Hungarian GP Takeaways: Max's brilliance, another Ferrari 'disaster'
Following each race weekend this season, Footballlifestyle’s editors will offer their takeaways. We head into the summer break following the conclusion of the Hungarian GP:
Verstappen, Red Bull flex championship quality
It’s never easy, but Red Bull and Max Verstappen seem to handle adversity better than any other competitor. No place was that more evident than in Hungary.
The odds were stacked against the reigning champ. A power unit issue in qualifying left Verstappen 10th on the grid and required an overnight engine change. The race wasn’t without drama either, with a clutch issue and a full-out 360-degree spin plaguing the Dutch driver. Yet, none of those obstacles were enough to stop Verstappen from notching his first career victory from a starting spot outside the top four.
The victory demonstrated a perfect harmony between Verstappen and Red Bull, a feature that title rival Ferrari has lacked all year. That confidence in one another from driver to pit crew began before Sunday’s race even started as the Raging Bulls initially planned to start their drivers on the hard tire before input from its pilots required a change in plans.
“Both drivers felt they were struggling to generate temperature in the soft tire, which was the tire to get to the grid,” team principal Christian Horner said. “We were due to start the race on the hard tire. So, we switched it on the grid to deal with the ambient conditions and a bit of rain around and so on. And the soft tire went much further than we thought.”
Horner added: “(Starting on the hard tires) was statistically – if you follow the data – the best way for us to achieve what would have been maybe a fifth and sixth in the race. But, of course, sometimes the data has to go out the window when you look up and see what the weather’s doing and the temperature and you listen to the driver.”
It was that pre-race information that Horner said made Red Bull believe it had an opportunity to win once Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc emerged from his pit stop with the hard tires. At that point, Leclerc was easy bait for Verstappen, who had to pass him twice after his first overtake was spoiled by a spin later in the lap.
“The key moment of the race for us was as soon as we saw Charles go on to the (hard) tires we thought ‘OK, we really have a chance now,” Horner said.
Verstappen praised his team following the race for perfect execution of his soft-medium-medium tire strategy. He jumped several places in the opening stages before his first pitstop undercut the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton while his second got him past George Russell, setting up the eventual decisive move on Leclerc.
“You have to adapt,” Verstappen said. “You need that feel. It’s not only me in the car but also at the pit wall, they need that feeling of making the right calls and they have that.”
Verstappen flexed his on-track muscle while the pit wall didn’t flinch as challenges threw their plans into whack. With the combination of a driver at the height of his game and an always alert staff, Red Bull’s dream team outclassed their foes.
‘A disaster for me’
Carlos Sainz was quick to say Ferrari’s poor result in France is “not the disaster people seem to say we are,” but the results in Hungary did little to disprove that notion.
Ferrari opted to bring in race leader Leclerc on Lap 40 to put on hard tires despite other cars throughout the weekend struggling on that compound. Leclerc was against the decision over team radio and called the tires “shit” after running on them for two laps.
Leclerc came out of the pit in third, was quickly passed by Verstappen, and ended up coming in again for a third stop on Lap 55, switching to soft tires. He finished sixth and was the only driver to finish in the top 15 to stop three times.
“We need to speak with the team and understand the thought behind putting on the hards because I felt very strong on the mediums. Everything was under control and for some reason, I don’t know why went on the hards,” a dejected Leclerc said after the race. “I said on the radio that I was very comfortable on the mediums and wanted to go as long as possible on those tires because the feeling was good. I don’t know why we took a different decision.
“Honestly, the pace on my side, I was pretty happy. The only thing everyone will remember is the last part of the race was a disaster for me, especially the hards, that’s where I lost the race – 20 seconds with the pit stop, another maybe six seconds doing five laps on the hard because I was all over the place on that tire. That’s where we lost our race.”
The team should have listened to Leclerc. He could have stretched the mediums out longer before switching over to the softs to finish the race, similar to what a number of other drivers did.
Even former Haas driver Romain Grosjean questioned the Scuderia.
Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto once again defended his team, saying he fully supports them. He did acknowledge that the decision to go to the hard tires did not work, but also believes the main reason for Leclerc’s result was because the “car was not working as expected.”
