Formula 1

Vettel Extends Title Lead After Hungarian Win

The Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel extended his lead in the world championship after taking victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas.

Although Vettel led a lot of the 70 lap race, he was compromised from the very beginning of the race by a steering issue. The team were aware as soon as they lowered his car down from the jack on the grid that there was something wrong as it seemed the steering was pulling to the left, especially on the main straight. Despite this, Vettel kept the lead going down into the first corner, and as such dictated the Ferrari strategy from that point onwards. Following the one and only stop for the leaders, Vettel’s steering issue became more pronounced and his pace disappeared as a result.

This prompted his Ferrari team mate Raikkonen to suggest to the pitwall that they might consider allowing him to overtake the stricken lead car, though the team were unmoved by his request leaving him at the mercy of the Mercedes duo of Bottas and Lewis Hamilton behind. Hamilton launched an all out assault on Raikkonen during the second half of the race, but despite clearly looking faster than the Ferrari’s ahead, he found he couldn’t overtake them around the Hungaroring.

The result was, despite the fault with his steering, Vettel was able to come home in first place to claim the maximum 25 points. Putting him 14 points ahead of Hamilton in the championship. While Raikkonen deserves the team mate of the year award for not challenging him for the lead as his pace evaporated, especially after the first round of stops.

“Something went wrong,” said a relieved Vettel. “The steering started to go sideways. Towards the end it came back when I had a cushion but I had to stay focused the whole race.”

It wasn’t just Ferrari who had a dramatic race filled with technical gremlins, as third place Bottas and fourth placed Hamilton were at the mercy of a technical hiccup at Mercedes during the beginning of the race. A cracked fibreoptic cable resulted in the team temporarily losing their whole comms and data systems to their pitwall and their engineers desks in the garage. The fault meant that on occasion the team had no radio communications, no data, and no TV feed. The fault affected both drivers, meaning they missed critical radio messages especially after the pit stops, though eventually the team got their radio back.

One of their first decisions once their radio was back was to switch Bottas and Hamilton. With the understanding that if Hamilton could not make the progress and overtake the Ferrari’s ahead, he would switch back positions with Bottas at the end of the race. Bottas obliged and let Hamilton through so he could launch an attack on Raikkonen in earnest it seemed. The British driver was initially given five laps to get the move done, though the team extended that to ten laps. Despite the extension Hamilton was unable to overtake the Ferrari, he then slowed down by over five seconds on the final lap to let Bottas back through, much to everyone’s shock. The result was Bottas got to keep his podium while Hamilton had to settle for fourth.

Ultimately the top four positions today were dictated by internal politics of teams and the processional nature of the Hungaroring making overtaking impossible. Politics at Ferrari mean that Vettel finished ahead of Raikkonen today, not because of ultimate race pace, but because the team were unwilling to let Raikkonen fight Vettel. While the decision by Mercedes to riskily swap their drivers back on the last lap will be fiercely debated, especially if it ultimately costs Hamilton a fourth world title.

“We could lose a championship because of those three points,” team boss Toto Wolff said following the race. “But this spirit has made us win three championships and it will make us win more.”

Verstappen finished the race in fifth today in the sole remaining Red Bull, after a controversial incident at the start of the race saw him hit his team mate Daniel Ricciardo at the second corner. Verstappen went deep into the corner trying to give himself a fighting chance of retaining the position Ricciardo had stolen off him from the start. But he failed to slow down enough and tangled with his team mate. Ricciardo got a puncture and after further contact was forced to retire, triggering the only safety car of the race to clear up the debris and fluid on the track. A furious Ricciardo later described Verstappen’s move as “amateur” and a “sore loser”. While Verstappen issued an apology to Ricciardo and the team for his action.

For his transgression, Verstappen was handed a 10-second time penalty by the stewards, and no doubt a dressing down by Red Bull senior management and Ricciardo after the race. Since had it not been for that penalty, Verstappen could have been an unlikely challenger for victory in the race.

One driver who will be thrilled with his race today is Fernando Alonso, who finished the race in sixth place whilst also setting the race’s fastest lap in the process in his McLaren. The Woking based team had been confident that this race weekend would be the team’s best chance for championship points owing to the fact that the Hungaroring is not a power sensitive track. Alonso even managed to pull off arguable the best, and one of the very few overtakes of the race, when he managed to overtake the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz.

The younger Spanish driver finished the race seventh ahead of the two Force Indias. With Esteban Ocon finishing ahead of Sergio Perez despite picking up damage from a first lap incident between the pair of them. Showing that there is still no love lost between the two Pink Panthers.

It was left to the other McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne to take the final world championship point in tenth place, resulting in McLaren’s first double points finish of the season. The team now sit ninth in the constructors championship ahead of Sauber.

Three other drivers alongside Ricciardo failed to finish the race today. Romain Grosjean in the Haas was forced to park up at the side of the track due to a cross threaded wheel nut which landed the team with a five thousand euro fine for an unsafe release. Paul DiResta, who was standing in for the unwell Felipe Massa at Williams, retired from the race with 10 laps remaining. While Nico Hulkenberg was forced to park up his Renault two laps from the end with suspected damage. A few laps before he’d been going head to head with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, when Magnussen drove Hulkenberg wide out onto the grass when he dived down the outside for an overtake into turn two.

Overall this was not the enthralling race we hoped it to be. The race was processional for the first thirty or so laps, and while there was drama in the middle with Hamilton catching up to the Ferrari’s, once it became apparent he couldn’t get by the excitement dulled down again. Politics and team orders dominated the race one way or another, especially at Ferrari and Mercedes. Team orders cost us a true fight for the race victory today, but at the same time they gave us the opportunity to see the potential for racing. Taking the politics out of this race, the Grand Prix simply didn’t live up to races we’ve seen here in the past. Though it was good to see Alonso score the fastest lap of the race.

I’ll leave you now with my highlight of the weekend, and in a race filled with a lot of moments between team mates, it was actually Hulkenberg and Magnussen who provided some of the biggest drama of the day. Not happy with how he’d been apparently shunted off by Magnussen during the race, Hulkenberg confronted him while he was live in the bullpen with Norwegian TV. Magnussen waisted no time telling Hulkenberg what he thought of him, leaving their Press Officers glad that it’s now officially summer break. And hoping the pair of them will calm down before Spa at the end of August…

Hungarian GP race result

1) Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari: 1:39.713
2) Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari:
3) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes:
4) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes:
5) Max Verstappen, Red Bull:
6) Fernando Alonso, McLaren:
7) Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso: +1 lap
8) Sergio Perez, Force India: +1 lap
9) Esteban Ocon, Force India: +1 lap
10) Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren: +1 lap
11) Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso: +1 lap
12) Jolyon Palmer, Renault: +1 lap
13) Kevin Magnussen, Haas: +1 lap
14) Lance Stroll, Williams: +1 lap
15) Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber: +2 laps
16) Marcus Ericsson, Sauber: +2 laps
17) Nico Hulkenberg, Renault: DNF
18) Paul di Resta, Williams: DNF
19) Romain Grosjean, Haas: DNF
20) Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull: DNF

Feature Image Credit: Scuderia Ferrari F1 Team Press Release

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