Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 30° Track 54° Humidity 36% Wind 1.5 m/s
Glorious Blue Skies utterly dominated the paddock, wisps of cloud dotting the horizon much like rumours of gearbox trouble for Vettel pre race dominated social media. No penalties though and the front of the grid remained unchanged as the pitlane opened for business.
Kvyat managed a 3 spot penalty for blocking Stroll yesterday which did nothing to improve his mood and Red Bull remained surprisingly optimistic about their ability to move forward. This contrasted greatly with Mercedes who appeared, outside the chaos of the start, to be quite grim about their chances of getting by Ferrari on track.
Pirelli strategy called 1 or 2 stops equal, but favoured 1 as traffic was likely to slow the 2 stop. Both strategies require the Supersofts to go 20-30 lap with Super/Soft/Super for the 2 stop and Super/Soft for the 1 stop. Hard to believe that the Supers will really last that long through the first stint, but stranger things have happened.
The interesting teammate battle will of course be Di Resta vs Stroll, as with virtually no seat time in the last 3 years for Di Resta it will be a strong test of Stroll’s potential to stay ahead throughout the race. Both Force India and McLaren are targeting double points and the maths on that are certainly not going to work out, if the top teams can manage to keep all their cars running (*coff coff* Red Bull).
Hamilton vs Bottas also quite the interesting shout as they are far too close in the championship for Mercedes to be seen as mucking abut and favouring one driver over the other, a strategy wrinkle that might also wind up handicapping them in their race against Ferrari. Of course, Ferrari, though they have been stronger this year, also have a history of strategy fail that can be counted on to make a race out of a procession, and whether they can manage Kimi’s race as well as Vettel’s could be entertainment all on its own.
And of course, Safety Car. Lots and lots of Safety Car to make it more interesting. After all, all that’s required is one wanna be Markelov (anyone wanna nominate Kvyat?) and the whole race strategy could get properly tossed.
Immediate Drama for Hamilton as his rear cooling boxes on the grid were not working and he predicted the imminent demise of his rear tyres as a direct result.
Lights Out!!!! It was a rocking start by Ferrari and a slow start by Hamilton who was swamped by both Red Bulls . They Bulls touched at T2 and Ricciardo spun at T4 and just like that Danny Ric was out of the race, punted by his teammate into early retirement.
As the rest of the field flowed around him, Ricciardo sat stricken in the middle of the track with fluid pouring out of his radiator, which had been punctured by Verstappen, and that immediately brought out the Safety Car. But it was job done for the moment by Verstappen who had managed to gain the place over Hamilton.
AS the field loitered about behind the Safety Car it was not good news for Max as on replay Ricciardo had left him plenty of room and the stewards announced they were sniffing about the incident. Perez was the other big winner at the start, up 5 spots and in front of his teammate.
Lap 5 saw the Safety Car in and it was a picture perfect restart for Vettel. Hamilton got the jump on Verstappen as well and was making noises about getting round the outside into T2, correctly pointed out as a dangerous maneuver by the commenters on 5 live.
Sainz was the big winner at the start, though up to P6 and it was further disaster for Red Bull as Verstappen was dinged with a 10 second penalty. Vettel rapidly extended his lead as lap 8 came to a close, 2s up on Raikkonen and crucially, 8 seconds up on Lewis who, penalty for Max notwithstanding, was firmly stuck in behind the Red Bull that was losing massive chunks of time to the Ferrari.
Discretion, valor and all that saw Lewis backing off Verstappen’s gearbox to the tune of 2 seconds, whilst the stewards stayed busy with an investigation of the contact between Grosjean and Hulkenberg that had entirely been overshadowed by the Red Bull fratricide.
Ocon also had been quick at the start and was rocking P10 whilst Palmer, rather predictably, had lost a place to P11. Mercedes were having computer issues and it seemed that it was going to be a tetchy race indeed for the outfit from Brackley.
Lap 15 saw the issues resolved in the Mercedes garage, and likewise the touch between Grosjean and Hulkenberg was announced as no further action. At the back, Di Resta was up to P17, but had been matched with Stroll up to P15.
