Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2018

How can Mercedes contain the faster Ferraris?

2018 Hungarian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Rain in qualifying has thrown a spanner in the works for Ferrari. Had it stayed dry, they likely would have taken pole position and probably the front row, and waltzed to their third Hungarian Grand Prix victory in four years.

Instead Mercedes have locked out the front row ahead of the two silver cars. This is a fascinating prospect as all the indications so far are the Ferrari should be quicker in race trim. So how are they going to get ahead?

The 618 metre sprint to turn one – which is among the longest on the calendar – is the first opportunity. Ferrari have made great starts recently, and that presents a problem for Mercedes when it comes to choosing their race strategy.

Normally at this stage in a race weekend the front-running teams are locked into their strategy based on what tyre they used in Q2. As Q2 was wet, that isn’t the case this weekend, and only when the tyre covers come off ahead of the race will we know who’s on what.

Mercedes hasn’t been as quick as Ferrari on the ultra-softs and they couldn’t make them last as long either. But starting on tyres which are two ‘stages’ harder than Ferrari’s would put them at even greater risk at the start. They will surely opt for the greatest chance of holding on to their track advantage.

Based on Friday’s running Pirelli believe the quickest strategy is to start on ultra-softs and switch to mediums. Saturday’s rain will have depleted the rubber build-up on the track and changed its grip levels. Furthermore, Mercedes will be able to start on new tyres, rather than the used rubber they would normally have to run. This could open up the possibility of starting on the ultra-softs, running further into the race, then switching to softs.

Sunday is forecast to be hot again, potentially even hotter than Friday, meaning track temperatures could again hit 60C. Managing the rear tyres in the race will be critical – Pirelli saw small blisters on the tyres of some cars in Friday practice. “This is a small signal for the teams they have to pay attention to blistering during the race,” said sporting director Mario Isola.

There is also a small chance of further showers around race time, which could add a further twice to proceedings. It could also give someone an incentive to plan to start the race on soft or medium tyres, run a long first stint, and hope for a timely shower.

Assuming it stays dry, Mercedes will have a double incentive to manage the pace at the start of the race as they won’t want the field to spread out quickly enough behind them to allow Ferrari the chance to make an early pit stop and ‘undercut’ them. A crucial variable here will be how quickly the out-of-position Red Bulls move up from their compromised grid slots.

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Daniel Ricciardo, 12th on the grid, rued the likelihood of this being another one-stop strategy race.

“I’d love for it to be a two-stop but probably going to be a one-stop,” he said. “At least now I can start on a different tyre if I wish.”

However following his experience in the last race he has a firm view on his potential strategy. “I’m not starting on the medium. I’m not giving away any secrets but after last week I’m not starting on medium.

“I might as well start at the back and change my engine if I’m going to put a medium tyre on because I’ll be last in turn one.”

Drivers tend to gain and lose few places over a race at the Hungaroring, unless a Safety Car is involved. The likes of Carlos Sainz Jnr, therefore, have an excellent opportunity to make big points scores from their starting positions.

Similarly the Toro Rosso pair, sixth and eighth on the grid, have a shot at a points haul which could lift the team clear of the threatening Saubers in the constructors’ championship. Their race will be all about whether the Honda has enough straight-line grunt to hold back the Ferrari-engined Haas pair.

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Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’17.419 1’31.242 (+13.823) 1’35.658 (+4.416)
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’17.123 1’32.081 (+14.958) 1’35.918 (+3.837)
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’17.526 1’32.762 (+15.236) 1’36.186 (+3.424)
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1’16.666 1’28.636 (+11.970) 1’36.210 (+7.574)
5 Carlos Sainz Jnr Renault 1’17.829 1’30.771 (+12.942) 1’36.743 (+5.972)
6 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1’18.577 1’31.286 (+12.709) 1’37.591 (+6.305)
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1’16.940 1’31.178 (+14.238) 1’38.032 (+6.854)
8 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1’18.429 1’32.590 (+14.161) 1’38.128 (+5.538)
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1’18.314 1’32.968 (+14.654) 1’39.858 (+6.890)
10 Romain Grosjean Haas 1’17.901 1’33.650 (+15.749) 1’40.593 (+6.943)
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1’18.208 1’35.214 (+17.006)
12 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1’18.540 1’36.442 (+17.902)
13 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1’17.905 1’36.506 (+18.601)
14 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1’18.641 1’37.075 (+18.434)
15 Lance Stroll Williams 1’18.560
16 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1’18.782
17 Charles Leclerc Sauber 1’18.817
18 Esteban Ocon Force India 1’19.142
19 Sergio Perez Force India 1’19.200
20 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1’19.301

