Winners and Spinners - Hungarian Grand Prix
Ok, we've got a lot to get through, so get comfy.
Esteban Ocon - Was it a masterclass in racing? No. Esteban had the advantage of the track being a narrow twisting sinew of tarmac with few overtaking opportunities. Forcing Sebastian behind to have to try and remix the same move into turn one each lap. And there's only so many ways you can mix it up before you end up becoming predictable and defendable. This isn't to say that Esteban didn't drive a good race; he kept his tyres alive, fuel in his tank and his car pointing the right way on the track for the entire time while trying to defend from a four-time world champion. His level-headedness and ability to work rationally in that situation proved key to his victory. It was rare for the gap to get beyond two seconds, but equally, he was often more than a second down the line from Seb, preventing him from having to fend off a DRS move into turns one and two. The real show of how controlled his drive was has to be how easy he made it look. He never seemed to be struggling or having to make last-minute moves, he was constantly on it and under control. And that is high praise indeed.
An absolute worldie of a drive. Well done indeed.
Fernando Alonso - He has said he's driving like he did at his peak. He's not lying. While he doesn't have the strongest set-up in the field, he is making the absolute most of it week in week out, and this was another prime example. Able to balance that car on its most extreme limits for lap after lap, defending from DRS dives and switcharoos from the seven-time world champion behind him is no mean feat and while he hasn't picked up a podium to show for it, anyone with a vague sense of what makes F1 good, will have massively enjoyed his work. When you are in a midfield car and are being harassed by a car that should romp away with the title the odds are never in your favour, but somehow they just were. Alonso's timing and track positioning proved to be absolutely key in retaining his position over Lewis for so long. Careful harvesting and deployment of his electricity to keep his brakes and tyres in a manageable window for three or so of the hardest laps of the race. I'd argue that even the battle for first wasn't this heated at any point. And even when Lewis finally managed to get one around the outside of him in turn one, Fernando had a plan to counter and at the very least compromise Lewis for the second sector, forcing him to defend through the following corners, giving the cars up the road a chance. Fernando proved himself to be a team player this weekend as much as he reminded us that he is an exceptional racing driver. Is the Fernando of 2005 and 6 back? Almost certainly.
The slick stop that allowed Lewis to get past Danny Ric and Max.
Lewis Hamilton - Lewis absolutely shattered himself. He literally exhausted himself to the point of seeing the doctor after his race. A well-earned break now for Lewis going into August will give him the chance to rebuild his form and come back fighting hard against Max. He's pulled back the championship and secured it for his team as well, aided by a reshuffle to the final order. Now leading Max by eight points and Red Bull by 12 the table turns once more, pushing Red Bull onto their backfoot to fight back. Lewis' drive this weekend was another exceptional drive and one where you can tell that he went into himself and reached that level of hyper-focus he's often able to tap into. We've seen this mode to Lewis previously when he's set scorching qualifying laps that have been untouchable and it's taken him a moment to realise just what's gone on, Hungary seems to have been another case of that. He pushed on through the grid, catching a second wind from his tyres and surging further through the pack before calling for a second stop, dropping back a bit and charging on in a seemingly unstoppable blur of passes. Until he got to Alonso. And this was his stumbling block. Many argue that he could have won the race had it not been for Fernando, and given the rate at which he passed Carlos and caught Seb and Esteban ahead, there's a very real chance of that. But Alonso took the wind from his sails in a massive way.
