Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2021

Will Red Bull prise victory from Mercedes’ grasp with soft tyre strategy?

2021 Hungarian Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Two weeks on from the drama of Silverstone, the different strategies adopted by Mercedes and Red Bull have set up what could be another explosive start.

Unlike the other eight drivers in Q3, Mercedes’ drivers both went through Q2 on medium tyres, which they will start on. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez behind them will start the Hungarian Grand Prix on the red-walled soft compound.

On paper, that seems like an obvious advantage to Mercedes who will be able to run longer and harder in the first stint. But they’ve got to keep their track position advantage first.

As Lewis Hamilton noted, the soft tyre is worth around five metres on the approach to turn one from a grid start. Verstappen and Perez will therefore be eyeing the possibility of a slipstream from their rivals to the first corner.

Toto Wolff is concerned about the deficit his drivers would face. “We have a disadvantage off the line, so we need to be clever with the start,” he said.

Even without a tyre disadvantage, Hamilton’s starts haven’t tended to be as good as Verstappen’s this year – the one which prompted the Silverstone crash being a notable exception. Generally, Verstappen has seemed quicker off the line – like in the sprint qualifying session at Silverstone.

The start will, of course, be especially crucial given the Hungaroring’s general lack of overtaking opportunities. Verstappen has made it very clear what he thinks of any further speculation about how he and Hamilton will race each other, while team mate Perez said he wouldn’t be interested in anything happening between them. “For me tomorrow is a race that I look forward to having the best start of the year and then try to get as many places as possible and do my own race,” he said.

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Hungaroring, 2021
Alonso expects trouble at the first corner
Fernando Alonso, who starts ninth, predicted first-lap fireworks ahead of him, noting Pierre Gasly’s strong qualifying position in fifth and the fast-starting Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc behind the AlphaTauri. Sure enough, Gasly vowed to “elbows out” in order to keep Norris and Leclerc behind him, which is vital for his strategy.

“We know on pure pace the two top teams should pull away and we should have some free air,” Gasly explained. “So the start will be extremely important for us.

“We usually manage the tyre better, it’s not always the case. For sure, if we have the clean air, that’s going to be a big difference.”

Contrary to the forecast, the very hot conditions seen on Friday persisted into Saturday. The official FIA weather forecast gives a 60% chance of thunderstorms on Sunday, but as we’ve seen before if these do not materialise another punishingly hot afternoon is likely.

This may edge drivers away from the usual one-stop strategy into two-stop territory. That will come down to how they manage their tyres, and whether the pit wall succumbs to the temptation to bring them in for an early pit stop in an attempt to jump ahead of a rival, or risks leaving them out longer.

Assuming the top four starters are still in the top four places at the end of lap one, Mercedes and Red Bull will face similar strategic choices. “If it is a two-stop then it doesn’t make a great difference whether you start on the soft or on the medium,” said Wolff.

Gallery: 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying day in pictures
Red Bull “have two drivers that are right there too,” he noted, “so it isn’t an advantage of ours to have Valtteri and Lewis in the top four, because they have too.”

“It’s all going to depend on who keeps the tyres alive the longest,” agrees Esteban Ocon, “and who makes the less damage on them with the track temperature how it’s going to be.”

Ocon starts eighth, on soft tyres. Only two rows behind him is Lance Stroll, who qualified twelfth but like Daniel Ricciardo in eleventh has free starting tyre choice. Although if either decide to run a hard stint off the line – a tactic Aston Martin have played with Stroll before when he’s qualified relatively low on the grid – they may suffer with tyre warm-up on the first lap. If they can survive that, the pay-off should come in being able to run longer than their rivals.

Pirelli say that a medium-hard one-stop strategy should be completely possible. However, they also say that a soft-hard strategy would be feasible, if likely slower. Intriguingly, Gasly did a 22-lap stint on soft tyres during Friday practice, the longest of any driver on that rubber, which may embolden Red Bull to risk a one-stop.