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton 28.175 (5) 27.613 (3) 21.436 (3)
Valtteri Bottas 27.998 (2) 27.665 (4) 21.460 (4)
Kimi Raikkonen 28.201 (6) 27.751 (7) 21.304 (1)
Sebastian Vettel 27.635 (1) 27.569 (2) 21.462 (5)
Carlos Sainz Jnr 28.258 (8) 27.841 (8) 21.730 (8)
Pierre Gasly 28.552 (17) 28.290 (16) 21.661 (7)
Max Verstappen 28.067 (3) 27.486 (1) 21.387 (2)
Brendon Hartley 28.484 (16) 28.005 (11) 21.782 (9)
Kevin Magnussen 28.125 (4) 28.229 (15) 21.887 (13)
Romain Grosjean 28.257 (7) 27.713 (5) 21.905 (14)
Fernando Alonso 28.658 (18) 27.719 (6) 21.831 (12)
Daniel Ricciardo 28.779 (20) 27.914 (9) 21.782 (9)
Nico Hulkenberg 28.327 (9) 27.940 (10) 21.638 (6)
Marcus Ericsson 28.476 (14) 28.144 (14) 21.934 (16)
Lance Stroll 28.454 (12) 28.079 (12) 22.027 (17)
Stoffel Vandoorne 28.483 (15) 28.496 (18) 21.803 (11)
Charles Leclerc 28.441 (11) 28.143 (13) 21.931 (15)
Esteban Ocon 28.462 (13) 28.621 (20) 22.059 (18)
Sergio Perez 28.678 (19) 28.367 (17) 22.113 (19)
Sergey Sirotkin 28.432 (10) 28.594 (19) 22.264 (20)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Engine Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari 317.8 (197.5)
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 317.7 (197.4) -0.1
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari 316.9 (196.9) -0.9
4 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 316.6 (196.7) -1.2
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Mercedes 314.8 (195.6) -3.0
6 Sergey Sirotkin Williams Mercedes 314.5 (195.4) -3.3
7 Esteban Ocon Force India Mercedes 313.0 (194.5) -4.8
8 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 312.8 (194.4) -5.0
9 Lance Stroll Williams Mercedes 312.5 (194.2) -5.3
10 Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari 310.7 (193.1) -7.1
11 Fernando Alonso McLaren Renault 310.3 (192.8) -7.5
12 Charles Leclerc Sauber Ferrari 310.2 (192.7) -7.6
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber Ferrari 310.0 (192.6) -7.8
14 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso Honda 309.3 (192.2) -8.5
15 Max Verstappen Red Bull TAG Heuer 308.8 (191.9) -9.0
16 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull TAG Heuer 307.0 (190.8) -10.8
17 Nico Hulkenberg Renault Renault 306.2 (190.3) -11.6
18 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso Honda 305.6 (189.9) -12.2
19 Carlos Sainz Jnr Renault Renault 303.2 (188.4) -14.6
20 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren Renault 301.1 (187.1) -16.7

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Over to you

What is Ferrari’s best chance to get ahead of Mercedes? And what can Red Bull salvage from this weekend?

Share your views on the Hungarian Grand Prix in the comments.

2018 Hungarian Grand Prix

Browse all 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix articles

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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10 comments on “How can Mercedes contain the faster Ferraris?”

  1. It’s all down to the fast starting Ferrari’s, if they can’t pincer Lewis at the start, it’s over. Lewis will just run away.

  2. It will be interesting to see the start of the race, the Mercs when ahead usually box one of the Ferraris, but which one? Kimi is right behind them, bit Vettel is the bigger threat for the championship.

    Also, while driver’s usually maintain their position at the Hungaroring, we have seen plenty of times the slower cars letting by out of position faster ones. Another consequence of the amazing tyres F1 has.

  3. Surely the best and cheapest way is for both Lewis and Valteri to each take out one Ferrari and take the 5 or 10 second penalty.

  4. The battles for 6 thru 10 ought to give us a great race.

  5. What is Ferrari’s best chance to get ahead of Mercedes? – The start and subsequently the long run down to T1.
    And what can Red Bull salvage from this weekend? – If nothing unusual happens to the top-4 runners on the grid then 5th and 6th for Verstappen and Ricciardo respectively.

  6. DarkSChneider
    29th July 2018, 6:46

    Keith, i suspect you to be a little more fan of Hamilton and Mercedes than Vettel and Ferrari … ;)
    Just a feeling :p

    1. Yep, a title like “How can the faster Ferraris leave behind the Mercedes starting ahead?” would have been quite unthinkable in this site

  7. Thunder (@thunder1115)
    29th July 2018, 7:03

    Ferraris have slow cars behind, it is bad for Merc, if Max p5 it will be better. They can use also Kimi for slowing Merc after pits. If or when Merc destroy tires with DRS and 0,4 on straight , overtake is possible.

  8. The start will indeed be crucial. Will it be like 2015, when the Ferraris jumped the Mercedes, or will it be like 2016, when Mercedes dominated the race? If Hamilton stays ahead he will manage his pace to save his tires as much as possible. To ensure he will be in the lead, he may have to choose to start on the softest tires.
    Therefore, it may make sense for Ferrari to put their drivers on a harder compound, so they can do a longer first stint and get track position. If they are quick enough (possibly their car is set up more for dry circumstances) they may even overcut the Mercedes. The other option is to wait for a (virtual) safety car or use Räikkönen to hold up the Mercedes. However, under normal circumstances, Mercedes are likely to win the race.
    The Red Bulls may also be quicker than the Mercedes. Their situation is more difficult, as they want to get out of traffic as fast as possible, so they may go aggressive and start on the softest tires. Last week at the Hockenheimring Ricciardo’s conservative tire choice really hurt him as it took him very long to make up ground. At the Hungaroring, overtaking is more difficult, though, so starting on softer tires may backfire. A lot depends on the start. If Verstappen manages to improve to fifth, he may have a chance to drive an aggressive 2-stop race as he is unlikely to have any pressure from behind, which gives him the opportunity to attack in the closing stages of the race.

  9. If Mercedes have overheating rears as they did in FP they will be sitting ducks for the Ferraris coming off the last corner.

    Mercedes will have to start on the softest compound as they will need the extra grip to ensure they can stay ahead at the start.

    Wouldn’t be surprised if Ferrari split their drivers so one starts on the next softest Tyre.

Comments are closed.