On the outskirts of Budapest, the Hungaroring hosted the third part of the opening triple-header to the much-changed 2020 F1 season. The rain has rarely had an impact on proceedings at the circuit at this time of year; given only two of the previous 35 Hungarian Grand Prix have been run in wet conditions.
Despite the possibility of rain most of the weekend, there was minimal running in the wet FP2 and while qualifying was dry, the threat of rain remained constant throughout the race. In the event, other than a tricky opening few laps on Intermediate tyres [shown above; Image from Reuters, Kamar], the track eventually dried up and we saw some good racing. Track records fell in both qualifying and the race, Red Bull showed some decent race pace on a disappointing weekend, Ferrari were expected to be stronger and the intrigue in the driver market keeps on coming.
Out in front though, it was still that team from Brackley in charge of proceedings.
This was another incredible performance from Lewis Hamilton. He is the king of the Hungaroring and notched up his 8th win at the circuit matching Michael Schumacher’s win record at one circuit; 8 at Magny Cours. He set the tone by going quickest in FP1 and the final qualifying lap in Q3 to grab pole position was sensational! Despite fearing his engine might go into anti-stall, Hamilton built an impressive 8s lead in the opening three laps before changing to slicks and never looked back despite the conditions. The World Champion was thoroughly in control as he stretched out a large enough lead to be able to pit late on without losing position to go and get the extra point for the fastest lap with a new circuit record.
2020 Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying
Q1: 1st Sergio Perez 1:14.681……………15th Nicholas Latifi 1:16.106; 16th Kevin Magnussen +0.047, 17th Daniil Kvyat +0.099, 18th Romain Grosjean +0.202, 19th Antonio Giovinazzi +0.401, 20th Kimi Raikkonen +0.409
Q2: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:14.261………10th Pierre Gasly 1:15.508; 11th Daniel Ricciardo +0.153, 12th George Russell +0.190, 13th Alex Albon +0.207, 14th Esteban Ocon +0.234, 15th Nicholas Latifi +1.036
Q3: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:13.447, 2nd Valtteri Bottas +0.107, 3rd Lance Stroll +0.930, 4th Sergio Perez +1.098, 5th Sebastian Vettel +1.327, 6th Charles Leclerc +1.370, 7th Max Verstappen +1.402, 8th Lando Norris +1.519, 9th Carlos Sainz +1.580, 10th Pierre Gasly (no time set).
Hamilton now leads the Championship by five points and while we don’t know what will happen next, the signs look good in his quest for a record-equalling 7th championship. On this form, there are anther two Schumacher records likely to fall this season; his record 155 podiums and 91 wins. Hamilton is now on 86 wins and 153 podiums. He could match the podium record in two races time and the if he wins each race, the win record could be surpassed at Mugello.
For all intents and purposes, while Mercedes are so dominant, Valtteri Bottas will be Hamilton’s main rival in his quest for a 7th title but he will need better weekends than this. The pair were separated by less than a tenth in practice and his Q3 effort was an incredible lap too even though he just missed out. However, the defining moment was the start. Bottas was suspected of jumping the start as a dashboard light going out prompted a twict from The Finn in the cockpit similar to how Vettel almost jumped the start in Japan last year. The stewards did not consider it a jump start as race director Michael Masi explained that it did not trigger the detection system. You can see it for yourself here.
Losing places, as a result, may already be a punishment but I thought this particular incident was more clear cut than Vettel in Japan. Bottas didn’t stop momentarily as Vettel did. However, like Vettel in Japan, the incident cost hi ground in the start and Bottas fell down to 7th by turn 1. Bottas did eventually recover to a podium finish chasing down Verstappen for 2nd but getting to that position cost him time. Mercedes felt that pitting him for a third time for fresher tyres might give him a better chance against Verstappen like it did Hamilton last year but despite closing in, Bottas couldn’t make a move stick. He will need better weekends while Mercedes will need to look at the dashboard light issue as it cost Bottas the chance of a win in a weekend Mercedes were the class of the field again.
The Mercedes was that strong he lapped all but four cars despite the late pit stop and that is ominous for their rivals. Red Bull is perhaps the closest team to challenging them and were expected to be a real challenger for the win at a more technical circuit than the Red Bull Ring. Instead, Christian Horner admitted post-race that their updates weren’t behaving as expected. They struggled compared to Austria for most of the weekend as Max Verstappen could only qualify 7th; behind the Racing Points and Ferrari’s.
Things could easily have be worse for Red Bull after Verstappen had an off into the barriers on his lap to the grid such were the difficulties he faced getting the tyres to temperature. The mechanics worked tirelessly to fix the suspension of the car in the space of 20 minutes on the grid and finished with 20 seconds to spare. That was an incredible effort and the result that followed was dedicated to them. Verstappen shone from lights out and after his off, the Dutchman had the confidence to attack as he rose to 3rd in the first two turns. It was an impressive drive from Verstappen how extracted literally everything he could from the Red Bull especially in the closing stages to hold off Bottas to split the Mercedes pair.
