Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2018

Hamilton extends points lead as Mercedes contain Ferrari

2018 Hungarian Grand Prix review

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“We were a little bit out of position for the speed that we had,” was Sebastian Vettel neat summary of Ferrari’s dilemma in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

A routine Formula 1 race usually involves the quickest cars qualifying on the front row and pulling away from the rest of the field while everyone complains that the racing isn’t very good. On this occasion Ferrari had the quicker car but failed to keep Mercedes from victory.

A win would have been a richly deserved result for the team in the first race weekend since the death of Sergio Marchionne, its former CEO who had done so much to restore it to the status of championship contenders. But for Vettel and his team mate, fate proved stubbornly disobliging, and Lewis Hamilton reaped the reward.

Mercedes withstand Ferrari’s first wave

Rain has decided the last two grands prix, though unlike in Hockenheim, not a drop fell on the Hungaroring during the race. Qualifying took place on an increasingly wet track, where to their surprise Mercedes found their car handled very well, Ferrari’s less so, and Red Bull’s surprisingly poorly.

Hamilton, showing the same mastery of the conditions he exhibited six days earlier in Germany, therefore led a Mercedes sweep of the front row. They were followed by the Kimi Raikkonen who, for the first time since the season-opener, out-qualified his team mate.

Start, Hungaroring, 2018
Ferrari couldn’t outmanoeuvre Mercedes at the start
As no drivers used slicks in Q2, the entire field had a free choice of tyre to start the race on. This made for an intriguing addition to the race build-up and eliminated the unfair practice of the top 10 being forced to start on old tyres, and is something the sport should seriously consider reintroducing.

Mercedes started on ultra-softs: They had to, to have any hope of keeping the Ferraris behind them. Raikkonen took ultra-softs to go on the attack, Vettel favoured soft tyres in the hope he could ‘overcut’ one or both of the Mercedes.

When the lights went out the Mercedes pair started well, but the Ferrari drivers went with them, the quartet running line astern down the middle of the track approaching turn one. Raikkonen ducked out from behind Bottas, choosing the outside line over the inside. But his speed advantage wasn’t enough to draw alongside, and he succeeded only in opening the door for his team mate. Vettel drove around the outside of him for second at turn three.

Mercedes had weathered the initial attack, however, and the rest of the race would be all about whether they could outrun the Ferraris.

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Mercedes react to Raikkonen

The track was a scorching 60C. And leader Hamilton, though quick in the wet, hadn’t been on Valtteri Bottas’s pace in the hot, dry conditions earlier in the weekend.

“From Friday to Saturday I made a big car change,” he said. “I was uncomfortable with the balance.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2018
Ferrari provoked Mercedes into pitting Bottas
“By the time I got to the end of P2 I realised it wasn’t the right direction so I had to pull back and go another way. We had a bit of running in P3 but the car still wasn’t perfect. And then it rained.”

In race trim, however, he was much stronger. The opening phase of a stint, when the fuel levels are highest, are when Pirelli’s tyres need the most careful management to prolong their life. Yet Hamilton was able to lap up to nine tenths of a second quicker than his pursuers while also stretching his first stint out to 25 laps.

After 10 laps, following a brief Virtual Safety Car period while Max Verstappen’s broken Red Bull was pushed away, Hamilton was four-and-a-half seconds clear of his team mate.

By now Vettel should have been in a position to close on Hamilton, but he had Bottas between him and the race leader. “Somewhere around lap eight, the soft tyres going to be faster than the ultra-soft,” said Hamilton. “But I was taking it quite easy on my tyres at the beginning.”

On lap 15 Ferrari brought Raikkonen in early, hoping to provoke a response from Mercedes. Raikkonen had been four seconds behind the Mercedes and a slow turnaround meant he rejoined the track behind Kevin Magnussen.

Mercedes immediately responded by bringing Bottas in. This seemed like an over-reaction: after a clean pit stop, he rejoined the track with six seconds in hand over Raikkonen. An extra lap or two at this stage could have made all the difference for him at the end of the race.

