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Crunching the numbers from Hungary

The podium in Hungary

By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician  

The fat lady isn’t quite singing yet, but she’s now backstage and the vocal warmups have begun.

With a 62-point advantage heading into the summer break, it will take a comeback never previously seen in Formula 1 for any driver to deny Lewis Hamilton a sixth world championship crown, twice as many as any other British driver in the sport’s history.

It all seems to come so easily to Hamilton and a Mercedes AMG team that have so dominated the hybrid era, and yet Sunday was a testament to how they haven’t lost the ability to overcome the most formidable of enemies (in this instance, Max Verstappen).

Verstappen came into the race having finally ended his wait for a pole position, seven wins and four and a half years into his F1 career.  It also ended one of the most bizarre numerical jinxes in F1 history.  Other than the seldom-used unlucky #13, car #33 was the lowest race number to have never taken pole position in a world championship event.

In a neat coincidence, car #33’s first pole position also made Verstappen the 100th polesitter in world championship history, exactly 11 years to the day since Heikki Kovalainen became the sport’s 100th different winner, and on the same racetrack.  Verstappen will hope that doesn’t become the new jinx, as Kovalainen never added a second success.

Although Red Bull have consistently run near/at the front of the pack in the past decade, Verstappen’s pole was only the fourth by a Red Bull since the end of the V8 era in 2013, and the first not taken by Daniel Ricciardo.  It continued the Honda F1 resurgence, claiming their first pole since Jenson Button at the 2006 Australian GP.

The Dutchman had won every previous race in which he had led the first lap, so statistically it seemed in the bag for much of the afternoon, in spite of a fierce battle for the lead with Hamilton.  It was all turned on its head by Mercedes’ daring call to bring Hamilton in for a second pitstop, banking on the world champion being able to close a 19-second gap in 21 laps.

Hamilton duly succeeded, making this the second time in the last four Grands Prix that the lead changed hands in the final four laps.  This time Verstappen was the victim, having been the victor when he beat Charles Leclerc in the dying stages in Austria.

It gave Hamilton a seventh Hungaroring victory, matching Montreal for his most wins at any single race venue (and only one short of Michael Schumacher’s record eight Magny-Cours successes), and moved his points streak to 24 in a row.  In one of those stats that requires a double take, were it not for his retirement nine laps from the end of the 2018 Austrian GP retirement, Hamilton would now have scored in the last 58 consecutive races!

Verstappen was philosophical after such a narrow defeat, but 93 points – having nipped in for a fresh set of tyres to bag the fastest lap bonus late doors – makes him the top scorer in the past five Grands Prix.  It was his 21st consecutive top five finish, and it means that son finally eclipsed father in terms of best Hungaroring results, 25 years since Jos Verstappen became the first Dutchman ever to stand on the F1 podium at the 1994 race.

As for the rest…. well they were nowhere.

After Verstappen crossed the line 17 seconds behind Hamilton, you had to wait another 44 seconds for third-placed Sebastian Vettel, as Ferrari were never in with a shout all afternoon.  Vettel did at least have the satisfaction of claiming a podium place in the final three laps for the second successive race, having passed both Lance Stroll and Daniil Kvyat in the final stages at Hockenheim.

This time his victim was Leclerc, who – continuing his story of near-misses in 2019 – ran in a podium position for 54 laps in Hungary and yet ended up fourth.  Such was the pace at the front that Leclerc was the last man on the lead lap, with four being the fewest drivers to complete the full race distance since Mexico last season.

McLaren’s resurgence has become an ongoing story this year, and Carlos Sainz capped that by finishing in the top five in consecutive races for the first time in his F1 career, admittedly on a track that has been kind to the team in recent seasons (McLaren have now finished in the top eight at the Hungaroring in four of the last five years).

What made this one particularly special was that Sainz beat a car from one of the “big three” teams, as he crossed the line 1.4 seconds ahead of Pierre Gasly, who was lapped by his own teammate Verstappen.

The lack of pace from Gasly continues to be perplexing.  He finished in the same position at the Hungaroring last year driving a Toro Rosso, but aside from Silverstone that form hasn’t translated to the senior team.  He probably won’t relish seeing Helmut Marko on his caller ID during the summer break….

In an otherwise quiet weekend for big stats down the finishing order, it would be remiss not to note the starring role played by George Russell in qualifying.  Taken at face value, both he and teammate Robert Kubica remain the only drivers yet to progress from Q1 this season, but driving a Williams that had not outpaced any other car in a qualifying session in 2019, Russell got to within 0.053s of reaching Q2, outpacing both Racing Points and the surprisingly-slow Renault of Daniel Ricciardo.

Russell held that form in the race itself, finishing ahead of Kubica, Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo and Lance Stroll’s Racing Point.  It’s not where Williams want to be, but it’s an improvement on being a second a lap slower than all other cars, as they have frequently experienced during 2019.

The Haas team have become an unwitting punchline for some people this season, as an array of good qualifying performances have been lost within acrimony concerning collisions between teammates and a wayward sponsor.  Budapest didn’t do them any favours either, as Romain Grosjean retired due to a water leak on lap 50.

Not only was it Grosjean’s sixth retirement of the season – more than any other driver – but it was also the THIRD time this season that he’s been the only official retirement of the race, a fate which he also befell in Bahrain and France.  Euphemistically, it’s been a “character-building” few months for the American outfit….

The Formula 1 personnel will now take a few weeks off before reassembling at Spa, a weekend that will mark one year since Sebastian Vettel’s last victory, in the country of Max Verstappen’s birth…..

….but Hamilton will arrive 62 points clear of everyone.