The following lap Hamilton began carving back the gap to Verstappen, setting a purple S1, but the important number was the 6 seconds that Vettel had over Bottas, giving them some strategic flexibility.
Not surprisingly, all the gaps had gone out to around 1.5-2 seconds by lap 18, as the entire field looked to make their tyres last till the first round of pit stops. The stewards were also busy looking at the Safety Car restart, as Sainz had put the knife firmly in the back of Alonso, taking him off the track to protect his position.
Renault ordered Palmer to let Hulkenberg with the ever encouraging “Jo is slower than you” to cheer the penalised German the following lap whereas Ericsson was having less luck convincing the pit wall at Sauber he really was faster than Wehrlein, and should be let past to have a go at Di Resta.
Grosjean was in lap 20 for a puncture and then 2 laps later was told to stop and go slow with a suspected cross threaded wheel nut. Apparently it was loose as Grosjean pulled off at T8 and retired, his job done early.
At the front Kimi was slowly closing the gap to Vettel, who was struggling a bit with some steering issues, as the wheel was hanging left when he was on the straights. helpfully, the team told Sebastian to stay off the kerbs, decidedly not the fastest way around. Mercedes was having radio issues as was the F1 app, which was only playing team radio, having lost the audio commentary all together. around lap 15.
Lap 27 and the only on track action was Hulkenberg, staring at the last championship point attached to the back of Ocon’s gearbox. A lap of pushing demonstrated the futility of that and it was the undercut that was on.
At the front Hamilton continued a slow assault on Verstappen and was just outside DRS as they crossed the line for the start of lap 31. Bottas boxed and the technical delegate from the FIA was reportedly making his way to the Ferrari garage to discuss Seb’s steering. Stroll boxed as well lap 30 as the window for the 1 stop was in view.
Hamilton was in the following lap, and was out 2.5 seconds behind Bottas, both drivers on the Softs for the remainder. Vettel followed suit leaving Raikkonen temporarily in the lead followed by Verstappen. Ferrari brought Raikkonen in the next go round and it was Verstappen, still carrying a 10 second penalty for his naughtiness on the first lap, left in the lead.
Mercedes were pushing as Bottas and Hamilton traded purple sectors and by lap 35 Bottas was just 4 seconds adrift of Raikkonen and Hamilton was nearly inside DRS of Valterri. The entire top 3 (save Verstappen who was on different pit strategy) were covered by 10 seconds and it was Mercedes a couple of tenths faster than the Ferraris on the Softs.
Sainz was in lap 37, and out in P9, with Vandoorne, Hulkenberg and Palmer being the last 3 in the midfield to pit. Alonso was in in at the same moment and was all over the gearbox of Sainz and the duel recommenced. A mistake into the chicane saw Alonso off and a reprieve for Sainz.
Lewis, meanwhile, was pushing his teammate massively, inside DRS for the moment as Alonso got the job done lap 38 through the 2nd DRS zone. Handling issues for Vettel meant that Raikkonen was being backed into the clutches of Mercedes, meaning that Ferrari was at a strategic fork, to win the race they must let Raikkonen by, but to give Vettel the best shot at the championship they would have to sacrifice Raikkonen. Which Kimi in his own phlegmatic way, pointed out rather clearly on the radio. Multiple times.
AS Ferrari dithered, Vettel continued to be 0.3s slower than the rest of the top 4. Lap 43 saw the end of Verstappen’s adventure at the front as he boxed. He had, however, managed to get a big enough gap that he managed to emerge P5, with a 16 second margin to Hulkenberg in P6 behind, a lonely race to the end for the Red Bull man.
Vandoorne sent his front jackman flying as he also boxed the same lap as Verstappen. That’ll be a case of beer to apologise, please.
Verstappen was crushing the pace,nearly 2 seconds up and lap 46, with comms restored, Hamilton flew past Bottas and his claim of having lots of pace in the car was confirmed, as he rocked into the 1:20’s, matching Verstappen.
Both Ferrari’s lifted their pace, but Lewis maintained a full second a lap advantage and as they came to then end of lap 48 Hamilton was on the edge of DRS. A problem for Hulkenberg on his pitstop chunked him back out P12 after a rather brilliant drive to that point.