It took all of his experience to try and pass his former teammate in a series of laps that saw him pushing the W12 to its absolute limits, often locking up a bit or running wide in his desperation to pass the Spaniard. It was a race that proved just why Lewis is a world champion, but also that his human and fallible. That call to not pit on the formation lap was a bold one. Mercedes had the first garage in the row and Lewis would have likely been trapped in by the stream of cars coming past as everyone else pitted. Best case scenario he'd come out 12th Toto Wolff said, but it was a slim chance and in a pit lane where collisions and unsafe releases had been rife all weekend (some of which seemed unfair as the drivers spun their tyres trying to get away on the damp surface, had they made a clean getaway they could have been OK, but equally this should have been factored in by the crew member, anyway). All it would have taken was an eager to pit car clipping the Mercedes and that'd be Lewis' race over. It wasn't a gamble worth taking, so we saw the strangest race restart ever with just car number 44 lining up on the grid. Although despite his best efforts, the quickly drying track laid waste to his intermediate tyres and Lewis didn't have the gap he'd hoped for to pit and fell down the order. He couldn't have done it any other way mind you. As an entire package, this could be called one of Lewis' best drives. Certainly the most visually spectacular.
Simply incredible. Absolute scenes. We love it.
Williams - This was the race Williams needed. A race of attrition in the opening lap that thinned out the grid and gave them a chance. Equally with the jumbled order and lack of passing chances it gave their drivers a secure chance at points. However, before I get into heaping praise on the team and drivers, I want to be a bit critical. Let's look at their closest rivals on the track, Alfa Romeo. Where were they this race? Stuck at the back serving a series of penalties for various misdemeanours. Had they not been knobbled by their infractions could they have been closer to the Williams and able to snipe their points? Possibly. But equally, they weren't and both George and Nicholas put in a brace of stunning drives to secure Williams' first double points finish since Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll bagged 10th and 9th respectively in Monza in 2018. 56 races and a sole point later and the Grove-based team brought home ten points in one go. If that isn't progressing I don't know what is.
Post-race George used the SkyPad to demonstrate his critical and measured driving. He knew the pit layout, he knows how it'd scupper Mercedes and knew what move to pull to pit for tyres and get a strong track position. Even if his cheeky pit lane move didn't pay off, he played a critical part in supporting Latifi's drive. A driver who no one expected to be in third during the race, a position he held onto for a good while on merit, in a car that had no real means of being in third it was a bit of a head twister to figure out. Some strong jousting with Mick Schumacher saw George push his way back up the order and fend off Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen behind, a wizard bit of driving. A better drive than Sakhir in the W11? I'd say it could well have been. Some strong work from George. When you look at the evolving track conditions, the field coming from behind and their proximity to the cars ahead, the bigger picture is a very pretty one indeed and likely has brought a lot of joy to Frank Williams.
Nicholas did just as well. A driver I've often been hypercritical of in this column; he's finally shown exactly why he's in that seat. If he can get into a strong position early on, his ability to defend and hold his place forces those around him to go against their ideal strategy to try and combat this and reclaim "their" places. Let's not forget his qualifying, where this week he was so much closer on raw pace and it has paid dividends. Speaking of qualifying, George's poorer qualifying than usual saw him start further down the grid and this earned him some space from the chaos and a chance to plan a route through it all. All in, this is easily the strongest performance from the drivers and the team for mastering their strategies and pit stops. Williams are now easily confirmed as a midfield team and no longer a backmarker. Will they be able to capitalise on this come Spa? I have a sneaking feeling that we might see some more Williams points this season.
Still one of my top liveries this season.
Alpha Tauri - Somehow two of the most chaotic drivers in the field made it through the melee at the beginning unscathed. Pierre suffered a loss of track position as he ran hyper wide to avoid the detritus and destruction but crucially both cars were still in the running. Pierre's rapid pace soon saw him catch Yuki and team orders were initiated; although it took Pierre a moment to regain his pace advantage and clear Yuki. Which he did, aided by a Yuki spin that went unnoticed on the telly. This gap back to Yuki allowed Pierre to pit for softs and steal the fastest lap from Mercedes. Was this down to a cheeky phone call from their sister team? Or was this a ploy by Franz Tost to help build a buffer to championship rivals Aston Martin, while lessening the lead Alpine were able to draw out? Nine points now separate Alpine ahead of Alpha Tauri, but crucially the Honda-powered team now lead Aston Martin by 10. And going into the new season with limits on finances and wind tunnel time being imposed for teams it's crucial to make the most of every points opportunity. This is Alpha Tauri at its best, a glimpse of that same winning spirit they had as Toro Rosso back in 2008 in Italy. All in, a cracker of a weekend and a promising show from the team that their slump in performance might be coming to an end.