Race pace was certainly better for Red Bul and that was also reflective of Alex Albon’s exploits. Practice was difficult for the Albon as he struggled from the get-go and could only qualify a disappointing 13th; 7 tenths slower than his teammate. It promoted the outburst from George Russell that Red Bull are making him look bad which was slightly out of character for Russell (I’ll return to him soon) but the race was a fun one for him. Albon produced an accomplished recovery drive climbing from 13th to 9th by the time they went to slick tyres. A couple of entertaining battles with the Ferrari’s which he got the better of saw him finish 5th,, a result he kept after the stewards cleared Red Bull of artificially drying his grid box. However, Red Bull will surely be wanting him to get nearer to Verstappen in future races.
2020 Hungarian Grand Prix Race Result
1st Lewis Hamilton 1:36:12.473, 2nd Max Verstappen +8.702, 3rd Valtteri Bottas +9.452, 4th Lance Stroll +57.679, 5th Alex Albon +78.316, 6th Sebastian Vettel +1 lap, 7th Sergio Perez +1 lap, 8th Daniel Ricciardo +1 lap, 9th Carlos Sainz +1 lap, 10th Kevin Magnussen +1 lap, 11th Charles Leclerc +1 lap, 12th Daniil Kvyat +1 lap, 13th Lando Norris +1 lap, Esteban Ocon +1 lap, 15th Kimi Raikkonen +1 lap, 16th Romain Grosjean +1 lap, 17th Antonio Giovinazzi +1 lap, 18th George Russell +1 lap, 19th Nicholas Latifi +5 laps, Pierre Gasly DNF
Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton 1:13.447
Ferrari are another team that was expected to be stronger in Hungary. The Scuderia certainly looked more competitive than they were in Austria getting both cars into Q3 for the first time this season and locking out the front row. However, their struggles were more apparent in the race with both cars finishing a lap down which Mattiat Binotto described as a ‘very hard to swallow’ result. Ferrari had one car finish 5th while the other did not finish in the points at all.
Charles Leclerc described his weekend as ‘Very complicated’ and it’s easy to see why when he was only ahead of his teammate in one session. His issues with the soft tyre were evident from his team radio after only four laps! Ferrari pitted him after 18 laps on that tyre for the Hard. He had pace early in that stint including the entertaining battle with Lando Norris but the issues were such later on with tyre wear that he didn’t have enough life to keep his teammate for next year; Carlos Sainz behind and finished 11th, more than 10s behind Magnussen and that is where he stayed; and outside the points.
On a personal level, it was a good weekend for Sebastian Vettel. The four-time champion likes the Hungaoriing and maintained his record of not qualifying outside the top 5 at the circuit since 2008. He had a decent start off the grid despite being unable to hold Verstappen on the outside of turn 1 but the defining moment the change to slicks. Ferrari wanted to put both on Soft tyres but Vettel insistence on putting on the Mediums paid dividends even though he did lose time as the mechanics were tentative to release him from the pit box. He did not get the tyre wear issues that his teammate did and was able to take them longer into the race. He couldn’t hold Albon behind late on but that call made 5th possible and it is that experience of Vettel that Ferrari will miss next season.
Vettel remains central to the drivers market rumours circulating with the German without a drive for 2021. Rumours are linking him to Racing Point who will be rebranded Aston Martin next year. I was previously dismissive as Sergio Perez signed a deal last year taking him to the end of 2022 and Lance Stroll is also thought to have a long term deal. Vettel would represent a huge coup and a marquee signing for Aston Martin next year and a big statement of intent. You cannot fault them for wanting that. The question is, who makes way? Perez who has been with the team since 2014 and helped save them by putting them in administration two years ago or the son of the owner?
Naturally, it would appear to be Perez in danger. The Mexican was candid in the build-up to the weekend insisting he has the contract but also that another unnamed team has approached him if he were to be available. There is a real threat that Perez could make way with the former President of Mexico Felipe Calderon tweeting Perez may not even be on the grid next year.
It would be a shame for Perez, he’s done more than any to keep that team afloat and many would argue he deserves a spot in that team more than the one whose father bought it.
On the track, the Racing Point was mighty in Hungary! The Pink Mercedes as they’re controversially called, always looked like it was the second quickest car around the Hungaroring. That proved to be the case in Qualifying where they locked out the second row although knowing there was a strong chance of rain impacting the race, taking the risk to get into Q3 on the Medium tyre just didn’t seem worth it. Still, it highlighted the performance advantage they have in the dry and if the race had been dry from the off, who knows they could have got a podium. It is a shame we did not get to see what they could’ve done with that strategy.