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’16.4241’16.553 (+0.129)1’15.419 (-1.134)
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’16.5691’16.702 (+0.133)1’15.734 (-0.968)
3Max VerstappenRed Bull1’16.2141’15.650 (-0.564)1’15.840 (+0.190)
4Sergio PerezRed Bull1’17.2331’16.443 (-0.790)1’16.421 (-0.022)
5Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’16.8741’16.394 (-0.480)1’16.483 (+0.089)
6Lando NorrisMcLaren1’17.0811’16.385 (-0.696)1’16.489 (+0.104)
7Charles LeclercFerrari1’17.0841’16.574 (-0.510)1’16.496 (-0.078)
8Esteban OconAlpine1’17.3671’16.766 (-0.601)1’16.653 (-0.113)
9Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’17.1231’16.541 (-0.582)1’16.715 (+0.174)
10Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’17.1051’16.794 (-0.311)1’16.750 (-0.044)
11Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’17.6641’16.871 (-0.793)
12Lance StrollAston Martin1’17.0381’16.893 (-0.145)
13Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’17.5531’17.564 (+0.011)
14Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’17.7761’17.583 (-0.193)
15Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’16.649
16Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’17.919
17George RussellWilliams1’17.944
18Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’18.036
19Nikita MazepinHaas1’18.922
20Mick SchumacherHaas

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton27.355 (1)26.702 (1)21.362 (1)
Valtteri Bottas27.369 (2)26.882 (3)21.369 (2)
Max Verstappen27.430 (3)26.825 (2)21.382 (3)
Sergio Perez27.604 (4)27.290 (10)21.456 (4)
Pierre Gasly27.681 (6)27.070 (6)21.540 (5)
Lando Norris27.667 (5)26.980 (4)21.724 (11)
Charles Leclerc27.697 (8)27.028 (5)21.655 (9)
Esteban Ocon27.800 (13)27.129 (9)21.622 (8)
Fernando Alonso27.746 (11)27.103 (8)21.601 (6)
Sebastian Vettel27.729 (10)27.382 (12)21.605 (7)
Daniel Ricciardo27.756 (12)27.336 (11)21.779 (12)
Lance Stroll27.703 (9)27.430 (13)21.685 (10)
Kimi Raikkonen27.830 (14)27.597 (14)22.056 (16)
Antonio Giovinazzi27.975 (15)27.606 (15)21.899 (14)
Carlos Sainz Jnr27.684 (7)27.080 (7)21.885 (13)
Yuki Tsunoda28.118 (17)27.787 (17)22.014 (15)
George Russell28.124 (18)27.673 (16)22.147 (17)
Nicholas Latifi27.976 (16)27.845 (18)22.166 (18)
Nikita Mazepin28.238 (19)28.037 (19)22.472 (19)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari309.4 (192.3)
2Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari309.1 (192.1)-0.3
3Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes307.4 (191.0)-2.0
4Nikita MazepinHaasFerrari307.2 (190.9)-2.2
5Sergio PerezRed BullHonda306.6 (190.5)-2.8
6Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes305.3 (189.7)-4.1
7Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes305.2 (189.6)-4.2
8Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes304.3 (189.1)-5.1
9Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes304.3 (189.1)-5.1
10Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes304.2 (189.0)-5.2
11George RussellWilliamsMercedes303.8 (188.8)-5.6
12Max VerstappenRed BullHonda303.8 (188.8)-5.6
13Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari303.2 (188.4)-6.2
14Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes303.1 (188.3)-6.3
15Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari302.2 (187.8)-7.2
16Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda300.0 (186.4)-9.4
17Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault299.4 (186.0)-10.0
18Esteban OconAlpineRenault298.9 (185.7)-10.5
19Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda297.2 (184.7)-12.2

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Over to you

Who’s going to win the final race before the summer break? Will we see more drama between the title contenders? And can Gasly win the midfield fight?

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

2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Browse all 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix articles

Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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29 comments on “Will Red Bull prise victory from Mercedes’ grasp with soft tyre strategy?”

  1. For the strategy to work for RB they really need Max to be leading by the end of lap 1. Preferably with Perez in second. If that happens they can manage the pace to make the softs last. It will be pretty hot so it’s still possible that a two stop may be necessary. Turn 1 tomorrow will be spicy…

    1. They can have Max park it in sector two every lap, if they are ahead. Then have Perez make an early stop for hards so he stays in Mercedes pit window forever. As in France. That depends on whether they can get gasly et. al out of their own window in time, which is harder if you go slow.

