The omens are not looking good for Sebastian Vettel as F1 heads to Hungary – his lead is down to a single point, and even more so than in Silverstone, Lewis Hamilton has absolutely dominated around the twisty kart like Hungaroring circuit.
With qualifying as important here as in Monaco, can Ferrari’s shorter wheelbase propel Vettel to pole, or will Hamilton continue where he left off in Silverstone and cruise back into the championship lead? Can Red Bull Racing be on the front row and challenge for the win?
Certainly the Dutch contingent will be in force in Hungary cheering on their man Max Verstappen and indeed they have good reason. Could Max upset the apple cart at a tight and twisty circuit where we might expect the Red Bull to excel? Aero guru Adrian Newey has become rather involved with the upgrades of their 2017 car and every race we see more and more devices appearing on the car. Verstappen is certainly due some improved luck and the rules of probability mean we should expect better reliability for the Dutch racer. Both Red Bulls should be in the mix with Mercedes and Ferrari at the sharp end and might even be challenging for the win. In fact, despite Hamilton’s excellent record in Hungary, his Mercedes W07 has the longest wheelbase of the field which could be a handicap on a circuit with literally no high speed corners.
We look at the form of the top contenders at Hungaroring over the years.
Lewis Hamilton – Starts 10, Pole Positions 5, Wins 4
On the time sheets Lewis was beaten in qualifying for his first Hungarian Grand Prix, but Fernando Alonso was penalised for dawdling in the McLaren pit to prevent Lewis getting a final lap in, and Lewis started from pole. From that moment on Lewis has been simply unrivalled in Hungary, and seems to be simply in tune with the twisty track better than his rivals. He has only started on the grid behind his team-mate twice here, with mechanical trouble in qualifying putting him at the back here in 2014 while Rosberg put the Mercedes on pole, and yellow flags denying him his fastest run last year as Rosberg again took pole. Come race day Lewis has always been a class above his team-mates, he’s only finished behind his team-mates twice here, and on both occasions he will feel unlucky not to have won himself, as a puncture dropped him back in 2008 while running second behind Massa (who would eventually retire), and a combination of poor tyre choices and a spin (which would turn into a penalty as he drove into the path of Paul Di Resta as he rejoined) cost him his chance in 2011 despite leading the race early on. Even when forced to start from the back of the grid in 2014 he wound up ahead of his team-mate Nico Rosberg at the finish line, Nico’s cause not aided by Lewis not co-operating as Mercedes asked him to allow Nico through as they were on different tyre strategies (Lewis telling Mercedes he was not going to slow down just to let Nico through), the failure to swap cars likely costing Mercedes the race win, but ensured that the drivers title would not be artificially altered.
Valtteri Bottas – Starts 4, Best Grid Position 3rd, Best Result 8th
Hungary has not been a happy hunting ground for Valtteri. He qualified within a tenth of a second of the fast but unpredictable Pastor Maldonado in his rookie season at Williams in 2013 but retired with a hydraulics problem. In 2014 Valtteri converted an excellent third place grid position into second on the road by overtaking Sebastian Vettel into the first corner, but his race was ruined by the timing of the safety car, Williams not able to call him in before he rounded the final corner, and Valtteri dropping well down the field to 11th place as he was pitted on the second pass of the safety car. He looked good for a respectable finish for Williams in 2015, only to drop down the order this time when he picked up a puncture after Max Verstappen clipped him from behind as he backed off behind Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Kvyat as they fought for track positon ahead. Last year Valtteri managed to make it through to Q3 for Williams, but they struggle for race pace and it was a long race to ninth position. Still, Valtteri can take solace from knowing that whenever Lewis Hamilton’s team-mates manage to beat him they also win the race (Kovalainen in 2008 and Button in 2011), so now all Valtteri has to do is beat Lewis!!!