With rumours circulating around the team, perhaps now was the right time for Lance Stroll to prove himself and he certainly left Hungary the happier of the two drivers. From Q2 onwards, the Canadian had the upper hand on his teammate to qualify an impressive career-best 3rd. Stroll got a decent start off the grid but couldn’t keep Verstappen behind in the opening laps and later Bottas as a podium eluded him. Still, to be beaten by only Mercedes and a Red Bull, it was a consistent weekend for Stroll. It wasn’t the case for the now vulnerable Perez. Although out-qualified by his teammate, qualifying 4th despite feeling ‘dizzy’ was a decent result but a poor getaway at the lights cost him as he dropped down to 7th; a position he just wasn’t able to recover from after running wide on lap 5 and being unable to get the better of Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault.
2020 Hungarian Grand Prix Points
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 26, Max Verstappen 18, Valtteri Bottas 15, Lance Stroll 12, Alex Albon 10, Sebastian Vettel 8, Sergio Perez 6, Daniel Ricciardo 4, Carlos Sainz 2, Kevin Magnussen 1
Constructors: Mercedes 41, Red Bull 28, Racing Point 18, Ferrari 8, Renault 4, McLaren 2, Haas 1
Renault aren’t going away with their dispute against the Racing Point car and lodged a second successive complaint against the cars brake ducts post-race. On the track, it was another mixed weekend for the Enstone team. They showed decent pace in practice but disappointingly neither car made Q3 with Ricciardo just missing out in 11th and Esteban Ocon 14th. Ricciardo had by far the better race as he gained two places on the opening lap and on the change over to slicks, managed his Mediums well to lap 43 where it was hoped he’d be strong in the final stages. However, once he got past Magnussen he couldn’t make much more progress behind Perez, Vettel and Albon finishing 8th for the second successive weekend. Ocon completed his weekend to forget struggling outside of the points throughout and finished where he started after losing out to Norris on the final lap.
Haas were one of the big winners in Hungary, They had a clean weekend with no mechanical issues representing an improvement on Austria but qualifying was ultimately disappointing as both cars failed to get out of Q1 for the first time this season. It meant they had nothing to lose at the beginning of the race and whoever made the call to change for slicks for the start; It was an inspired decision! The call propelled Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean to 3rd and 4th respectively after everyone else eventually changed. Lacking pace, they were going to struggle from there. Grosjean played the team game for the most part acting as a buffer to Magnussen as both cars pummeled down the field but while Grosjean finished well down in 15th: Magnussen held on to finish 9th on the road.
Unfortunately, both cars were hit with a 10s time penalty afterwards by the stewards. It dropped Grosjean to 16th; possibly where he would’ve realistically expected to finish without the decision while Magnussen still held on for his and the Haas teams first points of the season in 10th. The stewards penalised both cars and their statement is below:
‘Having considered the matter extensively, the Stewards determined that the team instructed the driver to pit. The team could not prove that one of the exemptions made under paragraph A. 2. a) to g) of the Technical Directive 011-17 was applicable. Therefore, the Stewards consider there is breach of Art. 27.1 of the Sporting Regulations, that the driver must drive the car alone and unaided‘
This was concerning the pit stop at the end of the formation lap. Initially, I thought this sets a bad precedent for such situations. If a driver feels they have a good opportunity in such changeable situations to opt for a different tyre at the start then why shouldn’t they? Markus Winkelhock did it in the Spyker back in 2007, famously leading his only ever Grad Prix for a brief spell as a result at the Nurburgring after pitting for extreme wets at the end of the formation lap before the torrential downpour. To me, the decision could make a precedent that such a risk is no longer allowed and I think that is a shame. However, the interpretation I take from it is that only the driver can make that call, the team on the pit wall can not instruct them to do it.
One driver wishing he could have made the immediate change to slick tyres was Daniil Kvyat. The Russian was calling for it on team radio on the formation lap but Alpha Tauri refused although under the wording of the stewards ruling I think he would have got away with it. That possibly cost him the chance of points as he would’ve been 4th after the change to slicks. He was the first to pit on lap 1 but opting for the Soft tyre meant he struggled with graining and an early change to the Hard tyre meant he could do no better than 12th.
At least he finished though. ‘It was a very difficult weekend for us‘. That was Pierre Gasly’s assessment of his 50th Grand Prix. That will perhaps be the understatement of the season. A power unit sensor issue in practice limited his running, an engine issue smelling of barbeque halted him I Qualifying despite impressively making Q3 in a car that didn’t have the pace for it before a gearbox issue forced him to retire on lap 12. The Frenchman was the only retirement of the race.
