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2018 F1

Hungarian GP: Qualifying Analysis

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Lewis Hamilton claimed an emphatic pole position at the Hungaroring circuit for the 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix, in a rain drenched qualifying session. Claiming the sixth pole position at this circuit, the Briton was followed by his team-mate Valtteri Bottas in second spot to complete the Mercedes front row, and Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen who claimed the final qualifying position for a podium finish in third.

At a circuit where dry conditions were against the Silver Arrows squad, on almost every tyre they could have used, the rain rolled the dice in their favour. In qualifying one and two, the Ferraris managed to claim top spot and Raikkonen claimed the provisional pole, until the Finn got stuck behind Romain Grosjean ending his chances of defending the top spot. The scenario played into the favour of the two Mercedes cars at that point who had a cleaner lap and a successful second attempt.

For Mercedes it is a game changer, at a circuit where qualifying position is key and where overtaking zones are limited. The Silver Arrows were struggling at his circuit all weekend in the warm conditions and the front row positions locked in, helps them achieve the desired result or extend their lead at this round, before the sport takes a summer hiatus.

Unlike his team-mate Sebastian Vettel clocked the fourth fastest time and was unable to find the grip or balance to extract more performance from his car, in full wet conditions, on his final attempt in the session. Although he completes the second row for Ferrari, his start will play key to how the race pans out at a circuit that allows minimal overtaking. For the scarlet squad tyre strategies and pitstop windows will be the key, to capitalize on.

Renault driver Carlos Sainz qualified fifth, the highest qualifying position in his career. The Spaniard has always been known to be exceptional in mixed grip levels, or wet conditions. He clocked the sixth fastest time in Q1, second fastest in Q2 and eventually lost out to the front runners in Q3. However, he has put his factory team ahead of their customer teams, and his ex-teammate Max Verstappen.

Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly had an exceptional run and managed qualifying sixth while his teammate Brendon Hartley qualified in the top 10, for the first time in his career by sealing eighth spot on the grid.

For Red Bull racing team, the day was riddled with problems at a circuit where they have had tremendous performance and had a race winning car. Verstappen who has exceptionally good performances in wet weather finished the session as the seventh fastest, but Daniel Ricciardo faced a shocking elimination in the second session due to a unconventional tyre strategy, that compromised both his sessions. The Australian’s starts twelfth on the grid while his team-mate missed a prime opportunity to claim pole position and become the youngest pole-sitter in the sport’s history, currently a record held by Vettel.

Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean finished ninth and tenth respectively, sealing the fifth row for their team, and to complete the top 10 of the grid. Grosjean could not improvise on his final attempt to move further up and was allegedly impeded by Verstappen. The incident was investigated however no action was taken against the Dutch driver, as the stewards did not categories the incident as one with ‘unnecessary impeding’ and explained reasoned that it was the poor visibility caused the impeding. While the Danish Haas driver has said that Hamilton blocked him on Turn 14, on his final attempt.

In the first qualifying session Vettel dominated the session with time three tenths ahead of Verstappen who was second fastest then. But the rain had just started, and track conditions were dry in some areas. Most teams put on the inters and then pit for a change to slicks, with most of the grid using ultrasoft compounds, while Ricciardo remained the only driver who gambled with the soft tyre, and almost got eliminated.

The drivers eliminated in the session were Sergey Sirotkin (P20), Sergio Perez (P19), Esteban Ocon (P18), Charles Leclerc (17) and Stoffel Vandoorne (P16). The Belgian McLaren driver has been out-qualified for the 17th time by his team-mate Fernando Alonso in his career.

In the second session where the rain was heavier, Vettel dominated the session again, but the rest of the grid slightly mixed up. The Mercedes trailed fourth and sixth at that point, and the two Toro Rosso cars were fourth and fifth with Hartley lapping quicker than Gasly. Drivers in the drop zone Alonso, Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Marcus Ericsson, and Sergie Sirotkin, had to use the full wet tyre set as the downpour increased, resulting in the times dropping and neither being able to qualify into the next session. The Spaniard in the McLaren managed improvising his time to put himself ahead of the pack, one place outside the points, which according to him wouldn’t have been possible in dry conditions with his struggling car.

The Final session was a shootout between the top 10 where Raikkonen got stuck behind the Grosjean’s Haas, making it impossible to retain his provisional pole position. Vettel and Verstappen had scrappy laps and lacked the performance in those conditions to improvise their times.

The current qualifying result does turn tables and poses a challenge to make any predictions for the race. However, the Ferraris in second row, with their exceptional start performances and power advantage could launch a good attack on the opening lap of the race. For the Red Bull racing cars, it will be long race, at a track where they were confident of possessing the winning package. Ironically Michael Schumacher’s track record lap hasn’t been broken yet due to the rain slowing the pace of the session.

Since all the top 10 drivers used Intermediate tyres in the qualifying session in Q2, they have the option of starting on any tyre they want which aids the Silver Arrows, since the ultrasoft tyre would have been damaging for them in the warmer temperatures forecast for the race. However, their positions can be challenged at the start, and they will need a flawless pitstop strategy in place, to manage a 1-2 finish in the race.

Normally the Hungarian GP has had a history of first lap incidents or chaotic starts, so safety car periods in such a scenario could bunch up the pack. And if it is an anti-climactic start, the race outcomes could be decided in the pit lane with effective pitstop strategies over 70 laps.

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