Sebastian Vettel – Starts 10, Pole Positions 2, Wins 1
Once again the record books might suggest Hungary is a track where Seb struggles. He never won here for Red Bull despite claiming pole twice, while in that period both Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo scored victories for the Bulls, Seb’s sole win here in 10 attempts coming for Ferrari in 2015. But statistics can prove anything, and Seb has certainly not had luck on his side here. Since he was outqualified by Antnio Liuzzi on his Toro Rosso debut in 2007, Seb has always finished ahead of his team-mates in qualifying, and with overtaking opportunities around the Hungaroring meagre at the best of times, that’s a quality that will be even more important this year. Seb had looked comfortable for victory in 2010 prior to the safety car coming out, but on the restart he dropped too far behind his Red Bull team mate Webber (who had gained track position by not pitting under the safety car), and with Vettel being handed a penalty for the indiscretion the win was handed to Webber. The 2014 race again saw misfortune for Seb, as he was caught out like Bottas with the timing of the safety car, and dropped down the order as a result, with Ricciardo going on to win the race for Red Bull after being the big winner of the safety car deployment, all as a result of being behind Seb on track at the time! Ferrari will be hoping that higher track temps allied to their shorter wheelbase can give them fighting edge this weekend, if it does, don’t count out Sebastian from putting it on pole and re-igniting his championship bid!
Kimi Raikkonen – Starts 14, Pole Positions 1, Wins 1
Kimi has had mixed results here, being beaten 9-5 in qualifying by his team-mates over the years and being the lead car home on 7 of 14 occasions. In between some lacklustre performances have been some quality drives, his dominant 2005 win from McLaren aside his spirited drive for second place in 2012, where he outmuscled Lotus team-mate Grosjean in the first corner after coming out of the pits being a high point. But there have been too many lows here for Kimi, too often his race compromised by a lowly grid position. If Kimi is to get the breakthrough win that has eluded him so far this season he will need to continue his recent qualifying success against Vettel here, but it’s worth noting that since Kimi returned to F1 in 2012 he has qualified behind his team-mate on every occasion.
Daniel Ricciardo – Starts 6, Best Grid Position 3rd , Wins 1
You need a dose of luck to win any race, and Ricciardo certainly got his when the leading 4 cars were forced to do a lap of the circuit behind the safety car in 2014 and Ricciardo emerged in the lead. However he certainly earned his win with his great drive to pass both Hamilton and Alonso in the closing laps. Overall Daniel has split qualifying with his team-mates 3-3 while he edges the races 4-2, As well as his 2014 win he was a genuine challenger for the win in 2015 after a safety car wiped out Vettel’s advantage, Ricciardo coming out the better of a battle with the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton only to come unstuck as he tangled with Rosberg while trying to take second place, damaging his front wing and dropping behind team-mate Kvyat in the process. He took full advantage of somewhat fortuitously outqualifying Max Verstappen here last year to be the leading Red Bull driver home.
Max Verstappen – Starts 2, Best Grid Position 4th, Best Result 4th
Red Bull will certainly be targeting the Hungaroring as one of their better chances this year, and Max Verstappen will certainly be one to watch. Max has split both qualifying and races to date with his team-mates fifty-fifty. He took an amazing fourth place here on his first visit for Toro Rosso in 2015 (despite being given a drive through penalty for speeding under the VSC), but while his luck deserted him last year, his drive still had everyone talking. A mistake in qualifying meant he didn’t cross the line in time to get a final run in and with the track improving after the earlier rain he was left behind team-mate Ricciardo on the grid as a result. In the race, he was left to ‘drive like a grandmother’ to protect his tyres behind Ricciardo initially, and his qualifying woes came back to haunt him as suffered from the car in front being given the better strategy, with Ricciardo brought in first to protect against Vettel, Max dropped back further, getting stuck behind Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari and losing touch with the lead Red Bull and Vettel as a result. Max showed he had the pace to get ahead of Kimi at the next round of stops, and then delivered an inch perfect on the limit defensive drive to hold Kimi back while Kimi complained bitterly that Max was moving in the breaking zone, the Ferrari’s chances to retake the position ruined by damage to its front wing caused by contact into Turn 2 as Max blocked all angles of attack. Certainly Ferrari will be hoping that they don’t find themselves behind Max at any stage of the race this Sunday!