19 Jul 2020
Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale gives the lowdown of what unfolded during the Hungarian GP
Ambient 20° Track 26° Humidity 79% Wind 0.3 m/s
Welp the F1 gods were feeling most magnanimous and despite earlier forecasts (and yes, there will be a new source for those going forward) rain hammered down onto the paddock after the F2 race. AS the race grew nearer, the rain ceased but it seemed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the start of the race would be on a damp but drying track. The sound of tyre engineers wailing piteously and beating their heads against desks could be heard even in the grandstands, as their carefully laid plans were chucked out the window in favor of whether or not their drivers could find the mystical grip.
One driver who absolutely couldn't was, surprisingly, Max Verstappen who during his shakedown laps managed to find the wall and it looked like it might be game over as his left front appeared to have some damage as he was forced to drive over his detached front wing in order to proceed to the grid. The general consensus seemed to be Inters at the start, amongst the rest of the teams as it was confirmed that Red Bull, would indeed race the clock to replace his broken suspension (suspected track rod or steering arm) in the 18 minutes left before the formation lap commenced.
After replacing all sorts of parts, it turned out that Gasly dodged the penalty bullet and would be starting from his well earned P10. Chaos at the start seemed a reasonable prediction, and those looking particularly to benefit would be Ferrari, with Racing Point still a bit suspect in the wet after their abymal showing in Styrian qualifying.
As the clock ticked down, the last of the mysteries remained to be dispelled, namely would any team be brave/foolish enough to start on a dry tyre. Race engineers no doubt reviewed their Safety Car strategies as it began to look like Red Bull would win their race against the clock and have Verstappen's car ready for the start, as the sun began to emerge from behind the clouds and it was all to play for as Magnussen inexplicably sported the full Wets and Kvyat was already wanting to get onto the slicks... both HAAS pitted before the race start and Hamilton was worried about his engine sounding like it was going to stall as the lights went on...
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Leclerc as Stroll nicked P2 and Bottas dropped to all the way back to P6. A torrid beginning for the Mercedes driver and no help at all to his championship battle. Verstappen, meanwhile, was on a tear and howling down the inside of the first turns, he carved his way up to P3 as Hamilton rocked easily away from the Racing Point driver as the field began to settle. Looking back, Bottas moved early at the start, then stopped and that accounted for the poor beginning as for reasons as yet unexplained, neither HAAS driver changed tyre compound despite their trip down the pitlane. Kvyat did, indeed strap on some Softs as Leclerc, deciding he had nothing to lose, popped in and decided to follow suit.
Lap 3 and Verstappen was giving Stroll an increasingly hard time and somehow Latifi was running in 8th place. Lap 4 and everyone was in for the dry tyre, save Verstappen and a few others. Vettel got caught in the traffic trying to get out of his box and oh my, 7 second loss for the Ferrari and the following lap, Ricciardo and Verstappen were in, along with Ocon and both McLaren drivers, who had decided to try and skip the full chaos.
Turns out HAAS did switch tyres, and it was a computer glitch that accounted for the inaccurate reporting, and their decision was a stroke of mad genius as the HAAS drivers were now running strong in P3 and P4, Magnussen ahead of Grosjean. Hamilton and Verstappen ahead and Stroll, Leclerc Bottas (looking at a potential penalty) Vettel, Albon and Perez. Lap 7 and Stroll got the job done on Grosjean and was looking at a 3 second gap ahead to Magnussen, who had picked a poor time to have a slow lap.
Next lap though it was looking as if HAAS was running similar lap times to Racing Point while further back, Bottas had a go up the inside on Leclerc and completely went wide as his tyres got wet off line and he was forced to fall back. By lap 10 Leclerc had concluded that the Softs were decidely the wrong choice as Grosjean was now holding up both Leclerc and Bottas, who, on his second go, was able to get round the Ferrari driver and was now facing the slightly more intractable problem of what was turning into a lovely defensive drive from Romain Grosjean.
Ahead, Stroll had finally got onto the gearbox of Magnussen as his engineers told K-Mag his real race was going to be after the pitstops. Latifi, who had been running so well, got dinged for an unsafe release and collected a puncture on his way out of the pits, which sent him all the way to the back and Bottas, after a couple of laps, was able to get by Grosjean. Ahead, the Ferraris had found each other and it was Vettel, locking up, who let Albon, who had been putting the pressure on, by and then he was looking up the road to Leclerc.
Lap 15 and Stroll had backed off a bit and was hovering just out of DRS, perhaps to cool the car, as it was now looking to be the long game for the Racing Point driver as he faced off against the unexpectedly robust pace of the HAAS. This delay brought Bottas into contact with the back of this bunch and lap 16 the trio set off with Stroll now having to defend from Valterri behind.
This prompted Stroll to get on with it and into T1 he finally got round Magnussen and it was short order before Bottas followed suit. Gasly was into the pits smoking like a barbecue as his entire PU looked, and reportedly smelled, entirely cooked... Further back, Albon appeared to be at a loss as to how to get round Leclerc as the rains appeared to be on their way back to the circuit.
