The 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix turned into a fascinating, anxious and tense race, but it was also a hugely frustrating one. Frustrating for both drivers who wanted to race, and fans who wanted to see one…
What should have been a six way fight for victory between both Scuderia Ferrari drivers, the pair of Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team cars and an on-form and resurgent Red Bull Racing was immediately curtailed when Max Verstappen removed his team-mate from the running.
The incident would cost Verstappen his own chance of fighting for victory courtesy of a contentious 10-second time penalty and prompt strong criticism from Daniel Ricciardo who had little nice to say about his young Dutch team-mate.
The incident, which saw an early safety car intervention while marshals cleared the contents of Ricciardo’s radiator from the track, meant that the race was another Ferrari versus Mercedes affair.
In the early stages it looked like it was going to be a dominant one-two finish for the Scuderia, but it was all thrown into doubt the more Sebastian Vettel‘s steering wheel drooped to the left.
As it was, Ferrari and Vettel knew about the problem before the race had even started; it was linked to a last-minute hydraulic issue and noticed by Vettel the moment the car was dropped off the jacks. Despite the steering issues making the victory about as nervous and uncomfortable as it gets, Vettel managed to hold on for his fourth victory of the year.
It was all made a lot easier for Vettel, of course, by his dutiful team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen. The Hungaroring may not be conducive to overtaking , given its tight and twisty nature, but in a fair and unrestricted fight, Raikkonen could have beaten Vettel in Budapest.
Kimi was easily the quicker Ferrari driver and could have won for the first time in four years were it not clear what Ferrari expect from their former champion. Unlike rivals Mercedes, Ferrari have made their intentions for their two drivers very clear, the decision to back Vettel made easier by his considerable points advantage over Raikkonen.
Ferrari’s fierce insistence that Raikkonen is not to challenge Vettel for victories may prove masterful if the latter claims his fifth title at the end of the year. And if he does, it may be helped by Mercedes’ reluctance to imitate the Scuderia’s strict team orders, as made clear in Budapest.
With Vettel the cork in a bottle, holding up his team-mate, the two Mercedes, led by Valtteri Bottas, cruised up to the back of the Ferraris. But, with Bottas unable to find a way by Raikkonen for second, the decision was taken by the Mercedes hierarchy to allow Lewis Hamilton through, on the understanding that he would give the position back to Bottas if he too failed to overcome Raikkonen.
The nature of the circuit and the issue presented by 2017’s aero-sensitive cars, meant that Hamilton was unable to find a way by Raikkonen before the final lap. But would he honour the agreement and allow Bottas back into third? With Verstappen fighting back from his penalty and closing fast on Bottas, Hamilton could have quite rightly argued that the risk of losing out to Verstappen was too high.
Nonetheless, to the surprise of many, Hamilton eased wide at the final turn and allowed Bottas to claim the final spot on the podium. It could be read as an investment of course, a banked opportunity to claim return favours later in the year. But will Hamilton come to regret his honourable move and the three extra points he handed to Vettel? We’ll know in Abu Dhabi in November.
For many, it seems that the three-week summer break has come at the right time as tensions begin to boil over throughout the paddock. At Sahara Force India, the relationship has been strained for a while between Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, coming to a head when the pair clashed in Azerbaijan and Perez suggested Ocon lacked intelligence. Likewise, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat at Scuderia Toro Rosso haven’t seen eye-to-eye for a while now, especially following their lap one crash at Silverstone.
Things are no better at the Sauber F1 Team amidst accusations of favouritism between their drivers, Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson and there are tensions, too, at the Renault Sport F1 Team as pressure mounts on Jolyon Palmer and rumours of Robert Kubica’s imminent return strengthen.
Then there’s the burgeoning spat between Nico Hulkenberg and Haas F1 Team driver Kevin Magnussen, the latter telling Hulkenberg to “suck my balls, honey”, after the race in Budapest. The war of words ignited by Magnussen’s robust – and arguably rather rude – defence against Hulkenberg which saw the latter forced off the track.
It’s not much more comfortable towards to front of the field either: tensions between Red Bull Racing drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have always seemed on a knife-edge, such is the nature of two ultra-competitive drivers, but matters haven’t been helped by their coming together in Budapest.
Ferrari meanwhile, may appear somewhat more harmonious but Kimi Raikkonen’s frustrations at playing the role of Sebastian Vettel’s rear gunner are becoming more and more obvious. The quiet Finn’s outburst at super-sub Paul di Resta – replacing an ill Felipe Massa at Williams Martini Racing – in which Kimi suggested “he stick to the reporting” may have stemmed more from his frustrations at being stuck behind his team-mate than di Resta’s tardiness at obeying blue flags.
Ironically, it’s the Mercedes garage that appears to be a place of calm serenity as Formula 1 heads for the beaches. The team that’s suffered the most with driver spats in recent years is enjoying a period of respectful alliance between Hamilton and Bottas. Expect that to change however, especially if both drivers are still in the title hunt in the closing stages of the season.
Leaving Hungary and heading for sun, sea and sangria the happiest – or perhaps, most relieved – will be the McLaren-Honda Formula 1 Team as they finally leap-frogged Sauber in the constructors’ championship. Indeed, for the first time this season, both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne scored points.
Does this mean McLaren are back as regular contenders for the top 10? Their performance may very well have been circuit specific; bigger tests lay just beyond the summer break as Formula 1 heads to the spectacular Spa and magical Monza.
For now, Formula 1 leaves us with the image of Fernando Alonso lounging on a deckchair below the Hungaroring podium, proof that although the 2017 season is proving to be a tense test for the drivers involved, a sense of humour and fun can still be found within the grand prix paddock.