Practice Sessions, FP1/FP2/FP3:
The whole F1 circuit had moved to Budapest, Hungary for Round 11 of the season in the back to back weekend Grand Prix's; the last race weekend before the summer break for the teams and drivers. It seemed the weather followed the F1 people to Hungary as the temperatures were high again. And it was once again Mercedes taking charge with Hungary specialist Hamilton taking a 3-0 lead in the FP’s. There was a change with the leaders behind the Mercedes as Red Bull and Ferrari stepped ahead of Williams, SFI & McLaren. The battle was tight in the midfield as almost everyone suffered grip issues which caused a lot of understeer and oversteer problems for the drivers; a lot of them had off moments during the sessions.
For quite sometime it has been evident that SFI are not upto the mark with their one lap pace but then they are pretty much at par with the likes of Red Bull and Williams in the race pace. It is very difficult to come to a conclusion to say that, not having that one lap pace would hurt the team because they have been scoring points in every race; a lot depends on the characteristics of the track and the weather on race day as well. The statistics of the season suggests that the team is doing fairly well even with the limiting factor. The positions for both Hulkenberg and Perez during the FP’s didn’t look overly the best but they were still aiming to get both cars into the top 10. Both ran a lot of laps on Friday as well as Saturday and the longs runs were looking mighty good. They suffered only a small glitch on Saturday when Hulkenberg’s car had a hydraulic leak in the FP3 session but it was rectified by the start of qualifying session.
After having taken a 3-0 lead, Hamilton wanted to maintain the fire within him to push for 4-0 and then 5-0 this weekend; the Brit’s car took things a bit literally with the fire as the bad luck streak for Hamilton continued when he was out in Q1 due to fire at the back of his car. Rosberg then went on to clinch pole without any issues; although Vettel was looking strong, he had to settle with a P2 and the man with all the good luck, Bottas qualified a fine P3. Another man to fall out behind was Raikkonen, bumped out by Bianchi as the former’s team took a risk to not go out on soft tyres in Q1 proving to be a fatal mistake for the already struggling Finn.
The SFI team gave a scare when Hulkenberg was on the cusp of being pushed out in Q1 itself, the German was able to push on his final lap to move ahead in the safe zone as we saw Bianchi bumping out Raikkonen. Hulkenberg went on to Q3, he could have lost the position had Kvyat not spun on his improving lap. The German driver thus qualified P9 after running seven laps on one set of tyres in Q3. His teammate Perez made it to Q2 without much trouble on his soft tyre run; he did a decent one lap at the start of Q2 but he then had to park the car because of hydraulic leak in his car (the same as Hulkenberg), which meant he had to content with P13 (he moved up to P12 after Magnessun’s penalty).
Guess what, the weather prediction for Hungary was same as what it was for Germany last weekend. The only difference this weekend was that the rain did make it presence felt; just about 45-50 minutes before the race, it rained heavily in Hungary leaving the track wet in patches. It was enough rain for the teams to start on the inter-mediate tyres; Robserg made a clean start to lead the Grand Prix with Bottas making a move on Vettel to move ahead of him while Alonso moved up to P4. Hulkenberg and Perez both made places as they were P5 and P8 after the end of the first lap while Ricciardo lost a lot of places. It was interesting to see that in those damp conditions everyone was safe for the starting few laps at least.
Things started to take a different shape when the first SC came out due to Ericsson’s accident; the biggest losers were the top 4 as they had crossed the finish line when the SC came out which meant they had to do a lap behind the SC and then go for a pit stop while others made their stop right when the SC was out. As it went back to racing, it was chaos naturally as Ricciardo lead the race with Massa and Alonso behind when both Button and Magnuseun lost out due to a wrong strategic call. Vergne was holding Rosberg, Vettel and Hamilton who had fought his way up to the points and firmed his position there. Post the second SC period, the lead changed between Alonso – Hamilton – Ricciardo and Alonso finally to go towards the end stages of the race. Vettel lost out to the pack after his dramatic spin and was fighting with Bottas and Raikkonen for grid positions in lower half of top 10. Meanwhile at the back, Button and Sutil were having a fight of their own for the last remaining point.
Both the SFI drivers got a good and safe start but after the first SC period in the chaos, Hulkenberg lost places and was behind his teammate. Ultimately, Hulkenberg crashed out of the race when he tried a move on his teammate where he lost his front wing going wide into the last turn. The German later on admitted his mistake and duly apologized to Perez. The sole remaining SFI didn’t last longer as Perez suffered a huge crash at the start finish straight; after hitting the kerb in the last corner, he lost control and hit the wall, thankfully he was safe after that heavy shunt. That pretty much ended SFI's run in the Grand Prix.
The fight for the GP victory got intensified in the last 10 laps of the race when both Hamilton and Ricciardo caught Alonso; Ricciardo having a new set of tyres was easily the best driver to attack in those circumstances and he beautifully executed the two moves required at that stage for him to win his second GP of the season. Ironically, both his victories have come after him taking the lead with three laps to go. Alonso held on to P2 which meant that Ferrari regained its P3 position in the championship from Williams, while Hamilton was relieved to finish on podium after a pitlane start. More importantly he kept his charging teammate behind at P4 who was catching the lead pack with 2-3 seconds per lap. Vettel fended off the Bottas pressure to end P7 while Button managed to held on to P10 from Sutil, the Sauber driver was just 0.9s shy of scoring points for the first time this season.
That marked an end to the first half of the season; the back to back GP’s provided for a great ending to the first half indeed. Rosberg still leads Hamilton in the championship which seems like will go right down to Abu Dhabi and the double points might just be the deciding factor. The constructor championship is still open for the likes of Ferrari, Williams, SFI and McLaren who are in a big fight for P3 position. This was SFI’s first double retirement this season and it came after 28 races; the last time they had a double DNF was in Malaysia 2013. This was also the first DNF for Hulkenberg this season and his first DNF after 22 race finishes; unfortunately the point scoring run for the team ended as well; the ten consecutive point scoring run becomes a record for the team.
Now it is the time for holiday for the team after a tough 11 races in the first half; the break will see a 2 weeks mandatory shutdown for all the teams. The next race will happen in Belgium which is roughly 3 weeks and 3 days from now, until then stay safe everyone.
Thank you for reading