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2018 F1

Race Analysis: Hungarian Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton won the 2018 Hungarian GP, to claim his sixth victory at the at the Hungaroring circuit and fifth of the season. The Briton goes into the summer break with a 24-point lead over ace title contender Sebastian Vettel who finished second, and was followed by Kimi Raikkonen in third place. Finn took his fifth podium in a row, with a total of nine this season, and his ninth podium at this circuit.

Before the race, the Formula 1 community mourned the demise of Sergio Marchionne (former Ferrari CEO), with a minute of silence before the Hungarian national anthem. The Ferrari boss passed away on Tuesday, between the weekends of the German and Hungarian GP. The Ferrari team were wore black bands on their arms in mourning and had the team flags over their motorhome at half-mast.

The start had two incidents, one where Marcus Ericsson squeezed Daniel Ricciardo and made contact sending the latter down to P16. The second was behind the same incident where Leclerc got sandwiched between the two Force India’s of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, and the latter squeezed him making contact and ending the young Monagasque’s race. The first VSC came out at lap 5 and last till lap 7 after Max Verstappen’s retirement, and a second VSC period was at lap 52 for only one lap, after Stoffel Vandoorne’s retirement.

On a circuit where overtaking is hardest, Ricciardo drove a stunning race to start twelfth on the grid, drop down to 16th and finish fourth. The Australian made end minute contact on lap 69, with Valtteri Bottas who tried defending him with a damaged car squeezed him onto gravel. Mercedes asked the Finn to give the place back, to avoid further investigation. The 29-year-old Red Bull Racing driver also clocked the fastest lap of the race of 1 minute 20.012 seconds, and was one of the few on a one-stop strategy. His Dutch team-mate who had grandstands full of orange clad spectators, retired due to another Renault engine problem on lap 5.

Valtteri Bottas who started second on the grid, was running second until lap 65, with the two Ferraris trailing closely less than half a second behind each other. Vettel overtook him into Turn 1 and Bottas who suffered a bit of understeer at the corner ends up clipping his front wing by making contact with the Ferraris rear.

Since the three cars were trailing so closely within half a second of each other, the Mercedes Finn lost a place to Vettel and Raikkonen, and later to Ricciardo. The incident between him and Vettel was investigated but no further action was taken. However, the incident with Ricciardo was investigated and the Finn was reprimanded with a ten second time penalty and two penalty points. Despite the penalty he was 23 seconds ahead of the the driver behind him, so he retains his fifth place.

Finishing sixth was Pierre Gasly, who qualified in the rain drenched session at the same place he started at. The Frenchman was followed by Haas driver Kevin Magnussen in seventh place, and the Dane remains the one of the few drivers with only one retirement and has completed every race so far with seven points finishes barring the Australian GP.

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso who turned 37 today, started 11th on the grid to finish eighth, after being aided by a clever tyre strategy, starting the race on mediums. The Spaniard’s opt for a two-stop strategy and was able to jump the Haas and Renault cars with perfect execution of the same. His team-mate however who was running eighth retired at lap 51 due to a gearbox failure.

Renault driver Carlos Sainz started fifth but lost four places to finish ninth. The Spanish drivers’ brakes were seen overheating right at the start and he got overtaken by quicker cars in the opening laps and lost a part of the battle in the pit-lane. Sainz however ignored nine blue flags blocking Vettel, who was overlapping him. His team-mate Nico Hulkenberg who had an unlucky qualifying and started 13th, end up finishing outside the points in 12th place.

Haas driver Romain Grosjean remained the final points finish in tenth place, the same where he started the race. The Frenchman completed the critical double points finish for his team, to help them secure fifth pace in the constructors’ title.

At the start, the ideal strategy was for the two Ferraris to attack the Mercedes and push them to overheat their rear tyres and push them to either pit early or push them to make mistakes to lose positions. Vettel jumped Raikkonen at the start to secure P3 and push the Mercedes, which looked like an orchestrated strategic swap.

However, an early pitstop for Raikkonen at lap 14, was 5.1 seconds long, because there was rubber stuck in his brake inlet. The idea of pitting the Finn early was to have him as second gunner later in the race and use both cars to pressure the Mercedes ahead. However, Mercedes responded that by pitting Bottas a lap after, removing the advantage from Ferraris undercut.

In the way it panned out the Finn’s Ferrari was quicker than Vettel’s since he was on a two-stop strategy while the German was on a one-stop tyre strategy, and it in turn helped them execute the move over Bottas towards the closing laps of the race. He was also pit first estimating and factoring Ricciardo surging up the grid later in the race.

Hamilton pit for a tyre change at lap 25 switching to softs from ultrasofts. The reigning champion’s tyres last for 25 laps, due to him being out in the front with no cars to overtake. However, when he heads into the traffic, as expected the tyres started giving away.

Vettel on the other hand, who took the lead from Hamilton after the Briton changed tyres, had to pull out a big lead, but was unable to do so and the lead was brought down from 14 seconds to 9 due to back-marker traffic. He also lost a lot of time behind Sainz who ignored nine blue flags and held him up, while a driver is allowed to ignore only three. A slow 5.5 second pitstop by Ferrari due the front left tyre not being fitted properly made him rejoin in third, behind Bottas. The reduced lead and slow pitstop made him move out of Bottas pit window and harder to chase Hamilton.

Raikkonen was brought into the pits for a second change to ultrasoft tyres and that helped them prepare the second Ferrari to pressure Bottas for second place and as it resulted, they managed a third. Despite the pace and the tyre advantage, Hungary is a track where a car can get stuck behind another for a few laps, and slow down the pace of the following car, so it helped them bunch up the three at the front but made it very hard to pass the car in front.

Last year when Sebastian Vettel lead the race, he was losing 2 seconds per lap, with Hamilton behind him and despite the power advantage of the Mercedes, the latter was unable to pass the German, for the entire race.

Mercedes who had Hamilton covered with the pole position, on a weekend where they came to with the third quickest car, redeemed their advantage on the race weekend. They out-qualified or outdrove the Ferraris in the rain drenched qualifying and outsmarted them in the pitstop strategies in dry conditions. This was the only way the Silver Arrows could have managed a win, since their car was not good enough to overtake the Ferraris, had they got stuck behind them in the dry conditions neither did they have the advantage if it was a dry qualifying.

The current result has Hamilton lead the title with a total of 213 points, followed by Vettel in second with a total of 189 points and Raikkonen in third with a total of 146 points. In the Constructor’s Mercedes lead with a total of 345 points and Ferrari trail 10 points behind with a total of 335 points, and Red Bull Racing are in third but far away with a total of 223 points. Verstappen’s retirement today was the seventh the team has had in the season so far, hurting them in further in the points table.

The 33-year-old reigning World Champion heads into the summer break with a 24-point lead and five wins Vettel is a win short of equaling in the total. While the sport takes a summer break for three weeks, it will return again with a double header featuring the Belgian GP weekend spanning from August 24-26, 2018 and the Italian GP weekend from August 30 to September 2, 2018.

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