The 2020 Hungarian GP was exactly the kind of snooze fest that most non-Mercedes fans are sick and tired of. Yes, Hamilton is arguably one of the best F1 drivers of all time but his dominance in that Mercedes-AMG racecar is simply boring at this point. That’s also why we appreciate the next-generation drivers so much more, especially Max Verstappen.
Contrary to most expectations, we had a post-rain qualifying session around the tight and twisty Hungaroring circuit. Both the black and pink Mercedes were clearly a step ahead of the competition in terms of sheer pace. Hamilton’s only rival for that pole position spot was his teammate and Bottas ended up being more than a tenth slower. The next fastest time in Q3 was set by Lance Stroll who was almost a second slower than Lewis and was joined by Sergio Perez for an all-pink second row. After the nightmare around Austria, Ferrari seemed to have good pace in qualifying with their aero updated but could only manage a third row start with Sebastian Vettel being quicker than Charles Leclerc. Verstappen was the seventh fastest and based on the radio clips that were broadcast, the Red Bull was struggling for pace in Budapest. Both McLarens made it into Q3 with Lando Norris just a bit quicker to start ahead of Carlos Sainz as they started 8th and 9th respectively. Pierre Gasly just about managed to get into Q3 in his Honda-powered AlphaTauri but the car wasn’t fit enough to put a lap in and would start 10th. The team put in a new powertrain for the car that lined up for the start of the race but since they were still within the allowed number of units, they did not invite any grid penalty.
On Sunday afternoon as well, the showers had left the circuit wet enough and the cars lined up on the grid wearing Intermediates (except Haas who had the full wet weather set instead). The race seemed cursed for Red Bull when Verstappen slid off the track and crashed into a barrier as he was on his way to join the grid. The front wing came off and there was damage to the front left suspension as well but Max was able to drive the car to the starting line where the Red Bull mechanics had 18 minutes or less to get the car race-worthy and they were able to get the job done.
The Hungaroring Circuit isn’t one for much wheel-to-wheel action with only the first three corners offering most of if not the only overtaking opportunities in this layout. That means the quick drag race to the first corner (a right-hander) is going to be very important for the car starting second on the grid and Bottas had all of this mind as the cars waited for the lights to go out. But the Finn ended up having one of the worst starts possible when he reacted to an unexpected light on his dashboard instead of the start lights and jumped the gun. He realised the error instantly, stopped and set off again once the lights were out, all of which happened in the space of around 1 second. But that was enough to ruin his whole race as he got bogged down with this restart, holding up Perez behind him as well. We first expected the FIA to penalise Bottas for the jump start but it was announced that his movement was within the limits of the sensors that are meant to detect the degree of these errors and thus would not be penalised for it.
Hamilton had a great start as did the Ferrari boys with Leclerc getting down the inside of Perez and Bottas, Vettel doing the same around the outside and cutting across in front of his teammate as they headed into Turn 1. Verstappen stayed on the outside, behind Stroll and was able to capitalise on Vettel’s loss of traction down the inside line to get alongside and into P3 as they rounded Turn 2. Leclerc was right behind Vettel and Bottas had dropped from P2 to P6 in two corners and Perez was down in P7. Behind them, Norris who also started on the right-hand side of the track had also struggled to get off the line and had dropped down to P13 by the time he was exiting Turn 1.
The track was drying up fast and Haas tried to capitalise on this even before the race started, pitting both drivers on the formation lap to switch to the Medium tyres. Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean ended up having to start from the pitlane, putting them at the back of the pack but it would pay off a few laps later. By the end of the first two laps, people started pitting to dry-weather slicks, namely Leclerc who was then put onto Soft tyres and Bottas who was on Mediums. This was one of the deciding moments of the race for the Monegasque who would go on to struggle with the car that he said felt very different than how it did in practice and qualifying. Lewis, Seb, Stroll, Sainz, Perez and Alexander Albon pitted the next lap to switch to the medium compound as well which did create a bit of traffic jam in the pitlanes for the mid-tier cars. Sainz and Vettel were among the worst affected who ended up having to stay stationary in their pit box for a lot longer than necessary. Sainz even had a small collision with Williams’ Nicholas Latifi as he was let go straight into the path of the McLaren at the pit exit.
Red Bull decided to pit Max a lap later which is also when Renault pitted Daniel Ricciardo. Of the top 10 contenders, Leclerc was the only on the soft tyres. Since everyone was pitting, the two Haas drivers who started the race from the pitlane on the Medium tyres found themselves in the top order for a change. Hamilton was back in front when Verstappen pitted and rejoined in P2, ahead of Magnussen and Grosjean in P3 and P4 respectively. However, both driver’s were well aware that these glorious positions were going to short-lived since they were in the slower cars. By Lap 8, Stroll had already got past Grosjean while Magnussen had bought more time to stay in a podium position by being more than 10 seconds ahead of his teammate.