Vettel hits traffic

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Renault, Hungaroring, 2018
Scrapping Sainz and Ocon delayed Vettel
Now Vettel was free to attack Hamilton, but still he couldn’t close on the Mercedes as quickly as expected. “Sebastian had got clean air, then I was able to react to the times that he was putting in,” said Hamilton. “We were matching times, which we definitely didn’t expect.”

It took until lap 19 for Vettel to start taking serious time out of Hamilton’s lead. “There’s usually that crossover but I was able to match his times for a good period of time and that’s really what made the race.”

Mercedes brought Hamilton in for soft tyres on lap 25. Vettel pressed on, building a 25-second gap over Bottas by lap 34. But it was one lap before half-distance – a long way to take the ultra-softs if he pitted now, and he didn’t want to resort to the slower mediums. He had to press on, but that meant tackling lapped traffic, and he was now among the quick midfielders.

From laps 35 to 37 he lost around three seconds clearing lapped cars, including Carlos Sainz Jnr’s Renault and Esteban Ocon’s Force India. They all moved aside as quickly as the rules required, but the time loss around the sinuous curves of the Hungaroring was always going to be high.

He arrived in the pits on lap 39, now with barely enough time in hand to get in and out ahead of Bottas. But a slow front-left tyre change thwarted that: Bottas motored by into second place, and a Mercedes victory was now almost assured.

It wouldn’t be a one-two, however. The rear tyres took too great a pounding, and by lap 63 Bottas had both Ferraris filling his mirrors (Raikkonen having pitted twice), and Daniel Ricciardo catching them at up to 2.7 seconds per lap.

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Bottas hits Vettel

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2018
The pressure finally told on Bottas
Approaching turn one for the 66th time out of 70, Bottas feinted to the inside to cover a DRS-aided attack by Vettel. At the exit of the corner, the Ferrari’s superior traction told and Vettel was almost fully ahead by turn two. He swung in, Bottas took to the kerb, and dealt the Vettel’s left-rear tyre a blow with his front wing.

Raikkonen followed Vettel past Bottas, who’s front-right wing was badly damaged. Remarkably, Vettel’s tyres withstood the contact, and he motored on to second place.

Bottas has in the past been accused of lacking a racer’s instinct – most recently when he let Vettel by while scrapping for victory at Silverstone. On the occasion it wasn’t fight he lacked but finesse, and even more so when his old Formula Renault sparring partner Ricciardo appeared in his mirrors.

Hopelessly optimistic with his braking point while off-line on worn tyres with a broken wing, Bottas thumped into to the side of his rival. “Fuck”, muttered Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, to the consternation of Sky, who were carrying his words live at the time.

Mercedes advised Bottas to let Ricciardo by in the hope of avoiding a penalty. Ricciardo passed him anyway, and thought Bottas did take a 10-second sanction, it made no difference to his finishing position.

In the revised final classification Bottas finished 13 seconds ahead of Pierre Gasly, who impressively brought his Toro Rosso home on the lead lap, the final driver to do so. He had seized the chance to pass the soft-tyred Sainz by starting on ultra-softs. Kevin Magnussen ran a similar strategy to take seventh.

The Renault pair largely avoided the ultra-soft tyre and did not have good pace. This was bad news for anyone who got stuck behind their cars, notably Romain Grosjean and Brendon Hartley.

McLaren played a blinder: by leaving Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne out, both leapfrogged their way into the points. The luckless Vandoorne, however, succumbed to the team’s latest gearbox failure. Alonso, who turned 37 on race day, congratulated the team on a smart strategy, and commiserated with his struggling team mate. Vandoorne’s demise handed the final point to Grosjean.

Hamilton doubles up

Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2018
Vettel had to settle for second
if Hamilton’s German Grand Prix win was snatched from adversity, in Hungary the cards fell in his favour – especially on race day. But without his superb pole position lap on Saturday, it’s unlikely he would have been in a position to take his fifth victory of the year.

Ferrari’s fluffed pit stop probably robbed us of a much closer finish, though it’s doubtful Vettel would have had the performance edge to keep Hamilton under pressure. After the race Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said Bottas had played a perfect “wingman” role, which carried the unfortunate implication he’d been out doing Hamilton’s dirty work. Realistically, Vettel should never have ended up behind the second Mercedes after his pit stop.