    2. Rob (@realnigelmansell)
      1st August 2021, 3:26

      It’s easy to say this but max will have to be very lucky to get into p1 by the end of the first lap. That being said it’s been a while since a safety car has impacted a race so I think that’s rb’s best hope in combination with a less grippy track following overnight rain. If max gets p2 and ham p1 with fl championship will be tied going into the break, assuming f1 is wrestling I imagine the writers couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that :)

      1. Did it really rain? also whats the weather forcast for today? as if it gets hot then RBR are in serious trouble as rains would have taken care of old rubber and hotter temps will be harder on soft tyres.

        1. F3 running on full wets right now.

          1. Saw the update from F1 about the rains.

  2. If the two Mercedes work together neither RB will be able to pass them into Turn 1.

    1. And they usually do, I don’t remember any problems for them when starting 1-2, unlike ferrari.

      1. Rob (@realnigelmansell)
        1st August 2021, 3:27

        2020 silverstone 2. Ofc this time it looks like merc is on the best strategy and not rb

        1. You missed my point: verstappen won silverstone 2 through a car that managed car better than mercedes, not certainly by overtaking them at the start. My point is: when ferraris start 1-2 they can crash, lose places at start etc., not with mercedes yet, they usually coordinate a starting strategy that doesn’t allow any overtakes, I hope this comes to an end, but that’s what I noticed so far.

          1. Given what’s at stakes, I think Wolff asked the team to hold position for lap one and keep first and second, then see how the race pans out.

  3. This was not a soft tire “strategy.” Not even Max was comfortable with getting through to Q3 on medium tires, so he had no choice but to use the soft . Even if Max gets into the lead, he will struggle mightily with tire degradation throughout the race on every stint. Mercedes doesn’t even have to run the softs and can simply go hard for a one stop or medium-hard on a two.

    Reply moderated
  4. The answer is “yes (, please)!”.

  5. Yes, RB 1-2 today. I predict Mercedes the only team with Medium at front could be losing 3-4 positions at the start to others.

    1. Rob (@realnigelmansell)
      1st August 2021, 3:29

      No way on earth this will happen, m8. Merc was faster in quali and so far this season has been even faster in race trim

      1. Yes, according to my evaluations red bull still has more qualifying sessions where they had the faster car (which doesn’t mean pole, check imola), but in race trim I consider them even, and with such a quali advantage for merc I’m not optimist (meaning verstappen’s max goal in a normal race would be beating bottas).

    2. @papaya No way they’d lose that many positions if they get ideal getaways.

  6. Max has been fairly poor this season in qually tbh thrown alot of poles away. Imola, Baku and today.

    Reply moderated
    1. Spain was similar to Hungary too. He was faster in the second run when everyone else was slower. He should have used that full speed in the first run.

  7. Red Bull may have an advantage starting from standstill and on lap 1, but the advantage shifts to Mercedes further into the opening stint, so the outcome depends on track positions over the early laps.

  8. Hope whatever strategy they choose for Danny Ric it works better than starting 10th on the soft. Miss seeing the biggest grin in F1. Tough season for him in the McLaren – maybe borrow Lando’s simracer setup over the break.

    1. @jimmi-cynic Ricciardo’s quallys have been mostly rubbish this year, but he has been making some really good starts. He needs to jump Vettel and Alonso at the start, luckily Raikkonen is behind he is hard to pass.

  9. No way the softs gonna work. Both mercs will defend like crazy off the line in tandem, Lewis doesn’t need to worry about loosing P1 to Valteri as he would be ordered to give it back later whenever it suits them. Its Merc 1-2 at best and possibly Max p2 if he gets the chance. I think Max should play it smart here, don’t risk too much tomorrow, come back strong after the break.

    Reply moderated
  10. No, I dont see RB moving up in the field. Especially not Perez who will lose ground to Lando probably. Pity Pirelli took away tue championship fight. But as always not surprised by the dominant role of the tyres. The season might be over following the latest change.

  11. Raining now, dark clouds and F3 believed to be starting under safety car. Should be dry for the race, but no idea what it will be temp wise.

  12. 5 metres advantage by turn 1 has to be put in perspective: the Mercedes is 5.8 metres long and P3 is 16 metres behind P1…

    1. There is also the tow you get from P1. But yes: it’s a narrow track, with a short sprint to T1 so it will be hard for the bulls.

  13. 26% on this weather sites’ forecast. Worth a bookmark this site.

  14. The merc strategy.
    Lewis will defend aggressively max and let bottas take the lead.
    Depending on track position during the first stage they will call in Lewis first to undercut bottas.
    If this works, Redbull have a hard time.

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