Half of Carlos' podiums, he hasn't been on the podium for.
Carlos Sainz - Why have we all underestimated Carlos for so long? How have we managed this? At McLaren, he proved to be solidly competent, but now as Lando has rather leapt forwards, it's drawn point to how strong a driver Carlos is to have kept pace with him, especially in what is reportedly a bit of a handful of a McLaren to drive. Now against Charles Leclerc, he's out-qualified his Monegasque teammate three times in a car he's new to and now he is outscoring his teammate by three points. I'll ignore the crash in qualifying as that wasn't really his fault and was regarded by many as an uncatchable slide. Thankfully the damage was light and didn't impact his race. Carlos is proving to be exceptionally and quietly competent, the argument for who's going to see Ferrari gain a World Championship really ought to include him.
Pushing it to the Max.
Mick Schumacher - OK, so he didn't get a point. But, for a good while, it did look like he could have. And it really goes to show just how dire the Haas VF-21 is; especially if it takes the Red Bull to lose half its aero for the UralKali car to have a level competitor. And for Mick to have been putting in some of the performances he has to this point in a car that seemingly has half the downforce and control of the others, deeply impressive. The racecraft we saw this weekend was impeccable as he fought to defend from faster cars from behind, all the kid needs is a good chassis to hone his skills to a fine point and we could see a ruthlessly capable driver in the years to come. Perhaps the Jordan 191 would give him a better chance this season than the VF-21.
Exhausted. But this has proven that Seb still has the drive. He's not a Kimi here for a hobby. This man wants to win.
Sebastian Vettel - Slightly fluffed his pitstop, overcooking it on the brakes on the way in, opening up a gap for Esteban to safely pit the lap later. From there it was a challenge for him to attack the Frenchman; but with a tight sector two giving Esteban plenty of opportunities to defend, second could really have been the best possible result for Seb. He got close with a backmarker double slipstream although then, as he said post-race, a "Maldonado gap" appeared and was wisely passed up. All in, this was another brilliant Seb performance, but I feel that it wasn't his best, something still hasn't fully clicked. Regardless, it was a strong drive, enough for second place...
Sebastian Vettel - For a bit. But now he's got to hand his trophy to Lewis, and Lewis, his to Carlos, probably at Spa after the summer break, in a weird podium ceremony akin to the 2003 Imola GP where Kimi and Ron Dennis had to hand their winner's silverware to Giancarlo Fisichella and Eddie Jordan. We'll wait and see what happens. I feel a bit bad for putting Seb in the spinners section, so this is more of a poke at Aston Martin for ballsing up their fuel flow rates through the race and not having enough left at the end. It's a highly pedantic and annoying reason to lose out on such a key points haul and a podium, but thems is the rules. What really sucks is that Bottas destroyed several other racers' races and has only received a five-place grid penalty for Spa; meanwhile, Seb doesn't have 1l of petrol in his tank and loses it all. The punishment, as ever with the FIA, doesn't seem to fit the crime. I get that the stewards' decisions are driven by the rules and not by making something up based on the outcome of the infraction, but given the frequency of this happening, maybe it suggests that the rules need to be reviewed a little, or some tweaks made to how they are enforced.
*Flex tape guy voice* "THAT'S A LOT OF DAMAGE"
Valterri Bottas - To singlehandedly ruin pretty much everyone apart from Esteban Ocon's race in one turn is damned impressive. A 'karting level error' Christian Horner called it and he might not be overstating it. Wet conditions on a green track, we saw him do this in Turkey last year, sailing through the grid and dumping himself off the track at turn one in the wet; and here we are with him doing it again. Has he not learned? Apparently so. Am I in any real position to judge him? Not really, the worst I've ever locked up in a car in the wet was my Jimny going 30mph near Kempston, not 130+mph going into turn one at the Hungaroring. Still, it strikes me as a silly and naive move from a driver that has shown he is better than this. Coupled with a phenomenally furious drive from George Russell it really does push his career further into uncertainty.
