By Sean Kelly, C4F1 Statistician
It’s official - Sebastian Vettel can still win a Formula 1 race even when his steering wheel doesn’t point straight.
The German’s Hungarian Grand Prix victory means he goes into the summer break with a useful 14-point advantage over Lewis Hamilton, who was unable to pass Kimi Raikkonen for second place, and in the end – highly magnanimously – honoured an earlier agreement, and gave up a 7.8s lead over teammate Valtteri Bottas on the final lap to drop behind the Finn, as he was unable to overcome the Ferraris.
Vettel had no such shenanigans to deal with, and his win was his 29th career victory from pole position, tying Ayrton Senna’s career total. Only Hamilton (36) and Michael Schumacher (40) have more pole-to-win conversions in F1 history.
As has become normal of late, Schumacher’s name came up multiple times this weekend. Vettel and Raikkonen locked out the front row on Saturday and then finished 1-2 on Sunday, the first time Ferrari had achieved either of these things at the Hungaroring since the zenith of the Schumacher era back in 2004.
Speaking of that 2004 campaign, Vettel’s pole position lap of 1:16.276 obliterated the previous all-time best lap of 1:18.436, set by Rubens Barrichello’s Ferrari that year. He didn’t lead start-to-finish, but Vettel has now led more laps this season (221), than in any year since his last title in 2013, with nine races still remaining. It was quite a turnaround after a run of one podium in the last four races, and only three laps led in that time.
At one stage it seemed teammate Kimi Raikkonen was set to capitalise on Vettel’s steering problems to take a first F1 win since the 2013 Australian GP, but second place was still historic in its own right. Raikkonen now has eight career podium finishes at the Hungaroring, surpassing Schumacher and Ayrton Senna for the all-time Hungarian GP record. In doing so, he arrested a run of five consecutive races in which he finished lower than he started.
"Check my steering. It's hanging left when I go straight."— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) July 30, 2017
Vettel struggles to keep on the straight & narrow but it's not slowing him yet pic.twitter.com/ilobQiBADa
It is unfair to say Valtteri Bottas inherited third place on the final lap, as the Finn not only outqualified Lewis Hamilton by 0.177s but led him on-track for 44 of the first 45 laps of the race, only conceding the position at Hamilton’s request.
Hamilton was as good as his word, thereby giving Bottas his best-ever Hungarian GP finish, and Valtteri’s consistency continues to make him a dark horse for the title – his tally of eight podium finishes shades team mate Hamilton, who has six, and is only matched by Vettel, who also has eight.
Lewis remains 19 points clear of his teammate in the championship, and fourth place on Sunday did at least mean his points-scoring streak has been extended to 16 in a row, also tied with Vettel. Neither driver has been outside the points since Malaysia last year.
The last corner Mercedes switcheroo had to be conducted without any misunderstandings. Having let Bottas through, Lewis Hamilton crossed the line less than 0.4s ahead of Max Verstappen, for whom Sunday was probably a slightly uncomfortable afternoon.
On the plus side, the Dutchman maintained his record of never having finished outside the top five in a Hungarian GP (although curiously his best result here remains his fourth place for Toro Rosso in 2015), and he has scored two consecutive top five finishes after a run of three consecutive retirements.
Unfortunately, this all came after directly causing the demise of teammate Daniel Ricciardo at the second corner of the race, the Australian’s first-ever lap 1 retirement in a Grand Prix, and Red Bull’s first retirement in any Hungarian GP in this decade. Given that they live in the same building in Monaco, the Red Bull teammates may have endured an awkward taxi ride home this week.
Ricciardo is NOT happy with his DNF!— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) July 30, 2017
RIC "******* sore loser"
DC: Max tends to throw the toys out of the pram if things don't go his way pic.twitter.com/bofjqi4l9w
It was long anticipated that Hungary would represent a significant opportunity for McLaren in what has been the worst season in their history. After a very trying first half of the season they go into the break on a high, with Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne both qualifying in in the top eight on the grid, and then Alonso finishing sixth in the race – the first driver home outside of the Mercedes / Ferrari / Red Bull cartel.
Surely one of the biggest celebrations in the pit lane tonight will be at McLaren, who take their first double-points finish of the year! pic.twitter.com/XlmHM8Yn3p— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) July 30, 2017
Alonso even had the audacity to set the fastest lap right at the end of the race, only his second such achievement since re-joining McLaren in 2015 (he also did it at the 2016 Italian GP).
While he may have hogged the internet memes for recreating his famous “deck chair” pose in parc ferme, the most important thing is that Alonso’s sixth and Vandoorne’s tenth (only his second career point) mean McLaren are now out of the basement in the constructors’ championship, moving ahead of Sauber and into ninth place.
The McLarens sandwiched three drivers with notable achievements on Sunday. Carlos Sainz enjoyed a tussle with Alonso early on and eventually finished seventh, his best ever result at the Hungaroring. Like-wise, Sergio Perez scored his first-ever top eight finish in Hungary despite seeing a career-best seven-race run of Q3 appearances come to an end in qualifying.
The other Force India of Esteban Ocon was ninth, as the Frenchman reached 20 consecutive race finishes to start a career, only the second man ever to get that far into an F1 career without posting a retirement (Max Chilton’s 25 is the record). The Hungaroring has traditionally been Force India’s bogey track, but this was the first time in their constructor history that both cars have scored points here.
A special mention to former Force India stalwart Paul di Resta, who stepped in at the very last minute to qualify and race for Williams as a replacement for the unwell Felipe Massa.
DC: "When Paul di Resta went to bed last night, he would not have been expecting to be a Grand Prix driver today! That's a top effort." pic.twitter.com/1yHXLqidOf— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) July 29, 2017
Coincidentally, Di Resta was the first replacement driver to qualify for a race without any prior practice since Hungarian Zsolt Baumgartner – latterly seen at the wheel of the F1 2-seater at race weekends – was rushed into action to replace an injured Ralph Firman for Jordan at the Hungaroring back in 2003.
Furthermore, Massa’s absence from the race made this the first Grand Prix to take place without a Brazilian driver since the boycott-affected San Marino Grand Prix of 1982, when only 14 cars were entered. Aside from that, the 1977 Italian Grand Prix at Monza was the last full grid to contain no Brazilian driver, when Emerson Fittipaldi and Alex Ribeiro failed to qualify.
Eleven races into the 2017 season, the championship battle continues to ebb and flow between Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, with Valtteri Bottas keeping a watching brief. A sign of how topsy-turvy this season has been is that there have been no back-to-back race winners, something that has happened in every F1 season since 1974.
May unpredictability reign!