how Robert Kubica performs in the Renault during this up coming post-race test at Hungary. Should Kubica’s pace be better than Jolyon’s…Well I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be the biggest shock to see them swap fates at some point in the near future; most likely at the end of the season. Kubica has undeniable talent and the fairytale comeback would be useful for marketing too.
Nico Hulkenberg, DNF: Nico had a difficult race from the start here in Hungary. His 5 place grid penalty for changing his gearbox put him back down the field in 12th meaning that he was amongst the confusion and hit Grosjean at the start. His race was a little bit quieter after being allowed to over-take Palmer on lap 19; but a botched pit-stop where the wheel-nut didn’t come off ruined his race and he dropped back to 12th once more. Following that it got even worse as he was pushed onto the grass by Kevin Magnussen on lap 61 and lost two places. Finally his race was over with a retirement on the penultimate lap. This will be a forgetful weekend and the holiday will be welcome.
Team Summary: This race was an opportunity for the Renaults to try to pick up a couple of points on, or even overtake, Haas in the standings. The low-speed nature of the track was seeming to suit their car by the end of qualifying as Hulkenberg managed to qualify P7; but their race pace coupled with a few minor incidents ruined the chance for that to be converted into points. Now they might even have to look at McLaren who are picking up a bit of pace behind them as well.
McLaren-Honda (6th & 10th)
Fernando Alonso, P6: Once again Fernando proved to the world of F1 why he is still the best driver on the grid. Even before the start of the race he was pushing to the very limit with an extremely aggressive tyre warm up procedure. He had a very entertaining scrap with fellow country-man Sainz after the safety-car restart which he lost out in as he was pushed off the road on the exit of turn 1. However, following the pit-stop phase he raced Carlos once again on the exit of the pit-lane and eventually overtook him in a brilliant move on the outside of turn 2 on lap 38 before cars pitting ahead promoted him to 6th place and his best finish of the season. His result also finally lifts McLaren off the bottom of the table. Whilst he was at it all he set the fastest lap, clocking a 1.20.1 at the very end. He has said that he will decide his future in the summer; I will wait with big anticipation.
Stoffel Vandoorne, P10: Stoffel’s second ever point in F1 was at moments looking in doubt due to a messed up pitstop, when he ran too long into the box and put his mechanics off the procedures. He could have had P9. However, Hulkenberg’s own faulty pit-stop and people pitting ahead of him promoted him back into the points again. Overall he ran a good race and will take even more optimism from his qualifying performance where he nearly matched Fernando. His team-mate has also showed him that the car they have is capable of good things if used effectively at the right circuits as well, which is pleasing.
Team Summary: Finally McLaren deliver and with this double-points finish they drag themselves away from Sauber who sink to the bottom. As confident as I was that McLaren would rise from the foot of the table, I am similarly confident that they will stay ahead of the Swiss team. Not only that but as Fernando has said; if they can maximise the “three or four races” where they will be competitive then they might even catch Renault or Haas ahead of them. That would be a big bonus though; the real story is that the Honda engine seems to have taken a small step in both reliability and performance means again this weekend. Still not sure anything will convince Alonso to stay though.
Sauber-Ferrari (15th & 16th)
Pascal Wehrlein P15: Again Wehrlein can say that he beat his team-mate in both qualifying and the race; so can be happy on that regard. The team tried to get him further up the field with an early pit-stop behind the safety car; but unfortunately it wasn’t possible for him.
Marcus Ericsson, P16: Beaten by his team-mate in both competitive situations, this will be a weekend to forget. It also seems difficult to know how the team will improve much further in this year; so all that Ericsson can focus on is his own team-mate. He isn’t doing the job currently it must be said. Similarly to Pascal he tried to get further up the field with an early pitstop but it wasn’t to be and he was last of the finishers.
Team Summary: Once again I have a very difficult task to write much about Sauber this weekend in terms of their actual race. It was very straightforward and slow. However, the big news for them this weekend revolves around the news that they have cancelled their engine deal with Honda for 2018 and have re-affirmed their position to continue with Ferrari engines. This is huge news as it allows them to get the current spec Ferrari engine which the parent team uses; unlike they have now. It also throws the possibility that young and dominant F2 champion in waiting Charles Leclerc will be racing for them next year. That means that their current drivers are going to have to seriously fight between each-other to impress to keep their drive.
Race Review & Analysis
Whilst this race was not a classic compared to the 2014 or 2015 variations, it was certainly not overly dull. There was a messy start with a few collisions to keep us interested: we had Grosjean on Hulkenberg, the Force India boys once again getting punchy and of course the major incident with Verstappen committing the cardinal sin by smacking into the side of his team-mate. There was also a very spicy battle between the spaniards Alonso and Sainz either side of the pit-stop phase which kept us interested. However, apart from that you could be forgiven for thinking that most of the race’s intrigue was caused by things that were NOT happening instead of actual action.
What I mean by this is that both of the leading teams seemed to be running into issues which were limiting their cars. Mercedes had a spate of radio problems throughout the race which compromised how long Hamilton could spend on the quicker compound. Had he gone longer he might have jumped higher in the pit-stops. Ferrari also had a curious problem with Vettel’s steering which was leaning consistently to the left from the very moment the lights went out. In my opinion Ferrari ran a risky game by not letting Kimi overtake Sebastian as the Iceman was clearly quicker at points. But because they didn’t both Silver Arrows and Prancing Horses came together at the end of the race and there was serious possibility of some major action. However, instead what we got was tension; which also had it’s merits. I think if it had been almost any other track but Monaco then we would have seen a proper on track battle between the four drivers.
Many are already saying that this once again proves the problem that cars cannot follow each-other closely in Formula 1 under these new aero-dynamic heavy regulations. However, I think it is far more down to the track why we saw a lack of meaningful over-taking action. Alonso proved it could be done after all; it was just harder at this particular circuit. Ideally, we would have lots of action at every race; but it is not possible for all events to be classics. In the races coming up we will have more over-takes and the cars will be able to follow better. Spa-Francorchamps and Monza will definitely prove me right and some circuits we have had so far have also been exciting. F1 is better for the tracks being different and diverse and having different dynamics to each race; I think it would lack a certain something if the races were completely predictable
One of my favourite moments of this race, which I will re-iterate again, is when Hamilton was true to his word when he said “I am quicker, let me attack and I will swap back with Valtteri at the end if I can’t get past” to his race engineer. It was a great moment of good sportsmanship from Hamilton, who sacrificed three points in the driver standings for his team-mate. Afterwards he said “I am a man of my word” but maybe if the season stays this tight he will regret the words he said. We shall see, but it was the correct thing to do.
The momentum may appear to be with Ferrari, but with the races coming up I have a feeling that Mercedes will once more be on top and Hamilton or Bottas will claw back Vettel’s lead. Maybe then it will swing again later; but for Spa and Monza it is logical to assume that Ferrari’s glee will be short-lived for now.
Next Time Out: Belgian Grand-Prix
So, an excruciating wait now begins until the next race at the end of August. But luckily, the Belgian Grand Prix rarely disappoints. The world famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit is an almost unanimous favourite of fans and drivers alike and there can be nothing better to look forward to. For my part I aim to continue to keep my ear to the ground to continue posting about all the latest F1 developments on this blog. I also plan to perhaps write the 3rd instalment of my “driver series” posts that currently include Ayrton Senna and Fernando Alonso. I hope you join me for those and the Belgian race. This season remains on a knife-edge and there is still a long way to go in this fascinating marathon.