After an eventful race in Germany, the Formula One circus travels to Budapest for the last event before the summer break at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix (Race: 9.10am ET Sunday).
Lewis Hamilton recovered from a lowly grid position to take his fourth win of the season at Hockenheim last weekend, as a series of brief downpours provided him with an opportunity to pounce on mistakes from others and a bit of good fortune to take victory.
After qualifying on Saturday, it looked like Hamilton and Mercedes were going to be squarely on the back foot going into the summer recess. A hydraulic failure saw Hamilton pull out at the end of the first session, leaving him down in 14th on the grid, while his championship rival Sebastian Vettel took pole position for Ferrari.
Vettel led away from the start and looked to be in complete control of the race, particularly once his teammate Kimi Raikkonen jumped the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas in the first round of pitstops. Then the rain began to arrive and in a single lap the situation changed completely. Vettel slithered off the track and into the barrier to end his race, and Raikkonen and Bottas then jumped into the pits for fresh rubber as the safety car came out.
That left Hamilton, who had driven a long first stint to make his way through the field, in the lead. Bottas briefly threatened once the safety car pulled in but was then told to hold position, which he did as Hamilton took the win ahead of Bottas and Raikkonen. With that outcome, Hamilton and Mercedes both moved to the top of their respective championships.
It was a key result for the team at an important juncture in the season, particularly as they are unlikely to have the quickest car this weekend. Hamilton is a specialist at the Hungaroring, having won there on five occasions, but even given that and Mercedes’ general dominance in recent years, they have only won one of the last four Hungarian Grand Prix.
The tight and twisty circuit, often likened to a karting track, has not proved a good match for the Mercedes chassis, and it is Ferrari who can be expected to have the upper hand. After the bitter disappointment of throwing away victory on home soil last weekend, Vettel can be fancied to claw back some of Hamilton’s championship lead with victory on Sunday.
Red Bull should also be competitive in Hungary as the characteristics of the circuit are relatively similar to those in Monaco, where Daniel Ricciardo won from pole position.
Ricciardo took a penalty for the use of various new engine parts in Germany in an attempt to put him in the best possible position to challenge at the front this weekend. His race there came to an early end due to mechanical issues, with his teammate Max Verstappen moving to within a point of him in the championship by coming home fourth.
Ricciardo should, though, be fancied to extend that gap on Sunday. He won at the Hungaroring in 2014 and finished third in both 2015 and 2016. He also looked well-positioned to perform well at last year’s race before Verstappen crashed into the side of him on the first lap, leading to a broken radiator and an early retirement. A top three finish should be within Ricciardo’s capabilities this weekend.
Nico Hulkenberg secured a very solid fifth-place finish for Renault at his home Grand Prix in Germany, while the remaining top-1o positions were the subject of some fierce scrapping in the closing laps. Romain Grosjean made up two places on the final two laps to take sixth, ahead of the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. Marcus Ericsson was ninth for Sauber, while Brendon Hartley took his second point of the season for Toro Rosso in 10th.
The future of the Force India team is still in doubt. They are in financial difficulty and the current owners seem to have an unrealistic idea of how much the team is worth. The most likely outcome is that a buyer will be found, either before or after bankruptcy, especially as the team continues to perform strongly out on the track. In Germany, they secured their third consecutive double points finish.
That was a result they also achieved at last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, with Perez eighth and Ocon ninth, and at this season’s Monaco Grand Prix, with Ocon up in sixth and Perez in ninth. Another such finish is a distinct possibility on Sunday.