In terms of the drivers market, one team making an announcement at the start of the Grand Prix weekend was Williams in announcing that George Russell and Nicholas Latifi would be remaining with the team in 2021. That came as a slight surprise as we were only two race into the season at the time and Latifi had only had those two races before being retained. Even if the season had gone as planned, we would have just had the 11 races in and this time last year only McLaren had announced the retention their drivers and that was considered early. So, it is a big call in keeping Latifi but for Russell, it means a third-year with the team and some sense of stability for the both him and the Grove-based outfit but it does suggest the Mercedes door is shut for now and Bottas likely to be retained.
The drivers rewarded Williams for their faith by getting both cars into Q2 for the first time since Italy 2018. Their qualifying pace has certainly improved in 2020 but race pace still lets them down. Russell had a poor start from 12th losing three places on the opening lap and his struggles were compounded by originally changing to the Soft tyre. That promoted two further stops as he finished behind the two Alfa Romeo’s but at least he beat Latifi. The Canadian had a fantastic start from 15th climbing to 10th for a brief stit but the first pit stop was his undoing. He was released into the path of Sainz with contact prompting a puncture and spin at turn 1. By the time he got back to the pits, he was already a lap down. A five-second time penalty compounded by another spin later on in the race meant he crawled home five laps down.
That brings me to McLaren and after a fantastic start to the season in Austria, Hungary was slightly more difficult. The Woking team kept their cards close to their chest in practice but had a decent Qualifying, getting both cars into Q3. It was Lando Norris who took the Qualifying honours in 8th. The race was disappointing as Norris fell five places on the opening lap after a start he lamented himself for his ‘first proper big mistake of the season‘. There was an entertaining battle with Leclerc which was a highlight but that was only for 14th as he struggled in the midfield. The British driver did get another last ap overtake in but that was Ocon for 13th.
Sainz delivered another consistent race performance gaining a couple of positions at the start but lost a little ground in the pit stops which promoted the Spaniard to prolong his first stint on slicks. That benefited him later in the fresh as with fresh tyres he overcame his teammate for next year in an intriguing battle to finish 10th on the road. That later became 9th because of Magnussen’s penalty.
2020 Hungarian Grand Prix Ratings
Drivers: Lewis Hamilton 10, Max Verstappen 9, Valtteri Bottas 7.5, Lance Stroll 8.5, Alex Albon 7, Sebastian Vettel 8, Sergio Perez 6.5, Daniel Ricciardo 8, Carlos Sainz 7, Kevin Magnussen 9.5, Charles Leclerc 6, Daniil Kvyat 6.5, Lando Norris 6, Esteban Ocon 6, Kimi Raikkonen 6, Romain Grosjean 6, Antonio Giovinazzi 6, George Russell 7, Nicholas Latifi 5.5, Pierre Gasly 6.5
Constructors: Mercedes 9, Red Bull 8, Racing Point 8, Ferrari 6.5, Renault 6.5, McLaren 6.5, Haas 8, Alpha Tauri 6, Alfa Romeo 5.5, Williams 6
Alfa Romeo have had a difficult start to 2020 and Hungary did not get much better as they seemed well off the pace. Qualifying with both cars on the back row was a huge disappointment and in potentially his last season of F1, Kimi Raikkonen probably didn’t spect to be propping the field. The Iceman missed his grid box lining up on the grid; an indiscretion the stewards awarded a 5s time penalty for. That said, his race performance was strong enough to climb to 14th th the start and while he couldn’t keep Ocon or Noris behind he still finished 20s ahead of his teammate and on the tail of Grosjean to be classified 15th. Antonio Giovinazzi did at least beat his teammate in Qualifying but other than that it was a disappointing weekend where he was comfortably beaten by Raikkonen in the race and only really battling Russell.
After the Hungaroring, Lewis Hamilton takes the championship lead for the first time in 2020 with the fastest lap point propelling him to a five-point lead over his teammate Bottas. He has 63 points to his teammates 58. Then there is a gap to Max Verstappen in third who has 33 points after securing his 33rd podium in car number 33 after overtaking Norris who remains on 26 points. That’s the top three and in the Constructors Championship, Mercedes are walking away with it already on 121 points, more than double their nearest challengers red Bull (55 points).McLaren hold on to third by one point from Racing Point while Ferarri’s struggles are apparent by their 5th place positioning. Haas did move off the foot of the standings with their first point of the season.
Next up, F1 takes a two-week break after the Hungaroring and will next be racing at the British Grand Prix. Silverstone will be hosting the race for the 34th successive year and will be hosting successive racing back to back with the promptly title 70th-anniversary edition Grand Prix marking the fact the circuit hosted the inaugural F1 Championship race in 1950. Hamilton will be hoping to add to his record 6 wins on home soil, can he be stopped?