“I’m looking at the overall balance of the season,” Binotto said when asked if he plans on making any changes within the team. “We made the right strategy in France and Austria. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes the others make mistakes. Not only (strategy director) Inaki Rueda, the entire tram is great and I’m fully supporting them because I trust them.”
Leclerc now sits an insurmountable 80 points behind Verstappen for the drivers’ championship, and is only five points up on Sergio Perez for second place. Sainz was also overtaken by Russell for fourth place, and sits just 10 points up on Hamilton.
Ferrari entered the season with legit title aspirations, but with nine races remaining and a 97-point deficit, the Italian outfit has likely already handed the championship to Red Bull. Now they’ll hope to hang on to runners-up. – Brandon Wile
Mercedes pose real threat in 2nd half
It’s not particularly contentious to say that the reigning eight-time constructor champions are not in a spot they wanted to be in when the season began. However, factoring in how the year started for Mercedes, Toto Wolff’s team should be heading into the second half with a lot of confidence.
Back-to-back races with two cars on the podium and five straight top-three finishes for Hamilton have the Silver Arrows within striking distance of second place in the constructors’ standings. Some continued bad luck for Ferrari would certainly be welcome, but that only tells part of the story of how Mercedes has turned the season around. In the final race of the first half in Budapest, Ferrari’s pit strategy cost Leclerc a few spots. But, at the same time, Sainz on soft tires still couldn’t hold off Hamilton to lock down a podium spot, let alone hunt down Russell for second place.
Even further, Hamilton managed to claim the fastest lap, showing that the seven-time champion is far from being a fading veteran. And, most importantly of all, Russell seemingly came out of nowhere on Saturday to claim the first pole position of the season for the team, robbing Ferrari of a front-row lockout.
Hunting down their biggest nemesis in Red Bull might be out of the question – Mercedes trails them by 127 points – but the race for second is going to be captivating the rest of the way. Mercedes has the experience edge over Ferrari and now it seems they might even have the better car.
“We’ve had a tough year and for both cars to be on the podium is an amazing way to go into the break,” Hamilton said. “The other guys have an edge but we are clearly closing the gap. Hopefully we can bring some more into the second half of the season and start fighting with them.” – Michael Bradburn
It’s been a whirlwind few days for Sebastian Vettel.
Ahead of this weekend’s race, the four-time champion announced his intention to retire from F1 at season’s end. Perhaps liberated by making a difficult decision that surely would have been weighing on his mind in recent weeks and months, the German followed that up by looking strong in practice on Friday, particularly in the more representative second session.
He ultimately binned his Aston Martin into the wall in Saturday’s wet practice, and got his hands dirty to help fix the car in time for qualifying … where he promptly got eliminated in Q1, mustering only 18th place.
The roller-coaster ride ended on a high note, though, as Vettel produced a punchy display at the Hungaroring to climb through the field and finish P10, collecting the final point on offer.
“Overall, it was a fun race with lots of fights and overtakes,” the outgoing 35-year-old said of his outing. “The race pace was competitive, once again, so improving our Saturday performance needs to be a focus for the second half of the year.”
Just how much of that pace can be attributed to the aggressive new rear wing concept that Aston Martin unveiled in Hungary?
The 2022 regulations were designed with the stated goal of improving wheel-to-wheel duels, thus making the racing more exciting for fans and drivers alike. That’s been accomplished, in part, by limiting the amount of disruptive – or “dirty” – air that came off the back of the cars in previous seasons and made it difficult to follow closely around the track for long stretches.
The new Aston Martin wing is in direct conflict with that FIA initiative, but, assuming it’s legal – team principal Mike Krack is confident there are no issues – you can bet the other teams will have taken notice of Vettel’s Sunday surge and are already considering how a similar design could benefit their own machinery coming out of the summer break.
“If it’s quicker, you’ll see nine more of them I imagine,” Alpine sporting director Alan Permane pointed out.
“Maybe for once we’ll copy something off an Aston Martin rather than the other way around, you never know,” Horner, in classic form, added.
If the new wing truly does deliver a significant edge, it won’t be unique to Aston Martin for very long. – Gianluca Nesci