Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton on the podium in Hungary

Hungarian GP Stat Wrap

By Sean Kelly
C4F1's Virtual Statman

When the heavens opened in the hours prior to the Hungarian Grand Prix, it may have seemed like the form guide was about to be thrown out of the window in favour of the mayhem that changeable conditions usually bring.

Err….actually no.

A Lewis Hamilton-Max Verstappen-Valtteri Bottas podium isn’t anything new – this was the seventh time those three drivers have shared a rostrum – but Verstappen’s presence was only down to a Herculean effort by his Red Bull mechanics, after the Dutchman skidded into the barriers on his out lap to the grid, with the repairs only completed with 25 seconds to spare.

Verstappen repaid his mechanics by jumping from seventh to third on the opening lap, and incurring the surprise of Hamilton after the world champion had been told that the Red Bull driver was already out, only to find him being his closest challenger!

This was pretty much the only surprise encountered by Hamilton all weekend.  On Saturday he claimed a 90th career pole with a track record 1:13.447, almost exactly ten seconds (!) quicker than Nico Rosberg’s 2014 pole in the first turbo hybrid Mercedes.  He pipped Valtteri Bottas by only 0.107s, but despite the tiny margin he was still fastest in every sector.

Sunday was just another day in the office as Hamilton continued to revise the history books.  An eighth Hungaroring victory tied Michael Schumacher’s F1 record for win at a single circuit, something Schumacher achieved at Magny-Cours.  It was another waypoint negotiated as he now moves within five of Schumacher’s 91 Grands Prix wins, and also within two of his 155 podium finishes.  Soon there will be no records left for him to break….

Hamilton’s margin of victory on Sunday was 8.7 seconds, a more modest gap than the 17-second intervals that accompanied his 2018 and 2019 triumphs at the Hungaroring.  However, Hamilton had the luxury of a “free” pitstop late in the race that allowed him to claim the fastest lap bonus as well.  When he pitted with five laps remaining he was over 27 seconds clear of Verstappen.  This wasn’t so much a victory as a rout….

As previously mentioned, Verstappen’s second place came extremely close to being a did-not-start, but in the end the driver of car #33 was celebrating his 33rd career podium, rebounding from his worst Q3 performance since Spa 2018.

Beating a single Mercedes in any circumstances is looking like a victory in itself, and Verstappen did at least finish ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who has now finished first, second and third in consecutive races to start 2020.

In a manner that would have made Clay Regazzoni proud in the 1970s, Bottas is becoming the leading exponent of starts that, while legal, may be considered extremely lucky to not be penalized.  At the 2017 Austrian GP Bottas was clearly moving before the lights went out but that movement stayed within the tolerances of the monitoring system.

On that day he went on to win, but after doing it again this Sunday the penalty was self-inflicted, with a hesitation to avoid a penalty causing him to be sixth at the end of the first lap.  In the end he was able to recover all of his lost positions save for that occupied by Verstappen in second.

Behind the podium finishers, the controversy over the Racing Point “pink Mercedes” saga reached new levels of annoyance for the rest of the competitors.  On Saturday the team locked out the second row of the grid on a track where they’ve never even got a car out of Q1 for the last two years running.

It also meant Mercedes power units would be starting 1-2-3-4 on the grid for the first time since Monza 2017, and coincidentally it was in that race that Lance Stroll became the youngest man to start a race on the front row.

The Canadian had never qualified higher than eighth for any other race in his career until this weekend, with third on the grid being a genuine reflection of his pace.  He briefly ran second early in the race until being passed by Verstappen and the inevitable Bottas, but he could still celebrate another fourth place finish to match the one he scored for Racing Point at Hockenheim last year.

Alex Albon finished fifth for Red Bull, on a weekend where he seemed baffled by the lack of pace in the car, failing to reach Q3 and at one stage during the race languishing a lap down in sixth, the same position in which Pierre Gasly finished last year’s Hungarian GP prior to being demoted back to Toro Rosso.  Given Gasly’s subsequent return to form, it is pertinent to wonder how much of this lack of pace in the second Red Bull is actually down to the driver….

You would have got long odds on waiting to the third race of the season before you could say both Ferraris reached Q3 for the first time, but such is the new world order.  Sebastian Vettel – supposedly ready for the Maranello scrapheap – out-qualified Charles Leclerc for the second straight race as the Scuderia’s cars were solidly nailed to the bottom of the speed trap, 10km/h slower than Racing Point’s Mercedes doppelganger.

Vettel was sixth in the race itself, a lap down on the dominant Hamilton.  This may seem like another Italian disaster, but bearing in mind that they were 61 seconds behind him in the same race last year, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised.  A Racing Point seat is probably looking quite appealing right now.   

Speaking of such matters, Sergio Perez was seventh on Sunday, having been outqualified by Lance Stroll on Saturday – a performance that frustratingly left Perez fourth on the grid for the sixth time in his 179-race career, without having ever started in the top three!

This was undoubtedly disappointing for Perez at a time where he REALLY needs to impress his team’s owner (a tough ask, given the occupant of the other Racing Point seat), but this was actually Perez’s best-ever result at the Hungaroring.  The Mexican had never even reached Q3 at this circuit since way back in 2013, during his oft-forgotten season replacing Lewis Hamilton at McLaren.

In contrast, eighth-placed Daniel Ricciardo ran exactly to form – Renault have finished in that position at every race this season without finishing any higher.

Carlos Sainz was classified in ninth place but was only tenth across the finish line, as Haas’ Kevin Magnussen was given a 10-second penalty for receiving an illegal driver aid.

What was the illegal driver aid?  Being told to pit by his engineer at the end of the formation lap (as was his teammate Romain Grosjean).  Haas rolled the dice on slick tyres while everyone else started on intermediates, conscious of their woeful lack of pace this year – both cars were eliminated in Q1 and had not run in a points position at any stage in the first two races.

The gamble was handsomely rewarded, as by lap five both cars were running in the top four.  It was never likely to stay that way all afternoon, but even Magnussen’s penalty couldn’t stop him claiming the final point, only the team’s second points finish in the last 13 Grands Prix.

One person who probably looked on enviously was AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat, who had radioed requesting to pit for dry tyres during the formation lap.  For whatever reason this request was declined, and Kvyat instead ended his day an anonymous twelfth….

Although George Russell and Kimi Raikkonen also went home empty-handed they also had stories to tell, albeit wildly differing in tone.  For the second week in a row Russell hauled his Williams into Q2 – this time joined by teammate Nicholas Latifi, with the team having both cars escaping Q1 for the first time since Monza 2018.

Russell’s performance was notable as he again narrowly missed a shock Q3 showing.  He was denied by 0.190s this week, having missed out by a wafer-thin 0.091s in Austria.  Such heights have suddenly become out of reach for the Alfa Romeo drivers, with both Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi knocked out in Q1.

Raikkonen’s weekend would only be notable as for the first time in his 318 appearances as a Grand Prix driver, he was the out-and-out slowest driver in a qualifying session.


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