Ferrari clearly has the quicker car at the moment and as things stand should have a significant performance advantage when the championship resumes at two ‘power circuits’. Vettel may have fallen 24 points behind Hamilton, but with 225 still available there is everything left to play for.

“Last year, we lost the championship I think because our car wasn’t quick enough to be a match in the final part of the season, despite what happened with the DNFs,” said Vettel afterwards.

“So I hope that this year, and I think this year has shown so far, that our car is more efficient, our car is stronger and still has a lot of potential to unleash.

“So I’m quite confident with what’s sitting in the pipeline that we can improve. It should be an exciting second part of the year…”

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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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41 comments on “Hamilton extends points lead as Mercedes contain Ferrari”

  1. Say what you will, but Hamilton is really taking the shine out of those 4 red bull titles. The last two seasons Vettel has had a championship capable car and keeps cracking up.

    1. Not last year. Last year’s car was more win-capable car, not champ-capable car. They had some races where they were fastest, but on most tracks Mercedes was still unbeatable. Plus, reliability too was worse than Mercedes.

      1. Not last year

        Sigh, Yes last year, definitely last year.

      2. Did Vettel cause his reliability issues by crashing and wrecking his car in Singapore & Malaysia? Also, Mercedes had their fair share of reliability woes too. IIRC, Hamilton, just like Vettel, had 3 races affected by relliability issues. Some like to conveniently sweep that fact under the carpet.

        Ferrari was faster in Spain, Monaco, Hungary, Spa, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore and equally as fast as Mercedes on some other tracks such as Australia. IIRC, experts such as Mark Hughes have Ferrari fastest in Australia (and indeed overall). Japan & Brazil difficult to assess who was faster in race trim because Vettel’s engine failed in Japan, while Hamilton crashed in qual & had a new engine fitted. So, in those races, it’s difficult to get an accurate measure. Overall, the 2017 Ferrari car was more than capable of challenging for the title. In fact, many within F1 assessed Ferrari to be the best car. I think the late Sergio Marchionne summed it up well. Speaking in 2017, he said the following of why they lost the title “it was a combination of, especially in the second half of the season, technical issues and driver error, or driver misjudgement.I think the second half revealed some structural weaknesses in the manner which we are managing this business. We regret not having done better, but the car is there. It is in my view probably the best car on the track today.”

      3. Yes, last year too. Ferrari had a great car in 2017, the best according to many in F1, but Vettel imploded. As for reliability, Hamilton had 3 races affected by reliability issues (as did Vettel). Plus, one could ask if Vettel crashing & wrecking his car in Singapore & Malaysia caused/contributed to his reliability issues. I think the late Sergio Marchionne summed 2017 up well. He said Ferrari had the best car in 2017, but just made too many errors – “it was a combination of, especially in the second half of the season, technical issues and driver error, or driver misjudgements. .I think the second half revealed some structural weaknesses in the manner which we are managing this business . We regret not having done better, but the car is there. It is in my view probably the best car on the track today.” (Marchionne, speaking in 2017).

      4. Hamilton had 3 races affected by reliability issues (as did Vettel). Plus, one could ask if Vettel crashing & wrecking his car in Singapore & Malaysia caused/contributed to his reliability issues. I think the late Sergio Marchionne summed 2017 up well. He said Ferrari had the best car in 2017, but just made too many errors – “it was a combination of, especially in the second half of the season, technical issues and driver error, or driver misjudgements. .I think the second half revealed some structural weaknesses in the manner which we are managing this business . We regret not having done better, but the car is there. It is in my view probably the best car on the track today.” (Marchionne, speaking in 2017).

        Ferrari had a car well capable of challenging for the title in 2017, Vettel just made too many errors

      5. Last year’s car was more win-capable car, not champ-capable car.

        Depends on how you look at it. The Ferrari 2010 and 2012 cars weren’t championship winning cars either, but Alonso managed to take the title race down to the wire in those two seasons. The 2017 car was definitely good enough to take to the last race, but Vettel didn’t really capitalise as much as he could. In 2018, again, it looks like he’s dropping the ball again.

