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View from the Pit Lane: Hungary

Sebastian Vettel led from pole to flag in Hungary but it was a race where the Ferrari man was on the edge.

By Karun Chandhok
C4F1 technical analyst

 
The Hungarian Grand Prix weekend started off with thunderstorms on Wednesday – and Ben Edwards and a few of the C4F1 team had a bit of a bumpy flight as they arrived in Budapest. 
 
As the weekend went along it got hotter and hotter and the track temperatures were even into the low 50s at one point. 
 
It was an absolutely scorching weekend and, yes, maybe the track action wasn’t that hot but there were still some fascinating stories up and down the pit lane. 
 
Dirty downforce 
 
Once again on a track where dirty downforce is important, Ferrari come to the fore. 
 
Now what I mean by that is when a team aims for a high amount of downforce without considering a penalty for drag because there aren’t any long straights. Ferrari really managed to suck that out at the Hungaroring and the car was really hooked up, especially from the start of FP3.
 
It’s the straight-line speed that the Scuderia need to address. If we look at the trend, Monaco and Hungary were particularly strong but at tracks like Silverstone, Baku and even Montreal the Ferraris couldn’t really challenge the Mercedes. 
 
I will be interested to see whether they work on efficiency of the chassis or just outright power from the power unit in terms of the ICE (internal combustion engine) and the ERS (energy recovery system) side as well during the summer break. 
 
There’s a lot of interesting stuff for Ferrari to analyse as there’s a clear trend that when there’s a circuit that requires a high amount of downforce with lots of corners flowing one into the other the Ferrari is right there and, if anything, quicker than the Mercedes.
 
Sebastian Vettel’s lap in qualifying was really pretty special and Kimi Raikkonen’s final run was very good as well, although he made a bit of a mistake coming into the chicane, missed the apex and that compromised him.  
 
Mercedes out of comfort zone 
 
Hungary was another track where the Mercedes wasn’t necessarily at its best. Sochi, Monaco and Hungary are examples of three races where the Mercedes hasn’t been particularly easy to drive in qualifying.
 
The car looked really edgy and Lewis Hamilton struggled to put a lap together in FP2, FP3 and qualifying and he didn’t seem comfortable at all. 
 
Valtteri Bottas didn’t seem particularly happy either but ultimately he was able to find the compromise a bit better in qualifying, Maybe Hamilton was slightly overdriving it, and that’s something that we’ve talked about before. 
 
Come the race, when the track rubbers up and gets grippier the performance starts to come back to Hamilton but in terms of qualifying pace Bottas had the upper hand here once again. 6-5 in Qualifying against Hamilton as a new man to the team going into the summer break is something Bottas can be very happy about. 
 
Vettel on the edge
 
During the race, leader Vettel reported a problem with his steering fairly early on.  Psychologically as a driver it is really tricky when you know you’ve got an issue but you don’t know what’s caused it and if it’s going to get worse.
 
The team were telling him to stay off the kerbs and you could see even on the on-board that the steering was off centre and he was having to steer to counter the issue down the straight. That creates a bit of rolling resistance and would have compromised him as well. 
 
Psychologically it hurts because you’re nervous about a potential issue getting worse and are just counting down the laps. 
 
Budapest is a track where you have to use the kerbs at the chicanes and the mid-sector of the track where there are all those changes of direction. You have to be able to ride the kerbs to get the right line and if you get slightly off line on the dust you just dump lap time.
 
It must have been a very nervous race for him but he got there for his fourth win of the season. 

Ferrari back one Prancing Horse
 
Raikkonen, chasing in second, was quicker but couldn’t get past. It’s a shame and I wonder if there was a little bit of team orders involved there?
 
Vettel pitted and Raikkonen came out and did a mega lap when Vettel was coming out of the pits. So, Raikkonen was clearly happy to stay out for a couple more laps but Ferrari opted to call him in. 
 
They’d seen the Mercedes guys had come in for new tyres and they didn’t want to get undercut but at the same time they didn’t want Raikkonen to do an overcut on Vettel because his pace was still good and there was a risk he could get out ahead of his teammate.
 
