Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Hungaroring, 2019

Why Verstappen could be vulnerable on starts and strategy

2019 Hungarian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Having captured pole position at the Hungaroring, a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult, Max Verstappen is the obvious favourite to take victory on Sunday.

But there are two key ways the Red Bull driver could be vulnerable to the Mercedes pair lined up behind him on the grid.

The first challenge will come at the start. Verstappen’s getaways have not been great in recent races. He lost five places on lap one in Austria and two in Germany. Granted, he then went on to win both races, but recovering positions will not be so easy in Hungary. He worked on Red Bull’s practice starts again on Friday – expect to see him doing a few more on his pre-race reconnaissance runs on Sunday.

Even if he gets away reasonably well, Verstappen will have the straight-line speed of the Mercedes to contend with on the long, 600-metre run to the first corner. He may need the full range of his ample portfolio of defensive moves for this one.

In a similar vein, while Red Bull have a reputation for being one of the most strategically sharp teams in the pit lane, and dazzlingly fast when it comes to replacing four sets of wheels, that is likely to be tested to its limit on Sunday as well.

With Pierre Gasly typically mired at the back end of the six front-running cars, Verstappen doesn’t have a ‘wingman’ to help him out at the front of the field. Lewis Hamilton, who will start third behind the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, sees that as an opportunity.

“We’re in a good position in terms of working as a team tomorrow,” he said. “We’re in a fortunate position, potentially, if we can hold on to Max to be able to work together to pull him closer to us and give him a bit of a run for his money.

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Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Hungaroring, 2019
Mercedes can mount a two-pronged attack
“It’s a little bit harder when you’re on your own at the front in the team, because you can come under attack from undercuts and all this sort of thing. We’ll see how that plays out but we’ve got a long run down to turn one so hopefully we will have a nice long battle down there and then after that it’s down to team tactics.”

The classic approach for Mercedes will be to pit one driver early and the other one late. The first driver will have the opportunity to get ahead by running the new tyres first and ‘undercutting’ Verstappen; the other will be well-placed in the event of a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car, and might even be able to attack harder later in the race with the benefit of fresher tyres.

But this, of course, assumes Mercedes will be quick enough over a race stint to keep up with Verstappen. If not, and Verstappen can take his third win in four races, it will underline Red Bull-Honda’s emergence as the major new threat to the world champions.

Rain on Friday and a final practice session which was disrupted due to oil on the track has made it harder than usual to get a read on teams’ race pace. The Ferrari drivers fear they aren’t quite on the level of Mercedes and the lead Red Bull, but hotter conditions could play into their hands on race day.

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Max VerstappenRed Bull1’15.8171’15.573 (-0.244)1’14.572 (-1.001)
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’16.0781’15.669 (-0.409)1’14.590 (-1.079)
3Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’16.0681’15.548 (-0.520)1’14.769 (-0.779)
4Charles LeclercFerrari1’16.3371’15.792 (-0.545)1’15.043 (-0.749)
5Sebastian VettelFerrari1’16.4521’15.885 (-0.567)1’15.071 (-0.814)
6Pierre GaslyRed Bull1’16.7161’16.393 (-0.323)1’15.450 (-0.943)
7Lando NorrisMcLaren1’16.6971’16.060 (-0.637)1’15.800 (-0.260)
8Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren1’16.4931’16.308 (-0.185)1’15.852 (-0.456)
9Romain GrosjeanHaas1’16.9781’16.319 (-0.659)1’16.013 (-0.306)
10Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’16.5061’16.518 (+0.012)1’16.041 (-0.477)
11Nico HulkenbergRenault1’16.7901’16.565 (-0.225)
12Alexander AlbonToro Rosso1’16.9121’16.687 (-0.225)
13Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’16.7501’16.692 (-0.058)
14Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’16.8941’16.804 (-0.090)
15Kevin MagnussenHaas1’16.1221’17.081 (+0.959)
16George RussellWilliams1’17.031
17Sergio PerezRacing Point1’17.109
18Daniel RicciardoRenault1’17.257
19Lance StrollRacing Point1’17.542
20Robert KubicaWilliams1’18.324

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Max Verstappen27.095 (4)26.456 (2)21.021 (1)
Valtteri Bottas27.079 (3)26.411 (1)21.100 (3)
Lewis Hamilton27.228 (5)26.488 (3)21.053 (2)
Charles Leclerc27.036 (2)26.553 (4)21.454 (6)
Sebastian Vettel26.918 (1)26.793 (5)21.360 (5)
Pierre Gasly27.330 (8)26.809 (6)21.169 (4)
Lando Norris27.284 (7)26.905 (9)21.565 (8)
Carlos Sainz Jnr27.279 (6)27.013 (10)21.560 (7)
Romain Grosjean27.457 (11)26.861 (8)21.660 (10)
Kimi Raikkonen27.361 (9)27.107 (12)21.571 (9)
Nico Hulkenberg27.422 (10)27.333 (16)21.663 (11)
Alexander Albon27.554 (14)27.191 (14)21.796 (13)
Daniil Kvyat27.626 (15)27.085 (11)21.843 (14)
Antonio Giovinazzi27.526 (13)27.276 (15)21.849 (15)
Kevin Magnussen27.525 (12)26.813 (7)21.756 (12)
George Russell27.827 (19)27.147 (13)22.057 (18)
Sergio Perez27.674 (17)27.478 (18)21.957 (16)
Daniel Ricciardo27.807 (18)27.404 (17)21.962 (17)
Lance Stroll27.666 (16)27.723 (19)22.100 (19)
Robert Kubica28.026 (20)27.896 (20)22.390 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari315.6 (196.1)
2Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari315.2 (195.9)-0.4
3Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari313.1 (194.6)-2.5
4Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari312.6 (194.2)-3.0
5Lando NorrisMcLarenRenault312.1 (193.9)-3.5
6Nico HulkenbergRenaultRenault311.7 (193.7)-3.9
7Daniil KvyatToro RossoHonda311.2 (193.4)-4.4
8Alexander AlbonToro RossoHonda310.0 (192.6)-5.6
9Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari310.0 (192.6)-5.6
10Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes309.9 (192.6)-5.7
11Daniel RicciardoRenaultRenault309.9 (192.6)-5.7
12Carlos Sainz JnrMcLarenRenault309.9 (192.6)-5.7
13Lance StrollRacing PointMercedes309.7 (192.4)-5.9
14Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes309.3 (192.2)-6.3
15Sergio PerezRacing PointMercedes308.8 (191.9)-6.8
16George RussellWilliamsMercedes308.6 (191.8)-7.0
17Max VerstappenRed BullHonda307.5 (191.1)-8.1
18Robert KubicaWilliamsMercedes307.2 (190.9)-8.4
19Pierre GaslyRed BullHonda306.6 (190.5)-9.0
20Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari306.2 (190.3)-9.4