Leclerc was struggling for pace on the softer tyres, trying to hold off the much faster Mercedes of Bottas before losing his spot to the Finn. He stayed in P7 for a bit with Albon and Vettel battling it out behind him before he made a relatively early pit stop around Lap 21 to switch to the Hard tyres. This pit stop may have given him the better tyres but also put him pretty far back in the order. It did give us some exciting racing action 30 laps in when the young Ferrari driver caught up to Norris’ McLaren in P14, both drivers getting very close but keeping it clean enough to avoid serious contact.
By Lap 34, there was no real contest for the race win as Hamilton was doing his usual thing of clean and fast laps in the lead, more than 18 seconds clear of P2 Verstappen. However, the other Mercedes driver was working hard to catch that Red Bull and was up into P3 by Lap 36. Most teams were holding off their second pit stop to see if there would be more rain as many weather maps suggested but in the end, the clouds missed the track for once. Bottas had already stopped for his second set of mediums on Lap 34 while Verstappen changed to the Hard tyre on Lap 37. Hamilton pitted the next lap for another set of medium tyres as well but was comfortably in the lead by this point. After around 15 laps in P3 and catching Max, Mercedes pitted Valtteri again to switch to Hard tyres to try and give him a better chance in the final laps. Red Bull could have responded putting Max on a fresh set the next lap but decided to leave him out on track with the massive lead and hope that the Dutchman can stay out of reach of Bottas in the closing laps.
In the meantime, Albon was able to make a good recovery from the qualifying mistake that led him to start 13th on the grid. He had a good start and made up some places in the opening laps, the team had a good strategy for him and he was able to make his way up the field to P5 including a small scrape with Grosjean. The battle for P10 between Leclerc and his future teammate Sainz offered most of the excitement in the closing laps. There was some close racing but the Spaniard eventually got past on fresher rubber to claim P10 while Leclerc slinked into his P11 spot all the way till the chequered flag.
The other source of entertainment in the closing laps was Bottas’ magnificent drive to close the gap to Verstappen, a full pit stop timeframe with less than 30 laps to go. As predicted, Bottas did manage to catch Max in the final two laps but wasn’t close enough to make the overtake. The Red Bull finished P2, a fantastic result considering this is the same car and driver that had a crash even before lining up on the grid. Hamilton had made another pit stop with 4 laps left to clinch the extra point for the fastest lap as he crossed the finish line to claim his 8th win at the Hungaroring and second win of the season that puts him in the lead of the driver’s championship table.
Lance Stroll had a lonely race in P4, missing the podium but scoring a fair bit of points for the team. Another disappointing race result for fellow Racing Point driver Perez who finished P7 after starting fourth on the grid. Meanwhile, Albon ended his race in P5 with some decent points too and Vettel was the only Ferrari driver to score points this weekend with this P6 finish. Daniel Ricciardo also put in a great performance despite the car’s weaknesses to finish P8 after having started 11th on the grid.
While it was Kevin Magnussen who finished P9 ahead of Carlos Sainz, their positions have been swapped in the final results. Haas’ genius move to pit its cars before the race-start turned out to be against the rules as the team isn’t allowed to tell the driver what to do on the formation lap. Unfortunately, telling them to pit was a breach of that rule and so both Haas drivers were given a 10-second time penalty. Still, Kevin was able to get Haas their first point in the last 7 races.
Max was plenty pleased with this P2 result especially after almost crashing out even before the race started. One could say Bottas was equally displeased with his final result, largely due to his jump start and it could have been worse had it fallen into the parameters of getting a penalty from the stewards. Norris did have some last lap action as he overtook Esteban Ocon to finish P13.
There is now a week’s gap until the next race which will be a double-header at Silverstone, UK. Mercedes, both black and pink, have given everyone else a lot to work on during this period and it’ll be exciting to see what the teams bring to the track in 2 weeks time. Stay tuned and subscribe to the Auto Loons blog and follow us on Twitter & Instagram too (@autoloons).
Final race standings
- L. Hamilton Mercedes — 1:36:12.473
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +8.702
- V. Bottas Mercedes +9.452
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +57.579
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +78.316
- S. Vettel Ferrari +1 Lap
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +1 Lap
- D. Ricciardo Renault +1 Lap
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +1 Lap
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- C. Leclerc Ferrari+1 Lap
- D. Kvyat AlphaTauri Honda +1 Lap
- L. Norris McLaren Renault +1 Lap
- E. Ocon Renault +1 Lap
- K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 Lap
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +1 Lap
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 Lap
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +1 Lap
- N. Latifi Williams Racing Mercedes +5 laps
- P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda DNF