Formula 1 went Hungarian for its final stop before the customary summer break that takes up most of August.
The Hungaroring dished up a tense, thrilling affair that initially seemed to be predictable before taking a few twists and turns. Sebastian Vettel ultimately crossed the line first for a Ferrari victory, but there were all sorts of things to keep an eye on as the F1 class of 2017 attended their last lecture before a well-earned summer vacation…
Ferrari win a must-win race
Sebastian Vettel saw his once-sizeable advantage at the top of the Driver’s Championship table whittled down to just a single point heading into last weekend’s race. The German and his Ferrari team were outclassed by their rivals over at Mercedes last time around Silverstone, and in recent races, it appeared that the momentum was swinging towards the German outfit. The Scuderia would have been desperate to return to winning ways on a tight and twisty circuit that suits the inherent characteristics of their SF-70H challenger. Fortunately for the Italian marquee, their drivers delivered. First, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen locked out the front row on Saturday before holding station at the start and ultimately crossing the line in P1 and P2, giving Ferrari a perfect result heading into the sport’s annual summer break. Of course, the strong result may simply be track-specific, and it is quite possible that Mercedes will bounce back in style when hostilities resume in Belgium in a few weeks’ time.
Vettel tames the opposition
Sebastian Vettel has developed a bit of a reputation over the years for being a driver who excels when leading from the front, but struggles when faced with adversity. In Hungary, the German looked to have matters well in hand when he made a clean start from pole and put a sizeable gap between himself and the Mercedes pair, with teammate Kimi Räikkönen acting as his rear gunner. However, just as it seemed the four-time world champion was set to cruise to victory, a steering problem necessitated him staying clear of the kerbs, costing him valuable lap time. Vettel came under pressure as he tried to grapple with a Ferrari that was no longer playing along while holding his rivals at bay. To his credit, just like in qualifying, the German measured his efforts to perfection as he avoided mistakes, keeping ahead of the hard-charging Silver Arrows pair, who had smelt the blood in the water and had not given up hope of poaching the victory. While the margin at the flag was small, and while he was certainly assisted by the efforts of Räikkönen, Vettel saw off the threat with aplomb and kept his cool to secure a victory that had, at one point, gone from being a virtual certainty to being in significant doubt.
Smart move, Lewis
After being allowed past by teammate Valtteri Bottas in order to attack Räikkönen for P2, Lewis Hamilton slowed on the final lap to allow his teammate back into his original position at the final corner after failing to pass the Ferrari. That was the condition set upon the decision by Mercedes, and Hamilton received significant praise after the chequered flag for sticking to the terms of the agreement. Such praise is warranted. After all, the Briton gave up a spot on the podium and surrendered three more points in his battle with Sebastian Vettel through his actions. Furthermore, given that Max Verstappen was putting pressure on Bottas at the end of the race, Hamilton could easily have claimed after proceedings that swapping the two silver cars back would have been too risky. However, more than being gracious and fair, Hamilton made a good decision for his own title ambitions. While Bottas is doing an admirable job of staying in the title hunt, it is still likely that the final showdown will take place between Hamilton and Vettel. Through his actions, the Briton may just have ensured that in a duel that seems set to come down to the wire, he can count on the support of Bottas. Clearly, the three-time champion knows that in F1, just like in general life, one should not make an unnecessary enemy of someone that you may need a favour from in future.
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The interesting case of Kimi
Kimi Räikkönen did a sterling job in Hungary, and after teammate Vettel hit steering problems, the Finn seemed to have the pace to attack the German and win the race. Undoubtedly, Ferrari will receive criticism for their refusal to swap their two drivers to the benefit of the faster car, in contrast to Mercedes’ actions. However, while swapping the two cars would have allowed Räikkönen to take a deserved win, it would have left Vettel immensely vulnerable to the Mercedes pair, which could have been disastrous. It is certainly true that through their decisions, or lack thereof, the Scuderia favoured Vettel, as the German effectively benefitted from being able to nurse his car home (which he did immaculately) with Räikkönen covering the threat from behind. However, to be frank, the championship-leader has earned such treatment. In the case of Mercedes, the two drivers are so close to each other in the standings that the German outfit need to make judgments on a case-by-case basis. At Ferrari, by contrast, Vettel has firmly established himself as the man to lead the charge. Räikkönen produced a top-class race in Hungary, but in all honesty, his form relative to his teammate in 2017 has ensured that in any such 50-50 situations that arise in future, he will generally draw the short end of the stick.
McLaren’s gamble pays off
The poor reliability suffered by McLaren over the course of the opening half of the year left the British outfit needing to serve a myriad of power unit-related penalties for exceeding the maximum allowed number of components. The team opted to serve these penalties at the previous race at Silverstone, consigning themselves to a weekend to forget. The aim of this approach was to ensure that they could race unburdened in Hungary on a circuit that was expected to play to the strengths of their MCL32 challenger. This gamble paid off handsomely as Fernando Alonso (P6) and Stoffel Vandoorne (P10) grabbed a fistful of points between them, lifting McLaren away from the foot of the Constructor’s Championship table, where they have been mired for most of the season. It would have been painful for the team to effectively forfeit their potential to compete at their home race, but their realism paid dividends as, for the first time in a long time, their package seemed to show some genuine pace and earned solid points on merit.
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Di Resta does a brave job
After illness forced Williams regular Felipe Massa to sit out both qualifying and the race, it was left to the team’s reserve driver, Paul di Resta, to fill in as best he could. The Scot had raced in F1 previously, but not since 2013. He was dropped in the deep-end, and hoping for him to be competitive was always going to be a bit of an exercise in wishful thinking. Di Resta duly exited qualifying in Q1, and his race was cut short when he retired from P18, with little hope of scoring points. In fairness, he did an admirable job as teammate-for-the-weekend Lance Stroll also failed to progress to Q2 and came home in P14. Despite being given no time at all to prepare, di Resta performed his duty with minimal fuss and can hold his head high, given the performance struggles Williams faced in Hungary. It is doubtful that di Resta could ever race a competitive car in F1 again. After all, he had his chance to do that when he did duty for Force India, and ultimately lost his seat. However, with his performance, the Scot may have caught the attention of some of the smaller teams, who are always searching for an upgrade in driving talent. Could di Resta grace the grid in 2018? Unlikely, but not impossible.
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