Conclusions from the 2013 Hungarian GP
Lewis Hamilton uses track position to reign supreme in Hungary, while Fernando Alonso plays a delicate game...
By Pete Gill. Last Updated: 29/07/13 3:29pm
Hamilton delivers a clear masterclass
Nobody lost the Hungarian GP, but only Lewis Hamilton won it.
And he did so twice, once on Saturday when he delivered a lap of faultless precision to claim a pole position that ought to have been Sebastian Vettel's, and then again on Sunday when he suddenly realised he had victory within his grasp and refused to let it go.
In the final reckoning, the reason why Vettel trailled Hamilton by over ten seconds when they crossed the finishing line was their contrasting efficiency in passing Jenson Button's McLaren after the first round of pit-stops. What took Vettel eleven laps took Hamilton just the one. On such details are decisive victories won.
Yet the advantage Hamilton built up ahead of Vettel and then Kimi Raikkonen after outbraking Button into the first corner was the cherry on top of his victory. Its foundation, however, was the stunning pole-position lap that provided Hamilton with the refreshment of clean air in which to nurse his tyres at the start of the race and his perfectly judged decision during Sunday's race to pit after nine laps just as his tyres began to melt in the soaring heat. At that stage, Vettel was less than a second behind the faltering Mercedes having sliced four-tenths out of his lead on the proceeding lap. Had he carried on for another lap, Hamilton would have emerged from his pit-stop not only Button but also Vettel. In that race-losing scenario, it would have made no difference how long the Red Bull spent behind Button so long as Hamilton stewed behind Vettel and his tyres boiled over. Game on.
It is a truism of all sports that whereas defeat is an orphan, victory has many midwives. But boiled down to its essential item, Hungary was an exception. For all the myriad of tyre strategies in operation and contrasting overtaking opportunities, Hamilton's victory was ultimately delivered by track position.
There was 'no miracle', no magic trick to cure Mercedes' longstanding tyre woes, just the straightforward reality that while a brilliant qualifying lap, an astute pit-stop, and three brilliant overtaking moves after his pit-stops combined to present Hamilton with a clear road to victory, Vettel found his way blocked for approximately 60 of Sunday's 70 laps. No wonder Red Bull, despite their defeat, left Hungaroring clinging to the conviction that they possessed the fastest package on display. No wonder and no matter. On this weekend at least, track position reigned supreme and was all that counted.
There's a number two driver at Mercedes
Because now that Hamilton has found his groove in the previously-unfathomable and unfamiliar W04, Nico Rosberg has been unable to keep pace with his team-mate and Monaco neighbour. Indeed, since their 'home race' around the means streets of Monte Carlo, Hamilton has out-qualified Rosberg in four successive qualifying sessions and, despite the German inheriting the victory at Silverstone that Hamilton deserved, the hefty figure of 40 points currently separates the two Mercedes drivers in the World Championship apart.
Calls for Michael Schumacher's second career in F1 to be reassessed - made in the wake of Hamilton's early-season struggles - are probably now best forgotten in the best interests of everyone concerned.
Hamilton has to be considered a title contender
One swallow does not make a title bid, yet couple the deficiencies in the candidature of Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso with the resounding speed of the Mercedes and it becomes impossible not to acknowledge Hamilton is a genuine title contender. To deny as much, given that Hamilton now trails Raikkonen by the scant margin of ten points, is to declare that Sebastian Vettel has a fourth successive title sewn up. And it's far too early for that.
What happens next is the fascination. If Spa ought to suit the straight-line speed of the Mercedes, then the power-hungry Monza should be a perfect fit for the W04. By contrast, Lotus are big on strategy but short on pace, while Ferrari appear to be going backwards and losing significant ground to Red Bull and Mercedes.
The F138 which started the season looking like the best all-round package on the grid is no longer visible. Alonso's frustration may or may not have boiled over into requesting consideration for a seat at Red Bull in 2014, but the Spaniard is now further away from his first title at Ferrari than ever before.
Fernando plays a delicate game of bluff
Could Alonso really drive for Red Bull in 2014? Stranger things have happened, but not many. The Spaniard, lest we forget, has a long-term contract with the Scuderia. Still, what better way of galvanising a team in danger of losing its way this season and reminding the Ferrari hierarchy that their prized asset may not necessarily be keen on finishing his career in Italy? Alonso has firmly thrown the ball back into their court.
As for Red Bull, while there is no downside to letting the speculation fester through the summer break, they will surely overlook pairing Vettel with Alonso for precisely the same reason Ferrari shied away from the idea twelve months ago. Despite their protestations to the contrary, if Red Bull were really inclined to determine the identity of their driver line-up purely on merit then the team would have surely taken up the obvious opportunity during Hamilton's interminable deliberations last year to suggest he either stayed on for one more season at McLaren or included an opt-out clause in his Mercedes deal. Mark Webber's retirement has, after all, been a long time coming.
Two number ones just isn't the way of the current Formula One.
Romain Grosjean can't change his spots
He's still fast, he's still ever-so likeable, and he's still frustratingly unreliable and occasionally dangerous. The speed is not in doubt, but his capacity to learn must be after his silly collision into the side Jenson Button.
A drive-through penalty for his glorious overtaking around Felipe Massa was ridiculously harsh, but any complaints about the stewards' verdict misses the point that Romain had it coming. Just how do you fix a problem like Grosjean?
F1 is getting back to basics
First it was the announcement that Austria was returning to the 2014 calendar, then it was an extension for Hungary, and now it's the fuel on the fire that India is set to be dropped. There is probably a vested interest at play in the machinations, because it's far easier to sell an expanded calendar to the over-travelled teams when European venues rather than fresh flyaways have been bolted on, but F1 finally seems to have remembered where its captive audience is located.