Lap 18 and Albon finally got the job done, into T1 and rocking off into the distance, pursuinig Grosjean, still cirulating in P6. Bottas continued to follow Stroll as, unleashed from the HAAS, he rolled down into the 1:22s. Vettel got the job done on Leclerc and sailed off, 3 seconds behind as Ferrari's gamble on the Softs was beginning to fail rather spectacularly for Leclerc. The team swore that the rains were coming and he shouldn't come in as Perez, now behind Leclerc, pressed a rather aggessive attack that Leclerc was JUST able to fend off. That was enough for the engineers and in he came, from P9, lap 22 and onto the Hards he went in a bid to get to the end of the race.
Given his lead, it perhaps wasn't a surprise that Mercedes asked Hamilton to switch to IC 9 (no idea tbh), but it did require clarification from his race engineer to get the number right. Lap 25 and it was suddenly looking quite dark down the start/finish straight as the tyres, front left in particular, were beginning to go off for the vast majority of the field. The rain had already been promised several times, and the latest prediction was 8 minutes but it was important to not mistake specificity for accuracy as the stakes for an early pitstop began to increase. Lap 27 and Stroll was beginning to struggle with his tyres, but his laptimes were not yet reflecting it. Worth remembering that with a wet start, the 2 compound rule was right out the window. Gasly was out with a drivetrain issue, which just confirmed what had already been seen....
Lap 29 and it looked like Grosjean's and HAAS' tyres were gone. Albon was into DRS on the HAAS driver and they were the only cars on the track lapping in the 23s, with the rest in the 22s. Lap 30 and Albon was by, as a proper regs debate broke out as to whether or not HAAS could roll onto another set of Mediums. Vettel chose to pit for some Hards rather than try and get by Grosjean and this brought Perez into the fight. Worth noting that the HAAS were 4 laps farther into their Medium tyre run thanks to their opening lap gambit. Vettel was out just in front of Ocon and lap 31 got itself underway. Perez got by lap 32 but the big show was Leclerc having a go at Norris for P13 and picked up a big twitch that the Monagasque was just able to keep from disaster for the both of them. The following lap, Leclerc got the job done and Raikkonen announced his front left was done as spots of rain began to be reported around the track.
Lap 34 and Bottas was in to undercut Stroll as he was unable to get round as Mercedes was now very much racing for P2 against Verstappen. Lap 35 and Albon was in just as the rain began to fall harder. Grosjean was in for a set of Mediums the following lap as Bottas set a blazing out lap and easily undercut the Racing Point. Magnussen was in and out ahead of Albon in P8, but just barely and on a set of Hards to boot.
Lap 38 and Hamilton was in, rocking off on a set of Mediums as Bottas pace on the Mediums was rapidly closing the gap to Verstappen. Lap 40 and Perez got round Magnussen and now his best bet was P8 after a lovely stint at the sharper end of the field as Leclerc behind on much older Hard tyres was his next concern. And then breathe... The race suddenly settled and the outlines of the final battles began to emerge from the smoke.
Lap 42 and Sainz was in and out behind Leclerc as it looked like Ricciardo, now in P5 on 36 lap old Mediums, was going to see just how far he could go with 28 laps left in the race. That was going to complicate life for HAAS, who were probably counting on Ricciardo to pit in order to gain Magnussen an extra position. Possible rain again making an appearance on team radio but at this point, no one was believing it till they saw it. Latifi had an off after getting on the grass into Turn 5.
Lap 44 and Magnussen was beginning to make serious inroads, lapping 2 seconds a lap faster than Leclerc and Ricciardo decided that the window was good enough and the Renault driver was in and out just ahead of Leclerc and with a set of fresh Hard tyres to play with. And it took him no time at all to close the gap to the HAAS in P8 and he was all over the back of Magnussen as lap 47 got underway. Ahead, Bottas was within DRS on Verstappen and he was not happy about the support he was getting from the team, seemingly surprised the Mercedes driver had rocked up behind him so rapidly. But the real show was for the final points as Magnussen, Leclerc, and Sainz were all locked into a vicious battle as the investigation into Red Bull drying Albon's spot before the start began to loom rather large as there was a potential DQ in the offing.
Bottas rocked in for a set of Hards and with 19 laps to go the choice was now fully on Red Bull. Behind, Magnussen was keeping Leclerc somewhat at bay, the Ferrari driver losing time as Sainz had seen fit to press his attack on much fresher tyres... 2 laps later and the pendulum had definitely swung in favor of Kmag as Leclerc and Sainz had dropped to 4 seconds back of the HAAS, their battle dragging them backwards. Bottas was putting his car just into the 1:17s and racking up nearly 2 seconds a lap on Verstappen ahead and Racing Point took advantage of their free stop to get Stroll in and out for some fresh Hards to get to the end of the race.
