Winners and Losers at the Hungarian Grand Prix
29 July 2014 – The Hungaroring produced a thrilling encounter ahead of the Formula 1 summer break, with Red Bull sensation Daniel Ricciardo grabbing his second victory through some bold overtaking and numerous other drivers going wheel-to-wheel. GPUpdate.net presents the winners and losers from the Hungarian Grand Prix.
With his infectious smile and laid-back personality, Daniel Ricciardo has already established himself as one of the most popular figures in the paddock. But that persona belies his intensity on-track as he notched up his second Grand Prix victory – this one achieved without the assistance of a significantly wounded Mercedes. Ricciardo had not been on the pace for much of the weekend, with the Australian admitting that his Friday practice was next to useless, while in qualifying he was beaten by team-mate Sebastian Vettel. In the wet conditions at the start he slipped back to sixth, but this was inadvertently a blessing in disguise. The leading quartet missed the pit entry and, allied to McLaren's erroneous tyre call, he soon found himself in the lead, on merit. When Sergio Pérez made friends with the pit wall, Ricciardo and race engineer Simon Rennie quickly switched their strategy, stopping behind the Safety Car with the intention to pit once more. Ricciardo managed his Options and led once others pitted – even resolving a brief engine blip – before he made his final stop and emerged in third. He bided his time before attacking Lewis Hamilton around the outside of Turn 2 – no mean feat – and then slipping up the inside of Fernando Alonso on the next lap. A well-deserved victory.
What will Fernando Alonso decide to do for 2015? If anything, the Hungarian Grand Prix proved once again that Alonso is one of Formula 1's greatest ever talents. The Spaniard, lumbered with a recalcitrant Ferrari which is tricky in the corners and not exactly great on the straights, has, understandably, cut a frustrated figure at times in 2014, but has finished every race in the points so far. In Hungary, Alonso sensed an opportunity in the damp conditions. He jumped up to fourth at the start and even briefly got ahead of Vettel, before the German edged back in front. Like the leaders, Alonso missed the pit entry when the Safety Car was deployed yet he stayed out of trouble and managed his Option tyres superbly to lead the race – an unusual sight this season. His Option tyres were well past their best, so late on he was simply powerless to prevent Ricciardo from surging through, although in doing so he preserved whatever rubber he had remaining to defend against Hamilton and a charging Nico Rosberg. As ever, Alonso grasped an opportunity with both hands, aided by an uncharacteristically aggressive Ferrari team (perhaps a Marco Mattiacci influence), and it almost paid off.
If ever there was a picture of dejection in sport, it was the sight of Lewis Hamilton looking forlornly at his singeing Mercedes, turning away and trudging back to the Mercedes motorhome during the opening stages of qualifying at the Hungaroring. Hamilton has borne the brunt of the issues plagued by Mercedes in 2014, but this was almost too much to take for a man whose title aspirations seemed to be slipping away. Fast forward 24 hours and the situation was little better. Rosberg had stormed into a lead, while Hamilton was facing the wrong way at Turn 2. Hamilton had misjudged how cold his brakes were, a symptom of being unable to participate in the formation lap due to a pit lane start (a first for the Briton), and spun under braking, glancing the barriers on his way. From there, though, he carved through the field and, by the time the Safety Car was removed, he was close behind Rosberg. He dispensed rapidly with more rivals and profited when Vettel channelled his inner Pérez, before sweeping around the outside of Jean-Éric Vergne in a majestic move. His choice not to allow Rosberg through was correct in hindsight and, while he lost out to Ricciardo, he did well to retain third considering the state of his tyres. A good recovery drive.
When you're on pole, comfortably lead the first stint and your team-mate starts from the pits and hits the wall on the first lap, you probably wouldn't imagine being beaten by him 69 laps later. And yet that's exactly what happened to Nico Rosberg. The German was unable to pit immediately when the Safety Car was deployed for Marcus Ericsson's accident, but crucially he erred on the first lap of the restart while scrapping with the Intermediate-shod Kevin Magnussen and slipped behind Jean-Éric Vergne and Fernando Alonso. The Ferrari driver moved ahead of Vergne, but Rosberg was unable to follow suit and consequently couldn't extract the maximum from his package. Mercedes decided to put Rosberg on Options but while he closed up behind Hamilton, he was never close enough to pass nor justify Hamilton lifting off so significantly. Rosberg was right to be slightly frustrated, especially as it was a decision from Mercedes rather than the driver, but he was equally naïve if he expected Hamilton to allow him through so easily. Rosberg's final stop dropped him to seventh but he carved through slower rivals and ate into the advantage of the leading trio, albeit arriving on the back of Hamilton too late. He had a go, but his team-mate shut the door at Turn 2 and Rosberg had to settle for fourth. Bad timing played a part, but greater decision making on the day would have netted a better result.
Over recent races, Sebastian Vettel has been increasingly at ease with the handling of the Red Bull RB10. The German mastered an unusual driving technique over the past few years so getting accustomed to a 'normal' car, allied to several technical issues, understandably took time. In Budapest, he was on form throughout practice and almost clinched pole position, until Rosberg duly exerted his authority. The race, though, told a different story. Vettel slipped to third behind Valtteri Bottas and was one of the drivers to lose out in the first Safety Car period. Perhaps more gallingly, it was the second Safety Car stint which also scuppered his strategy. Because he stopped a lap later than Ricciardo earlier on, Red Bull split strategies and left Vettel out, whereas Ricciardo pitted and switched to the race-winning strategy. However, Vettel kept dipping a wheel onto the kerb exiting the final corner – a trait noticed by the following Hamilton – and after several laps his approach bit him. He did astonishingly well to avoid an enormous impact with the pit wall, but his tyres were ruined and his race was effectively run. He did well to hold on to seventh on used rubber at the end, but this was a weekend when he lost 19 points to Ricciardo, despite an upturn in form.
Force India has been one of the surprise packages of the season but the recent resurgence of fellow Mercedes-powered team Williams has somewhat put the Silverstone-based team into the shade. Force India's policy has always been about maximising their opportunities as they are, naturally, unable to keep up in the development race with financially superior rivals. However, in Hungary, Nico Hülkenberg committed the cardinal sin of Formula 1 by running into team-mate Sergio Pérez. The duo had been running on the fringes of points when Hülkenberg tried to put a move on Pérez. On the previous lap, Pérez had taken a wider line into the final corner but the next time around he approached it from a tighter angle and a committed Hülkenberg was powerless to avoid slithering into the side, before he continued into the barriers, ending his run of top 10 finishes. Pérez's day lasted little longer as he dropped it exiting the final corner and spun violently into the pit wall, littering the circuit with debris. It was a sizeable impact but he walked away uninjured. It was nonetheless a disappointing ending to a promising first half of 2014 for the team, which is now realistically embroiled in a battle for fifth in the Constructors' Championship with McLaren – a repeat situation of 2013. Force India will be hoping history doesn't repeat itself.