The Hungarian Grand Prix is now in the books and once again the rain seemed to follow F1! There was a bit of disruption to some practice sessions but not on the scale of Silverstone and Germany. The weather men were predicting rain for the latter stages of the race and no-one really knew until Sunday morning.

Hungarian F1 Results & Summer Season Review

During qualifying Saturday Lewis Hamilton was just in a class of his own, topping the times in Q1 with the medium compound tyres when everyone else required the soft, again posting the fastest time in Q2 and producing two laps in Q3 which would have both been enough for pole position. After such a dominant qualifying performance there were only a few things that could deny Lewis his second win of the season; rain, tyre wear and pit stop issues!

There was really no overtaking to speak of during the race but that didn’t stop it being a real nail biter, all the tension came from strategy and tyre management. Lewis Hamilton did a fantastic job leading the whole race and not allowing cars with fresher or quicker tyres to overtake him despite being able to put in laps of almost a second quicker. Did we see the outright pace of the McLaren or did Lewis do just what was required to keep cars behind him but also manage those tyres so at no point he fell off the edge? I believe it was the latter despite the Lotus’ looking incredible when trying to chase Lewis down and get into the DRS zone.

So Lewis won to get his and McLaren’s championship quest back on track but did this really tell McLaren’s story of the race or did it almost go so badly wrong once again?

Lewis got off to a fantastic start and quickly pulled out a comfortable gap of around two seconds from Grosjean, the gap then stabilised in what we assume was tyre management by both drivers. At this point Jenson Button was sitting in third place. At the first round of pit stops, there was an all too familiar sight; there was a delay and the pit stop was a slow one for Lewis. With the gap to Grosjean so small we feared the worst but somehow Grosjean had an even slower pit stop and Lewis extended his lead.

McLaren put both Lewis and Jenson onto the medium compound tyres where everyone around them went back onto the soft compound. This would allow the McLaren drivers to have a longer second stint but the other cars were 0.5 seconds plus quicker per lap and were within the DRS zone quickly. Both Lewis and Jenson seemed to be able to hold off the advances but this left McLaren with a conundrum, Grosjean and Vettel would need to pit earlier but they would then come out on newer tyres and still be able to put in quicker lap times than the McLarens; easily undercutting them taking Lewis to second at best and Button fourth. Both drivers got a message from their race engineer saying that they would need to go to plan B with pit stops meaning a three stop strategy. Jenson was the first to cut his second stint short and regained the track with soft compound tyres right behind Bruno Senna with old tyres on. Despite having a superior car and superior tyres Jenson was just not able to pass Senna round a track with such limited overtaking and this effectively ended his chance of a podium and even a top five. The only good thing to come out of this was that McLaren realised their mistake and switched Lewis back to a two stop strategy matching the rest of the field. McLaren also realised they would be undercut and ended their second stint in the same window as Grosjean and Vettel, meaning the final stint would see the rivals all matched roughly on tyre compound and laps for those tyres until the end of the race. This was a smart move by McLaren and would mean that there should be no tyre advantage for Grosjean and keeping him behind would be a lot easier.

Another Lotus driver put in some blistering laps before coming in to pit for the final time five laps after Lewis Hamilton, this let Raikkonen jump his teammate and come out into second place. With tyres five laps younger he was able to close quickly on Hamilton and put him under some serious pressure but again the nature of the track allowed Hamilton to keep his rivals behind him and it became apparent that Raikkonen would need Lewis’s rear tyres to fall off the cliff to gain the win but fortunately this did not happen.

Button finished the race on new soft tyres but as he made three pit stops found himself behind Alonso for the final stint and just wasn’t able to pass despite having a quicker car and quicker tyres. This meant finishing sixth after the strategy change rather than sticking with it and taking a third place.

Red Bull were actually really clever with Vettel in the final stint of the race as they decided to switch him to a three stopper. They knew that they could pit Vettel for new soft tyres without losing a place and in the event of Lewis or Grosjean struggling badly with their tyres in the final laps he would have been best place to overtake them. This didn’t pay off but it was definitely worth a try as we have seen such disastrous results when tyres don’t make it until the end of the race.

There are a few points that need to be raised before revelling in a Lewis Hamilton win.

Had Grosjean not had a slow first pit stop, he would most likely have come out ahead of Hamilton and with soft compound tyres. This would have meant Grosjean creating a large gap before the second round of pit stops and even had Lewis got back close to Grosjean in the final stint with soft tyres, it would have been extremely difficult to pass him.

Without Button finding out that a three stop strategy wasn’t going to work, McLaren would have probably switched Hamilton and most likely seen him fall out of the podium places.

Why did McLaren choose a different tyre strategy to the other teams around them? They decided to go for medium compound in the second stint rather than the soft compound. This put both drivers under extreme pressure from Grosjean and Vettel respectively despite having what was the quickest car in qualifying. Had Lewis been on the soft compound for the second stint, he could have at least kept the gap to Grosjean if not extended it and this would have meant Raikkonen not challenging him in the final stages.

This is how the race ended:

  • 1st Lewis Hamilton
  • 2nd Kimi Raikkonen
  • 3rd Romain Grosjean
  • 4th Sebastian Vettel
  • 5th Fernando Alonso
  • Fastest lap Sebastian Vettel

My only correct prediction was that of fastest lap but without Button’s strategy error all my top five picks would have been in the top five. I did say that the only question mark over Lewis’ race would be tyre degradation and I am glad that didn’t come to fruition. The Lotus’ were strong as expected and although Alonso kept his scoring run going he certainly wasn’t in contention this weekend.

Summer Break

The end of the Hungarian grand prix marks the start of the enforced summer break and means there isn’t another grand prix until the 2nd September in Belguim at Spa. Eleven grand prix have been contested which leaves us with nine until the end of the season, here are the standings:

F1 Mid 2012 Season Preview

Alonso now has a lead of 40 points but Ferrari are a bit worried again as they seem to be the 4th fastest team on the grid. Lotus, McLaren and Red Bull seem to be ahead in terms of dry pace in both qualifying and the race. It is perfectly plausible that without the super talented Fernando Alonso in the driving seat they may not even have a driver in the top 10.

With the three teams ahead all looking quite close in race trim this might work in Alonso’s favour with one driver not being able to mount a consistent challenge to catch him but Ferrari will need to close that gap once again to still be in contention for the final races.

The momentum will be with McLaren and Lotus going into the summer break, McLaren delivered some great upgrades for the last two races and will be looking to build on those. Lewis mentioned after Germany that the McLaren still doesn’t have some of the extra bits which other teams have so that should show further room for improvement. Lotus have been testing a new double DRS type system so we may also see that bear fruit in Spa and give them an extra qualifying boost when it is available around the whole lap.

Red Bull look a bit out of sorts at the moment and I am wondering whether all the controversy with the FIA is affecting them and they perhaps feel that they are being picked on slightly. No doubt they innovate for the next few races and create some must have upgrades, let’s face it, they have Adrian Newey.

I’ll leave you with a question, which would you rather have? The best driver available or Adrian Newey in your technical team?

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