    2. @ppzzus How long will he be able to resist those fast Ferrari, Mercedes better get their next upgrade right, otherwise in the long run Ferrari will simply win (lucky with the rain).

      1. Hamilton didn’t get lucky, he’s just significantly better in bad weather. See German GP too.

        1. He got lucky with the rain…. Mercedes didnt win the last 2 races on pure better performance… they had circumstances go their way which is on par for formula 1…Because the mercedes is better on the wet weather tire and vettel spun off track from the lead is why mercedes is ahead in the championship…. NOT Mercedes having the faster car….

          1. @Mark, having the best car when it rains is not luck, it’s a balanced package. Mercedes still have the best car in wet conditions and are neck to neck with Ferrari in race trim, Ferrari got the jump in qualifying. That sums it up. I think Mercedes are going to introduce an upgraded engine for SPA or Monza and then use their current engine for tracks like Singapore to complete its 7 races.

          2. In Germany Vettel succumbed to the pressure Hamilton put on him. He knew Lewis was closing fast and that rattled him. So it wasn’t lucky for Lewis Seb crashed. Lewis forced him to crash. In Hungary, it rained for everyone. Lewis took advantage, Seb didn’t. No luck involved.

          3. @greenflag If further proof is needed, last season Hamilton turned around Vettel’s lead in the championship at Monza by qualifying well ahead in heavy rain (Vettel in 8th, after Raikkonen in 7th, similar pattern). That was followed by a wet track at the start of the Singapore GP, when Vettel collided with Verstappen and Raikkonen, and Hamilton went through to win. Strong echoes of last year.

          4. Yep definitely gets Mark point, Merc we’re lucky it rained as Hamilton is so good in the wet, a dry race Ferrari win by a lot. Merc need to get that car better if we’re to have a closer fight post summer break (non rain affected)

          5. @mark

            how do you sleep at night knowing well that Hamilton just crushed Vettel’s hopes in the wet in Germany, and even in the dry, He just cruised without sweating, where as your “fastest” drivers barely could overtake Bottas, in much better tyres and faster set up Ferrari? It is just that much sweeter to beat fast looking Ferrari. Just like Vettel was mocking them a few races ago… What goes around comes around…

            Mercedes playing the long game, where as Ferrari trying the rush game which is messing Vettel’s head, and causing headaches left n right… Ferrari are the lucky ones actually not Mercs! Depending on how you look at it, luck changed Mercedes’ 3-4 races while dominating… We have yet to see Ferrari really dominate any race without a sweat…

            Just deal with it Mark, Merc are just better cars, Ferrari got lucky few races… Merc after this will be notching up their PU…

    3. Martijn (@)
      31st July 2018, 13:21

      @ppzzus Absolutely and rightfully so

  2. We can do without the HAM vs VET comparisons please for once. So tiring reading the same comments from the same people every time in every post. Its like an addiction for some on here, they cant refrain from spewing their biased opinions everytime HAM/VET is mentioned.

    Sorry I hijacked your comment for my rant.

    1. Neil (@neilosjames)
      30th July 2018, 20:22

      +1 to this.

    2. ColdFly (@)
      30th July 2018, 20:26

      thanks @lums, fully agree.

    3. @lums Tiresome indeed, and on top of that add the ‘Mercedes’ car was better than Ferrari’s last year, No it wasn’t! Yes it was!’ Circular argument (depending on bias). It can be wearisome scrolling past some of the comment threads to find sanity, and troubling to see some sensible long term posters biting at the troll bait!

      1. Neil (@neilosjames)
        30th July 2018, 21:34

        I love that ‘best car’ argument, because it’s pretty much the only time – in any sport – we get to witness fans of each team insisting that their team did a worse job.

        1. we get to witness fans of each team insisting that their team did a worse job

          McLaren fans have got to get something out of the season right?

          1. Zing!

    4. YellowSubmarine
      30th July 2018, 21:44

  3. Lewis Hamilton was voted by team principals in 2017 to be the best driver and for the first half of 2018, i am sure their opinion (expert opinion) would not have changed. In a car which is definitely lacking against the Ferrari, he is leading the World championship even though he had a DNF (Engine issue) and his chief rival is enjoying bullet proof reliability so far.
    Still Mercedes need to raise their game especially on the engine side post summer break as Ferrari’s engine advantage is beginning to look very threatening even if both of their drivers have been very average so far this season.

