- Mar 22, 2014
Three weeks after a wild afternoon at Silverstone, Formula 1 went and outdid itself in Hungary.
Off the back of an unintentionally-long break with the cancellation of the German Grand Prix, Sunday’s race proved to be well worth the wait, delivering arguably the most tumultuous race of the decade – certainly since the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix.
It was a race with just about everything an F1 fan could hope for. A surprising podium, frontrunners forced to come through the field, incidents, controversy and a late safety car, not to mention Pastor Maldonado reaching his final form – seriously, the guy got a penalty while serving a penalty!
Through it all the only constant was the man at the front, Sebastian Vettel, who got the best of the Mercedes off the line and took full advantage as fireworks went off left and right. A sombre weekend in the wake of Jules Bianchi’s passing, it was an appropriate way to celebrate the Frenchman and the sport he was such a dear part of.
As such, let’s have a closer look at the stories to come from this truly memorable Hungarian Grand Prix.
Having targeted two race victories in 2015, Maurizio Arrivabene can now rest easy.
The Scuderia’s hero in Malaysia, Sebastian Vettel was once again able to successfully take on all comers, confirming both his and his team principal’s first year on the job as a resounding success.
However, while the timing sheets show Vettel leading for 65 of the race’s 69 laps, that does little to illustrate just how eventful things were for the German, whose race might best be likened to the boulder scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Jumping from third to first as Mercedes’ recent start woes continued, Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen wasted no time establishing a gap over third-placed Nico Rosberg. Continuing to streak away at the front, it seemed the four-time world champion was the only one of the Mercedes-Ferrari quartet not to feel the weight of calamity.
Pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton got the worst of an exchange with Rosberg and had to fight back from P10, Raikkonen had problems with his front wing, while Rosberg didn’t have the pace to keep close. By lap 38 – doing what he is known to do best – Vettel had taken advantage of the clean air afforded him to establish a 23-second gap over Rosberg.
However, where Vettel truly earned the plaudits for his victory was in the wake of a lap 48 safety car that completely nullified his advantage. Being on the slower medium tyre, with a soon-retiring Raikkonen (once again the victim of brutal luck, this time an ERS failure) the only buffer between Rosberg and an option-shod Ricciardo right behind him, Ferrari fans had every right to feel nervous. However, Vettel simply continued to drive his race, proving a match for Rosberg who struggled to keep inside the 1-second DRS zone. It wasn’t long before the Mercedes driver had to switch his attention to defending against Ricciardo, and once he collided with the lunging Red Bull in turn 1, Vettel had played the two off perfectly to turn an unpredictable result into a foregone conclusion.
Delivering an assured drive from start to finish, Vettel had gone pre-race from having almost no chance of winning, to a raging favourite, down to a 50/50 proposition and back up again. Throughout it all he didn’t put a foot wrong, and made what has been an already very good year for the Scuderia even better.
Also, it would be remiss not to mention Vettel’s touching words for the late Jules Bianchi in his post-race message on team radio. In the first race since his passing, it was only fitting the team he called home for many years was able to pay him tribute from the top step of the podium.
Taking their first double podium since Singapore 2014, Hungary marked a bright spot in an otherwise bleak 2015 for Red Bull Racing.
Finishing four-hundreds off the third-placed Sebastian Vettel in qualifying, Daniel Ricciardo brought the team within shouting distance of a stunning victory at the Hungaroring that has to send the quadruple-world champions into the summer break on a high.
The question now is: was this a one off, or a sign of things to come?
The obvious point to be made is that despite their success in Hungary, Red Bull had two factors decidedly in their favour. Namely, the Hungaroring’s winding course highlights their car’s strengths in fast corners without punishing them for their lack of power on straights and, Mercedes were their own worst enemy on Sunday. Had they not endured their poor start, the Red Bull pair would have had to contend with the far more comfortable-in-Hungary Lewis Hamilton, and had Rosberg opted for the soft tyre at his second stop, P3 was probably the best they could’ve hoped for.
Those factors aside, the RB11 clearly could contend for the title of “best of the rest” in Hungary based on Ricciardo’s Saturday performance. Furthermore, during the race Ricciardo was able to keep in touch with the leaders throughout his middle stint on the mediums, and after sustaining damage in his incident with Hamilton, he still set some blistering times on the softs, as did teammate Daniil Kvyat.
The beneficiaries of much of the drama on Sunday, Red Bull are well placed to claim legitimate improvement regardless. Unfortunately for them, the next two races at Spa and Monza will not be kind to their underpowered Renault engine, but combine their historically good pace in the Asian races with the fact their suppliers have more development tokens to spend than their rivals, and they might have a realistic shot at a Ferrari-style upset.
Podium finishers aside, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how stupendously fun this race was.
From Hamilton and Rosberg playing tag for the world championship, to a poetically-rewarding fifth for McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, to the aforementioned antics of Maldonado, F1 finds itself on a bit of a hot streak heading into its summer break.
For two straight races, we’ve been given resounding proof that F1 is far from broken. Despite all the complaints to the contrary, we’ve seen exactly what we want in the sport – the best drivers going wheel-to-wheel in the best cars, with a result that isn’t a foregone conclusion. If there is one argument that is helped by Sunday’s race, it’s that perhaps the cars need to be harder to drive. Undeniably, this was a race coloured by mistakes we don’t usually expect top drivers to make – or in the case of Maldonado, not as often. Does it offer a way forward for the sport’s decision makers as they look to make changes for 2017? It’s an idea that is bound to gain traction in the coming weeks and months, as it was the very human moments that made this race exciting, and certainly the best of 2015.
What stood out for you at the Hungarian Grand Prix? Thoughts on Vettel’s victory? Where can Red Bull go from here? Should the cars be harder to drive? Let us know in the comments!