As was the case in qualifying, dark clouds were threatening rainfall for the grand prix of Hungary. Something that would certainly benefit several drivers and teams on the grid. The Mercedes power train again seemed to be above and beyond that of their rivals once again, in a weekend full of total Mercedes dominance. Not only did the black liveried Mercedes secure the first and second positions on the grid, the two pink Mercedes powered Racing Point’s followed that up with Stroll qualifying in third and Perez in fourth. Putting all allegations that Racing Point copied last year’s Mercedes car piece for piece, that would still mean that last year’s car hasn’t been challenged a year later. Such is the pure dominance of the Mercedes team.
Another piece of evidence of that dominance, is that Lewis Hamilton will be starting on pole for a record setting 90th time. No other driver in Formula One history has come close to that mark. Michael Schumacher is second with 68 pole positions, while Ayrton Senna is third with 65 poles. Hamilton has been scribbling his name all over the Formula One history books, and he has a multitude of records within his grasp, many reachable in even this shortened season. Starting from pole further extends his lead on that category, but a win today at the Hungaroring in Hungary would give him eight wins at a single race track, matching the record set by Schumacher in 2006.
Should rain be a factor in this race, then surely there would be a new found boost in confidence in the Ferrari garage. Sebastian Vettel set the faster pace in Friday’s second practice session, and although this hasn’t been the start they would have wanted to the 2020 Formula One season, perhaps wet conditions are what the doctor ordered for the Scuderia. Another pilot that would welcome a wet race, is Max Verstappen. He and his Red Bull have also endured a rough start and given Verstappen’s proven skill in the wet, surely he would welcome a little drizzle. However, Hamilton’s display in the Austrian rain may hamper those feelings to a certain degree.
The Hungaroring is a difficult track at the best of times, and with few legitimate places for passing. When wet, it is a treacherous circuit to say the least. Max Verstappen found that out before the race had even begun, slipping off course going into turn ten on the parade lap. Just moments before the lights were due to go out and the race getting underway, Verstappen fond the nose of his car buried in a wall. He limped back to the starting grid with obvious damaged to the cars nose and possibly the suspension as well. The Red Bull mechanics scurried like ants to get a new nose cone fitted in time for the start of the race. Others assessed the potential damage to the rest of the car. This wasn’t the start that Red Bull Racing was hoping for. With roughly eighteen minutes to go before race start, five mechanics were tasked with changing a rod on the cars suspension while team boss, Christian Horner, supervised. Talk about pressure.
Under visibly tricky and quite slippery conditions began the grand prix of Hungary. And the drama through the first five laps was coming thick and heavy. Valtteri Bottas appeared to jump the start, only to stop briefly before getting going again, causing him to lose position to Lance Stroll and both the Ferrari’s. Somehow, Kimi Raikkonen was being investigated for being out of position while starting dead last. Latifi went for a spin and punctured a tire while practically everybody dove into the pits to switch from intermediate tires to mediums and in Leclerc’s case, slicks. Vettel’s luck continued to be horrendous, as his was caught in the pit traffic, and lost a solid seven seconds. Somehow, Verstappen and his newly repaired car lead the race. Until he had to pit, at least, but even then he was able to emerge from the pits in second place. Latifi earned himself a five second time penalty for an unsafe release that caused a collision with Carlos Sainz. There was action everywhere in the opening moments in Hungary.
A miserable qualifying session for Pierre Gasly, who wasn’t able to run in the final qualifying session due to engine troubles, found himself scrambling to get out of a burning car on the seventeenth lap. Meanwhile, Alexander Albon’s relentless pursuit of Charles Leclerc paid off on that same lap, costing Leclerc seventh place and surely having his questioning his choice to switch to soft tires. Now his team mate, Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez were rapidly approaching and challenging Leclerc. He was a sitting duck as Ferrari’s woes continued to pile up. Leclerc begged for a pit change despite news that rain was expected in the next few minutes. And box he did.
Lando Norris soon found himself defending his thirteenth spot against an onslaught from Charles Leclerc, and the result was a brilliant bit of racing and bravado from the two young drivers. Leclerc edged forward only for Norris to defend well and slam the door shut time after time. Finally, on the thirty-third lap, Leclerc found his way past the McLaren of Lando Norris. Leclerc was then in hot pursuit of Sebastian Vettel, who himself had just set the fastest lap on fresh tires. Albon too was having a great race, showing skill and confidence as he made his way up the grid. The mid-pack battles were quite entertaining, as has been the case through the 2020 campaign – and Hungary was proving to be quite entertaining.
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Threats of rain continued to be a concern, and many teams opted to wait for the wet before switching tires. But the few drops that did fall were insignificant and didn’t little if anything to impact the race. It was a race that came down to strategies and Red Bull pulled a master stroke by keeping Verstappen out long enough while everybody else headed for the pits, where Vettel lost his race, giving the Dutchman enough of a gap to emerge in second place once he had visited the pits. From crashing into the barrier on the parade lap, to a maniacal push from the team to get the RB16 back into racing condition, and then moving up to second place from seventh. Red Bull and Verstappen held on despite a gallant charge from Valtteri Bottas, who would have liked a few more laps in pursuit of Verstappen.
Canadian Lance Stroll finished in fourth position in his Racing Point. Alexander Albon placed fifth in what was a great drive from him. In sixth, Sebastian Vettel. Seventh for Sergio Perez. Ricciardo, Magnussen and Carlos Sainz rounded out the top ten. Charles Leclerc could only muster an eleventh place finish, while the ever impressive Lando Norris came home in thirteenth position.
We head to England next, for a pair of race weekends around the classic Silverstone circuit. Those two races will take place on August 2nd and 9th, 2020.