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Over to you

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

2019 Hungarian Grand Prix

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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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14 comments on “Why Verstappen could be vulnerable on starts and strategy”

  1. Traditionally the Hungaroring has had a big difference between the clean and dirty side of the grid at starts, although I think it may not be so big this year with the weather and the tarmac. Couple that with Verstappen’s poor starts and Hamilton would be in prime position to take the lead before the first corner, but if Max really struggled off the line he could block Hamilton and let Bottas in. Either way, unless Red Bull have improved their starts, I do not see Max keeping the lead at the start.

    1. True, yet it may not matter as he has lately been an absolute pit bull even after a blown start. In other words, no reason to count Max out if he has another bad start, or if the might of Merc wins the drag race to turn one. But for sure RBR need to get on top of their starts, and it’s not like this has been happening all season. Max usually starts very well and has been making wise decisions in the initial corners.

      1. Max usually starts very well

        No he doesn’t. He either bogs down and loses places, or he has an ‘ok’ start and then makes up places during the first lap. I have never seen him jump off the starting line like a Hamilton or Alonso can.

    2. I think it may not be so big this year with the weather and the tarmac.

      Looking at the excellent start by De vries form pole F2 who ran on the dirt just before the first corner and lost the race there, i am not so sure about that.

      1. Max will not have a poor start today and will lead from start to finish. The offset means Bottas won’t be a factor into turn one and both Mercedes will be fighting each other into T1 giving Max a bit of a breathing space.

        After that Max will simply drive away from the field, the Red Bull is good enough around here for him not to have to worry about strategy.

        In fact I think Max may have enough of an advantage for a “free” stop near the end so he can grab fastest lap as well.

  2. The biggest issue for verstappen is that his starts have been really poor in the last few races. His best recent start is from silverstone where he held on to his 4th position. In all other recent races he has lost positions.

  3. Clearly Honda ratcheting up the engine during the season has led Red Bull to not quite grasping the power curves at starts. It was a clear focus for Verstappen in the practices. Hopefully for him they have a better understanding of the Honda engine in its current state and he gets away fine.
    He will be aided by being on the clean side (support races have shown this to be key all weekend) and the fast starting Ferrari’s swamping the Mercs could lead to them having to defend more than they attack. Either way the start tomorrow could, as it does surprisingly often, make for a totally anticlimactic race.

  4. Roughly 580-582 meters actually, but close enough.

  5. I also think two issues will be important:
    – As Keith points out, no rear gunner at Red Bull.
    – Verstappen had a pretty much flawless lap, Bottas didn’t, yet difference was only 0.018. Merc probably still the faster car. Might simply be a case of the inevitable overtake.

    1. Jelle van der Meer (@)
      4th August 2019, 8:59

      True – Mercedes should have been on pole as they have the faster qualifying car. However as we have seen most of the season Red Bull is closer to Mercedes on Sunday than on Saturday. This time Max is ahead on Saturday so I expect him to be equal today.

      We have also seen Max being better on tyres and if he gets through 1st corner first has free air.

      Best scenario for Max is to have Bottas behind him then Lewis as Lewis is better at overtaking than Bottas.

      1. Indeed, so even if RBR do stop early to prevent an undercut they will be able to keep the tires and the pace during the longer second stint, whilst keeping track position.

        Plus in dirty air the Merc is even worse than other cars.

        I really feel that if either Merc can’t get past VER at the start, the race is VER’s.

    2. Not in race trim, Red Bull are quickest. We’ve seen pretty much all season Red Bull are 2-3 tenths per lap quicker in race trim vs Qually compared to Mercedes due to them not having a proper “party mode” although maybe they do have one now? They were on the pace in qually so expect an advantage in race pace.

      I expect Max to pull away at 2-3 tenths per lap or more.

  6. Great pole. Congratulations Max for the driving, RB for the chassis & Honda for the engine. Let’s have no more talk of Max not having a competitive car. Hungaroring’s sectors clearly separate the car elements of handling, downforce & power. The Skypad side by side playback of Max & Bottas’ cars proves there is absolutely nothing in it.

  7. If the top 3 get away in the current order I can see Max pulling away from Bottas, with Hamilton hounding Bottas in the first stint. Will Mercedes order Bottas to let him through?

    Or, if Max leads and the two Mercs stay close I think the P2 car will go for the undercut, forcing Max to pit while the 2nd Merc plays the long game and goes for fresher tyres at the end of the race.

    Either way, I can see Merc team orders being a factor in this race, and they might need to use them to have a chance (and not waste time discussing it mid-race – agree the strategies beforehand)

Comments are closed.