    1. Lewis Hamilton was voted by team principals in 2017 to be the best driver

      Pretty sure he’s got that vote for like 3 or 4 years in a row now.

  4. About the “wingman” comment, I’m sure Bottas understand his position, realistically, he’s never going to return to a championship fight that he should be contesting. He had a great start of the season, but it’s hard to keep momentum when things don’t go right. A safety car gave Ricciardo a win that looked his in China, a piece of debris stopped him in Baku, Vettel got in teh way in France, and right there you have a potential 40 points lost down the drain through no fault from his own. He should be right there with Vettel, but he isn’t, and understandably Mercedes has to use him, because it’s their only chance to beat Ferrari this year. It’s not that Bottas was hired as a number two, but the circumstances led him to that position.

    1. Mercedes doesn’t pay Hamilton 5X Bottas’s salary/bonus package so Bottas can beat him.

      1. @greenflag what I mean is that they still give him the best option to win. If he makes it or not, that’s another matter and it could be the reason why Hamilton gets paid 5 times more than Bottas, because he delivers. That and the fact that he can ask whatever money he wants because he’s a 4 time world champion, all time record polesitter and so on… that also influences in the salaries!

      2. Green flag
        They pay Hamilton 5x bottas’s salary because he is a 4 times world champion, a better driver, and I might add, better for their brand.

    2. and understandably Mercedes has to use him

      Except Mercedes ran the best race for Bottas, they didn’t use him for Hamilton. If that was the plan they never would have pitted him when Raikkonen pitted.

      1. Bottas’s strategy was clearly sub-optimal, as he pitted way too early. Pitting him later would not only give him a better strategy, it would also slow down Vettel for a few more laps. Covering Räikkönen was just a bad strategy call.

        1. Covering Räikkönen was just a bad strategy call

          Exactly. That’s my point, Bottas was running his own race Merc weren’t using him for Hamilton’s benefit.

          1. Like you said, if Mercedes were using Bottas as a blocker to help Lewis, they would’ve kept him long enough so that Lewis could build a much bigger lead during his first stint.

            Bottas was just slow on Sunday, it’s that simple.

  5. Great summary of the race Keith!

    1. Yes thank you @keithcollantine, I now will have some idea of what is going on when I watch the so-called “Hilights”, which usually consists of the 1st and last 15% of the race interspersed with +- 20 mins. of adverts, all with the original (poor) unedited commentary which is totally lacking in continuity and detail.
      If you are reading this “Liberty” please do just a little bit to make this program worth watching, at the moment it’s more likely to put new viewers off F1 than it is to get them interested.

      1. @hohum You mean the highlights from FOM on Youtube? I never have adverts on those.

        I do wonder about the accuracy of the timing of radio messages though, but inevitably they can’t always put those on the right times when they show only a bit of footage.

        1. @patrickl, No, not youtube, the miserable FTA broadcast from the badly managed Australian TV network that used to show the races live but sold those rights to the Murdoch cable channel. As I described, the Hgp went start-lap 8 (or 9) to lap 54 for a couple of laps, then laps 64 to 70 without any indication other than the lap counter in top left corner of screen, this directly cut from the live Sky coverage including the live commentary, which naturally assumed the viewer had seen things they were talking about but without explanation of how and why places had changed. The old “Movietone” newsreel 10 minute race reports we used to see at the movies in the 1950s were far more informative.

          1. @hohum Heh ok. Well watch the official Formula 1 feed highlights then. Also from the Sky feed, but I never felt confused by them. Pretty sure they shower more laps than that too.

  6. Hamilton had a DNF while running for fourth place after that strategic error on Austria and lost the Bahrein Grand Prix before it even started, with that 5 places penalty for a gearbox change.

    Vettel has perfect reliability until now on a slightly (sometimes more than that) faster car and the only penalty he got was to hold Sainz on his flying lap on Austria.

    The lead is deserved.

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