Max Verstappen emerged triumphant from a crazy race in Germany last weekend, but there are unlikely to be quite as many thrills at this weekend’s Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix 2019 (Race: 9:10am ET Sunday).
The wet and changeable conditions and an ultra-slippery run-off area at the final corner combined to produce a gripping Grand Prix in Germany. All of the top three teams lost one of their cars into the barriers as some unexpected drivers profited to score strong results.
Verstappen survived a spin but otherwise kept his car on the road and made more correct tyre choices that his direct competitors, every time conditions shifted, to secure his second victory in three races for Red Bull. He was followed home by Sebastian Vettel, who did superbly to recover from his back-of-the-grid starting spot to finish second for Ferrari.
Vettel’s teammate Charles Leclerc crashed out when well-placed to challenge at the front. He was later joined by the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly. Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton led early on only for a brush with the barriers and a resultant front wing change to begin a series of misfortunes and missteps that left him down in ninth at the finish (11th on track, before both Alfa Romeos were given time penalties).
That all paved the way for some surprise results. Daniil Kyvat finished third for Toro Rosso to secure the team’s first podium since 2008 and only the second of their 14 years in F1. Lance Stroll was one of the first to gamble on slick tyres during the latter part of the race and was rewarded with a fourth-place finish for Racing Point, the team’s best this year. In an ongoing theme, Carlos Sainz secured a season-best fifth for McLaren.
Alexander Albon took the best result of his short Formula One career to date with sixth for Toro Rosso, ahead of the two Haas cars of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen (the pair of them again banging wheels), Hamilton and the Williams of Robert Kubica, providing the team, with, you guessed it, their best (and first points-scoring) finish of the season.
It was a rollercoaster ride of a race that doesn’t necessarily provide much of an idea as to the likely running order at the Hungaroring this weekend. Hamilton has won there on six previous occasions, two more than any other driver. Despite their general dominance of the sport in the hybrid era, Mercedes have only won twice in Hungary over the last five years.
Earlier this year, the feeling was that this would be a race at which Mercedes would be beatable. Their package is not particularly well-suited to either the track layout or the hot conditions. In that equation, the assumption had been that Ferrari would lead the way. Even if the Italian team have the quickest package this weekend, their poor execution this season would certainly cast doubt on their ability to convert that into victory.
Where Ferrari should have an advantage is in qualifying. Mechanical problems befell both of their cars in Germany, but before that they had looked in good shape. Leclerc has been on it in qualifying in recent races, taking pole position in Austria and out-qualifying his teammate Vettel in each of the last three sessions in which they have both made it to the end.
Even if Leclerc isn’t able to put his Ferrari on pole position, he should have the pace to at least get it on the front row.
On race day, it is Verstappen who can be expected to shine. Red Bull’s pace has picked up significantly since they fitted their new front wing concept for the Austrian Grand Prix. With Verstappen’s teammate Gasly underperforming, it is difficult to get an accurate gauge of exactly where they stand in comparison to Ferrari. One thing is certain: Verstappen is capable of mixing it with the two Ferrari drivers. On Sunday, coming out on top in that battle might just be enough to see him to a second consecutive victory.
McLaren always seem to go well at the Hungaroring. No team has won as many races there as their 11 triumphs. Even in what has generally been a disappointing period in terms of results, they have had at least one of their cars finish in the points there in each of the last four years, and they have also secured two double-points finishes in that time. More broadly, they are in the midst of a 21-year streak with at least one top-1o finisher there.
The team are currently fourth in the constructors’ championship and are just seven points away from putting together their best season since 2014, despite the fact we are only just past the midway point of this year’s championship. They can be fancied to extend their advantage over the teams behind them by taking their fourth double points finish of the year on Sunday.