Not a weekend to remember, but definitely one to learn from.
Alfa Romeo - What a terrible race for the Swiss team. Unsafe releases, penalties, and a generally rough performance. In a race where there's a greater chance of getting a points-scoring place than otherwise, it should have been a romp home for Alfa. Leading Williams by two points coming into the race they could have pushed home a greater advantage, instead, they now trail the British outfit by seven points. Not impressed.
FIA - For pulling some absolute ******** with regards to the "we race as one" gestures. Equally, bonus points to Crofty for standing up for their actions and supporting the actions of several drivers in their support and recognition of the LGBTQ+ community in Hungary.
Charles and his surprisingly competitive teammate.
Charles Leclerc - We all thought this could have been a good weekend for Ferrari. Until they were off the pace significantly come qualifying and things didn't look promising. Charles then suffered at the nosecone of Lance Stroll, being shunted across the track at turn one and into early retirement. No points on the board and a promoted to third teammate see him now behind Carlos in the standings. However, it's funny that Carlos' two podiums with the Scuderia have come when his teammate has had a bad start to the race and barely started. It's like he's proving to be a critical second driver, able to make the most of the available points in a tumultuous race, right behind his teammate. The sort of driver that Red Bull is constantly whining for. It'd be doubly funny if he could have had a shot at the big Red Bull seat... oh wait... Anyway, back to Charles, who I haven't spoken about a lot because there wasn't a lot to speak about really. Hence 'The Rest'.
It was at this moment, he knew he'd mucked up... Bottas wipes out Norris going into turn one.
McLaren - Lando and Daniel were both passengers all the way through turn one and Daniel had a lot to fight back from as the race restarted. Lando had a fantastic start which was rather to his detriment, putting him right in the firing line for the chaos and spinning cars. Daniel came away more fortunately but was unable to claw back through the race. Struggling to pass on the thin track, and running with damage it wasn't going to be his weekend. Courtesy of Carlos' second podium this season Ferrari are now level pegging with McLaren, both on 163 points. The fight for third will be exciting going into Spa.
Nikita Mazepin - I won't lie, I'm surprised he didn't end up doing what we saw in 1998 at Spa and just slam into the crashing pack ahead. Like Charles, there wasn't really a lot of Mazepin action to work from this entry, hence, 'The Rest'.
The damage to Mazepin's Haas. Pinched from @georgepoole6 on TikTok.
"It's OK, we 100% won't do a drive swap coming into Spa, your seats are secure..."
Red Bull - No point criticising Perez' performance this week as he falls into the same hole as Charles and Nikita, not enough to go on. Although he was able to qualify behind his teammate this week, hopefully, a sign for good things to come. Max's race was massively compromised from the off, carrying an incredible amount of damage from the turn one collision. The fact that he managed to make up as many places as he could from this was incredible, but all in, this wasn't their greatest weekend. Coupled with their shinanigans post-Silverstone, quibbling the Copse collision Red Bull haven't got a shining reputation at the moment. Hopefully, they'll recollect over the summer break and come back in fighting form, just not too fighty that it becomes crashy.
Big F. You tried though.
Lance Stroll - I can see where he was going with that dive down the inside at turn one, looking to try and find some space to not crash in. Didn't really work though, did it? Kinda an 'eh' result. Pace wise in qualifying he was only 0.1 seconds off Seb in Q2 and Q3, he's on form, but this just wasn't his break. Better luck next time.
Now, it's time for the summer break. I'll try and keep some F1 content trotting out through the gap, so in the meantime, check out my YouTube stuff if you're really bored. See y'all on the otherside.