Hamilton was beginning to notice his Mediums were not necessarily going to last to the end of the race, but Verstappen was squarely at the tail end of his pit stop window, and Lewis was told to get a gap as Bottas had whittled the deficit to the Red Bull down to 12 seconds with 13 laps to go... The following lap, Hamilton rocked by Vettel (in P5 no less) and with the exception of the potential Bottas/Verstappen battle, the top 5 seemed locked in as Hamilton had now cleared the Red Bull from his pit window and had a free stop in hand.
10 laps to go and Sainz was at it again, round the outside of Leclerc, but he was unable to get the job done this time round. The gap between Bottas and Verstappen was down to 9.5 seconds and the following lap Sainz was now looking at a 12 second gap to Magnussen up the road. Mercedes and Hamilton were having a brief confab about which tyre they wanted to use in their free pitstop, with Hamilton wanting the Soft but the team telling him he'd only have 3 laps before it went off. Bottas continued to nickel and dime Verstappen, but 7.5 seconds and 6 laps wasn't promising.
Mercedes was looking to switch to the Softs and then at the last minute it was called off, as they wanted an extra lap margin before going to the fragile but fast option. This required Hamilton's race engineer to do a bit of investigation, much to the enjoyment of the crowd. Lap 66 and Lewis was in for his set of Softs as it was a very careful, 3.6 second stop out just at the back of the some traffic he was going to have to lap again. Albon got Vettel after he missed a corner and was up to P5 and Bottas had rocked up to just under 2 seconds with 3 laps to go...
The following lap it was Bottas, just out of DRS, Perez inside DRS on Vettel for P6 and Ricciardo inside DRS on Perez that were looking to make the last lap rather entertaining as Hamilton rocked up with an entirely unsurprising fast lap. As Hamilton led the pack over the line for the next to last time it was Bottas into T1, just not close enough as Verstappen implored (with some salty language) to keep the lapped cars out of his way. Despite the promise, there were no last lap fireworks, possibly due to the blue flags in the midfield, and across the line it was Lewis Hamilton, with his 8th win (tying Schumacher at Magny Cours for most wins at a single venue) at the Hungaroring with a ridiculously flawless race. Behind, Verstappen again saved Red Bull's bacon by managing to extract P2 with a car that is not working at all as planned. Though not before the mechanics responsible for the front left corner saved Verstappen's bacon by getting his suspension sorted with 25 seconds to spare after he put it in the wall on his installation lap. Bottas behind was a shocker at the start, though as he explained post race it was all down to an unexpected lights going off on his dash (they were red, perhaps a rethink in order by their UX team), he reacted to that and as he caught himself and stopped the lights went green, putting him out of sync and ensuring a hard, hard day at the office instead of chasing Lewis for the win.
Behind, the happiest team might well have been HAAS, with their first team points of the year at a time, now tied with Alfa for P9, when their continued participation in the sport is not yet assured. P9 for Magnussen, after running as high as P3 thanks to the call to pit for dry tyres at the start of the race, and genuine teamwork with Grosjean weaving a magnificent defense early in the race to gain the team the margin they needed to bring it home in the top 10. Close behind might be Racing Point, with a P4 for Stroll and P7 for Perez (who was not feeling his best this weekend), tying McLaren, who gained just a single point today, for third best team on the grid.
Vettel in P6 was the best of the Ferraris, and it was a good showing, but he benefitted from getting the Mediums, instead of the Softs that Leclerc took, however it was Albon taking him late in the race for P5 that showed the true depths of the Scuderia's misery, they are, unfortunately, in no way fighty at the sharp end for the foreseeable future. Though his loss of time at the lap 4 pitstop lottery certainly did him no favors, it also kinda reinforces the point.... And Albon's drive reinforced why he was given the shot in the first place, as his ability to make the passes on track meant that he's finished in the top 6 10 out of the last 12 races. Also worth noting, that he didn't have the new bits on his car this weekend, with Max getting the new floor and wing.
A tale of two races for Renault, with Ricciardo able to work his way up to the top 10 but Ocon seemingly stalled, and fairly unhappy with his car at the end of the race. Williams were nowhere but that was after an early, false promise, with an amazing start by Latifi that was ruined by an unsafe release, a brutal end to their hopes of a single, championship point. And then there was Alpha, with a destroyed PU for Gasly and P12 for Kvyat along with Alfa, with a penalty for Raikkonen for being out of position along with Giovinazzi, who, in P18 was decent enough to be so slow as to give Russell a target at the back.
Oh yeah, and that whole drying the grid spot investigation of Albon, that is a thing that has yet to be resolved. A 10 second penalty would demote him to P8, assuming the timings on my screen were correct, and a DQ would put HAAS in sole possesion of P8 in the Constructors. So some drama yet to resolve as Silverstone looms next on the calendar in two weeks time. Enough for Red Bull to understand their car, perhaps, and maybe a better circuit for McLaren to take the fight back to Racing Point...