While that would have been good for the Finn it wouldn’t have been good for the world championship battle.  Let’s be honest Ferrari have now backed one horse, they’ve chosen their man and they are pushing Vettel in this world championship against the Mercedes guys. 
 
Will Hamilton investment pay off?
 
We also saw a lot of team orders going on at Mercedes and I was really not sure that Hamilton would give that place up. I was convinced he’d run to the flag in third because in fairness Bottas had dropped back nearly five seconds, which is a long way.
 
I spoke to a few people at Mercedes after the race and they think this is a good investment from Hamilton for the future.
 
He’s bought Bottas’ loyalty and he’s shown 1200 people at the factories in Brackley and Brixworth that he’s a team player, and that’s important. 
 
I think he’s bought a lot of loyalty and, who knows, come the world championship battle in Abu Dhabi there could be one of two things:
 
1. Either he loses the championship by less than three points, in which case he may regret having done this 

2. Or he needs Bottas at some stage to switch positions with him in which case he’ll be thankful. 
 
We may only see the repercussions of this switch-back when we get down towards the end of the season in November but it’s fascinating to see how the plot within a plot unfolds. 
 
Red Bull regret
 
Red Bull were pretty disappointed with the way the race went for them. In qualifying the team know they don’t have those extra engine modes but they were still in the hunt and going into the circuit on Sunday morning I was keen to see how a battle between the top three teams would play out. 
 
It was a clear one-stop race but when it came to undercuts the teams would have had to all watch each other as, for the first time in a long time, the race pace among the top three teams was all very similar on Friday.
 
It was a shame for the race as a whole that the Red Bulls ended up collided when Max Verstappen basically drove into his teammate.
 
It was over-exuberance from Verstappen at Turn 2 and he got carried away trying to clear as many cars as possible after losing out and running wide at Turn 1. 
 
Ricciardo chose his words wisely – something along the lines of calling his teammate a sore loser – and Verstappen has come out and apologised. 
 
It’s a good thing that they’ve got the summer break to cool off and move on. 
 
It is a real shame though as Vettel was holding the pack back and the pace of the top four wasn’t great. Verstappen actually only ended up 13 seconds behind the winner after his 10-second time penalty.  
 
If Red Bull had had a normal race and Ricciardo had been in the fight we might have seen someone try an aggressive two-stop strategy which may have affected the top six. 
 
Best of the rest
 
A couple of other mentions, Nico Hulkenberg did a great job again in qualifying, finishing seventh before a gearbox penalty was applied. 
 
It was a shame he then had an issue in the pit stops as I think he could have been on for sixth or seventh place in the race. 
 
Renault have shown for two races in a row – at two very different circuits – that they’ve got a car genuinely capable of being in the top-eight and that is a huge encouragement for the Enstone team. 
 
I’m interested to see what happens with Jolyon Palmer’s seat for the rest of the year because the rumours are flying all over the place about Robert Kubica and Sergey Sirotkin while Palmer is fighting his corner to stay. That’s another story to follow during the summer break.
 
Finally, a big shout out to McLaren with both cars finishing in the top-10.
 
Stoffel Vandoorne, who came home 10th, has really come on at Silverstone and Budapest and he’s finally unlocked that potential that we all know he’s got. 
 
I’ve been saying for a while that Vandoorne could be the best talent to arrive in F1 since Verstappen and before that since Hamilton. 
 
Vandoorne is a very special talent and I’m interested to see how he develops. He’s been working hard on his driving, he gets on well with his engineer Tom Stallard and they’ve been making good progress. 
 
Obviously we’re running out of adjectives to say how amazing Fernando Alonso is but he delivered some solid points in sixth and was best of the rest. He really maximised a weekend where McLaren where going to have their best result. 
 
During the summer break I’m off to Madras to see my family and spend a bit of time with the dog Enzo, which will be great, but I’ll join you in Spa in a month’s time. See you then. 

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