F1: Things we learned from the Hungarian GP with Lewis Hamilton being pushed to the limit
Formula One fans were treated to a classic at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday when Esteban Ocon claimed his, as well as Alpine’s, first victory following a chaotic race.
The Frenchman took advantage of a wet start which led to chaos at the first corner due to Valtteri Bottas taking out McLaren’s Lando Norris and consequentially both Red Bull drivers before holding off Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin to seal first place.
But there was drama throughout the field, with the title lead changing hands, drivers picking up their first points and even old veterans showing age is no factor. Here are the things we learned from the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Esteban Ocon (holding the pit board) celebrates winning the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday
Hamilton being pushed all the way
Lewis Hamilton should have been pleased with his initial third place finish in Hungary, having battled back from last place following a strategy error before just missing out on victory after being crucially held up by Fernando Alonso in his pursuit for first.
With Vettel’s fuel infringement bumping him up to second, it ensured he went into the summer break by taking the lead in the world championship by eight points from Mas Verstappen.
But Hamilton looked drained post race and complained of dizziness and fatigue before revealing he has been suffering from Long Covid.
The seven-time world champion contracted Covid-19 late last season, causing him to miss the Sakhir Grand Prix.
Such is the nature of one of the most closely fought title battles in recent years, Hamilton is being forced to scrap on the limit at each race and it appears that some of that effort is catching up with him, even if his extraordinary performances are still being pumped out and at the very least are masking his struggles.
The summer break will give him a chance to refresh in time for a 12-race slog to end the campaign, and it remains to be seen just how long the Brit can keep going all guns blazing.
Lewis Hamilton was left exhausted and dizzy following his podium finish at the Hungaroring
F1 punishments need a rethink
Although the Hungarian Grand Prix stewards could only act within the rule book, the punishments that have been handed out recently raise questions whether they actually fit the crime.
Vettel was disqualified from second in Budapest due to his Aston Martin’s inability to provide a one-litre sample after effectively running out of fuel post race.
Considering neither Vettel nor the team were proven to have done anything wrong – a disqualification seems an incredibly harsh punishment. It assumes they are guilty of cheating before being proved innocent.
Vettel is not first to fall foul of this rule and while some form of punishment does seem fair for the breach, other penalties have seemed lenient in comparison.
For instance, Bottas was clearly at fault for triggering a multi-car pile up at the start of Hungarian Grand Prix, but his only punishment will be a five-place grid drop at the next race in Belgium. A rules rethink is needed.
Sebastian Vettel was disqualified after his Aston Martin car was unable to provide a satisfactory fuel sample following his second place finish
Bottas was collateral damage to his own crash
Bottas’s race was already over when he failed to judge braking into turn one and crashed into McLaren’s Norris in the process.
In doing so he also ruined the races of many drivers around him including the Brit as well as Red Bull duo Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
His aforementioned grid drop at the next race for his error meant he didn’t totally escape the incident with just a ‘Did not finish’, with his crash enabling Mercedes to pull out advantages in both world championships.
But the collateral damage to the Finn could extend further, with his future unclear at the team beyond this season.
With no wins and constantly well off the pace of his team-mate Hamilton, Mercedes may feel they could have better options as a No 2 driver for the Brit, and one of them had an excellent result in Budapest…
Valtteri Bottas’s place at Mercedes is unclear beyond the end of the current campaign
The Finn (left) triggered a multi-car pile up at the start of Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix
Russell finally meets Lady Luck
George Russell has had awful luck while driving for Williams, with poor reliability more often than not ruining his chances of picking up rare points for the team who before Sunday had only scored one point since the end of 2018.
Russell picked up his first points in F1 last season in a one-off drive for Mercedes with a ninth place finish – but even that came following a botched pit-stop out of his control and then a puncture which ultimately cost him victory in Sakhir.
But his eighth place result ended his Williams drought on Sunday, a result that left him in tears, with Williams collecting 10 points overall following Nicholas Latifi’s seventh place finish.
After the race he admitted that following numerous set-backs, his first Williams points were an emotional occasion.
George Russell helped take Williams’ first points in over two years at the Hungarian Grand Prix
‘I literally shed a tear earlier, I don’t know literally where it came from; it all just came flooding out,’ he said on the F1 TV Post-Race Show. ‘It does mean so much more than just scoring points. When you’ve been fighting for this for so long, at one point you just think: is it ever going to happen?