Lap 51 and Lewis was into the DRS of Raikkonen in S1, and the game was on as if Hamilton couldn’t get by Kimi, the place yielded by Bottas would have to be given back. 5 laps, he was told by his engineer, of overtake to get by Kimi.
The assault on Raikkonen had pushed Kimi into DRS on Vettel as well and lap 53 saw Lewis back out to 1.5 seconds as Raikkonen was dangerously close to Vettel. The Sebastian train had left the station and Hamilton loitered off the back until the leading pair hit the traffic of the midfield battle and then, in a flash was back to DRS on lap 55.
Kimi was all over the radio complaining about his tyres being ruined behind Vettel as Hamilton dogged his gearbox. Lap after lap, Vettel continued to slow incrementally as Lewis was given 5 laps, but his calipers were on the limit and he offered to give the spot back to
Instead, he was ordered back into battle and lap 58 was back into DRS, trying to pressure the Raikkonen as he had his last go. 0.3s into the start of lap 59, but a tiny bit of understeer took him out of DRS and gave Raikkonen a pass.
It took Lewis to lap 61 to regain DRS, and again the battle was on. S2 and he was just 0.5s off the Iceman, who was stuffed a bit by Vandoorne. Again, as close he was, it was not close enough with just 8 laps to go.
Ahead, Di Resta and Ocon loomed for the battling pair, but it was bad news for the Scotsman, as he was forced to retire the car. While the battle between Raikkonen and Hamilton sucked all the oxygen out of the room a charging Verstappen had closed the distance to Bottas and with 6 laps left, was within 3 seconds of Bottas, who had yet to make any effort to close up and take his spot back from Lewis. Hamilton had dropped off the back of Kimi, likely to cool those brakes he was warned of earlier as Verstappen set fast lap and was practically within DRS of Bottas.
4 laps to go and Bottas was seriously in danger, having lost 2 more seconds to Hamilton ahead. Lewis, meanwhile had closed back up to Raikkonen and his engineer said that Verstappen was a threat to both of the Mercedes.
The laps ticked over and despite DRS, the fundamental nature of the Hungaroring revealed itself again, as despite his clear pace advantage, Verstappen was unable to make much progress against the Mercedes. Clearly at this point, Vettel was the stopper in the bottle and if Hamilton had been able to get by Raikkonen, he most certainly would have been able to pick off the race leader. But it was also clear that Ferrari’s bet had paid off and Raikkonen’s superior defensive skills had ensured that Vettel was going to head into the summer break still leading the championship.
Heartbreak at the end for Hulkenberg as Alonso set fast lap on his final circuit and for those wondering about Hamilton’s sportsmanship, the place was returned and Valterri took the final podium spot as the Mercedes crossed the line practically at the same time, a frustrated Verstappen staring at what might have been, just 10 seconds up the road.
Thanks to the problems and eventual retirement of Hulkenberg, the seemingly impossible double points for Force India AND McLaren did happen, with Alonso having fastest lap, no less. Double points also saw McLaren firmly ahead of Sauber, which will be the cause of more than a few sighs of relief at Woking. Honda, too, will be well pleased with that outing, thought the temples of Spa and Monza await to truly test if a step has been made on their rivals.
The most unlikely of the top 10 once again had to be Carlos Sainz, who pulled a highly unlikely P7 from who knows what orifice in a car that should’ve been no better than P10. As the driver market seems to be narrowing rapidly, he has to be considered one of the prime candidates for moving once again.
With testing on the immediate horizon, and Sauber having ditched Honda at the behest of Vasseur by all accounts, Wehrlein seems to be the odd man out and the fact that Mercedes is going to be out of DTM and into Formula E might very well see Pascal relegated to a reserve role.
Kubica also remains an enigma, but the performance of Palmer (or lack thereof) continues to drive most of the speculation around driver movement. With Vettel leading the driver’s championship and Mercedes leading the constructors’ several dramatic narratives exist to feed the summer break speculation so stay tuned.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.
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