‘When the situation in Imola happened [when he crashed out after tangling with Bottas], when I was in Austria – P8 – and… was breaking down, then Fernando passing me a few laps to the end.
‘And then with Silverstone, getting the penalty – maybe deserved, maybe it wasn’t – I felt like today was probably [going to make up for it] and we’re probably even on the luck side of things, and I guess we really capitalised.’
Russell though nearly suffered another late heartbreak in Budapest – with luck finally coming towards him after his car appeared to have just enough fuel to cross the line and then provide a sample to the stewards for a standard post-race check.
Either way, it was another supreme drive from the Brit, who is on Mercedes’ radar as their development driver to replace Bottas next term.
The Brit celebrates his points finish along with Nicholas Latifi, who finished one place higher – before both benefitted from Vettel’s disqualification
Red Bull irritated by Mercedes
Since winning the Austrian Grand Prix where Verstappen extended his world championship lead to 32 points, Red Bull have only scored two points from as many races – and very little of it has been their fault.
Verstappen was taken out by Hamilton at the British Grand Prix that followed, while Bottas’s error wiped out both Red Bull cars at the start in Budapest, retiring Perez and forcing Verstappen to limp home in ninth with a badly damaged car.
The two races mean Verstappen’s commanding lead has gone up in smoke as he now trails Hamilton by eight points, while Mercedes now lead the constructors’ championship.
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff offered his apologies to Red Bull post race in Budapest by saying: ‘It’s a small mistake that caused such a big accident costing them a lot of points and possibly two cars on the podium. So sorry for that.’
But clearly frustrated counterpart Christian Horner responded to the quotes by saying: ‘Is he going to pay the bill? Ok, it’s racing. Toto wasn’t driving the car, his driver was driving the car.
‘I’m sure he didn’t tell them “crash into Red Bull”. I’m sure he wasn’t that sorry to see the result, but I’m sure he didn’t tell Valtteri to do that.’
Whether by design or not, Mercedes have got under the skin of Red Bull, and Horner, as well as his team, will need to refocus when the season resumes in Belgium later this month.
Christian Horner’s Red Bull team have picked up just two points in their last two races
Alonso still among the best
Ocon took the spoils for Alpine with victory but it was Fernando Alonso who played a massive role in the team’s win, by crucially holding up Hamilton in the latter stages of the race.
Despite driving inferior machinery compared to the Mercedes, the two-time world champion crucially kept a baying Hamilton behind him for a few laps while running fourth, which protected the drivers in front of him, including Ocon, from a late and trademark Hamilton attack.
After the race, Alonso claimed believed Hamilton should have passed him much sooner.
‘Lewis had an amazing pace in the last couple of laps, he said. ‘Honestly, I think that Lewis was making a small mistake in the last two corners, that’s my honest opinion.
‘Because he had so much pace, you can’t take eight laps to pass with that pace advantage.
‘And in fact, after changing a few lines, he could pass Carlos [Sainz] immediately one lap after. It was not difficult to pass, but it took him four or five laps to figure it out, that’s my opinion.’
Alonso was rewarded with the official driver of the day in the fans’ vote, and it continues a strong return to F1 for the Spaniard who turned 40 last week.
Fernando Alonso (left) produced an astonishing defensive driving to hold off Hamilton late on
Ricciardo needs a reset
While one McLaren was punted out of the race, another was left way out of the points to continue a season of huge disappointment.
Daniel Ricciardo had avoided the carnage caused by Bottas, only to be left with a highly damaged car after being hit by Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin seconds later.
‘I was halfway around Turn 1 and I thought I’d escaped the mess,’ he told Fox Sports.
‘I could see one car in front and thought “I’m P2! This is amazing!” There were a few other drivers making mistakes into the first corner and it cost a lot of us a race… Valtteri obviously cost Lando his race and Lance cost me mine.’
As a result, he ended the race a place outside the points in 11th – but his body language told its own story. Spending a few seconds to rest his head on the car’s Halo device, he then took another few seconds out by sitting on his front wheel.
Ricciardo has just 50 points on the board compared to his team-mate Lando Norris who has 113 points, and after a tricky first half of the season at McLaren, the Australian will be hoping for much better luck after the summer break.
Daniel Ricciardo was a first corner victim to cap off a poor first few months at McLaren