DATA DEEP DIVE: Was Toto Wolff right? Could Hamilton have won in Hungary without his DRS problem?

It wasn’t just Max Verstappen who made a shock recovery in Hungary as Lewis Hamilton finished behind the championship leader to finish second at the Hungaroring after qualifying seventh. Here’s how the Mercedes driver pulled it off – and how he could have won his first race of 2022…

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DRS misery

A DRS problem cost Hamilton in qualifying and saw him start seventh in the Grand Prix on Sunday, while team-mate George Russell qualified on pole position for the first time in his Formula 1 career. The chart below shows how close the Mercedes pair were in their first runs of Q3 – in which Russell took a preliminary second and Hamilton a preliminary fourth, the pair then split by 0.174s.


In his first Q3 run Hamilton (red line) lost to Russell (blue line) in the fast corners – turns 4 and 11 – as shown in the chart above

Hamilton was then hit with a DRS issue that hampered the seven-time champion’s final Q3 run. Below it is clear that Hamilton lost it on the straights, possibly up to 20 km/h. He eventually pulled out of his lap and settled for seventh on the grid, 0.765 seconds off Russell’s improved lap for pole position.

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Russell’s (blue line) and Hamilton (red line) final Q3 laps compared, with up to 20 km/h lost by Hamilton due to a DRS issue

How did Hamilton beat Russell to second place?

The chart below compares Russell and Hamilton’s race pace, adjusting for fuel and showing their different strategies – Hamilton finished the race on soft tires; Russell started on softs.

Hamilton was stuck behind Lando Norris in the opening laps, but when Norris pitted on lap 11, Hamilton began to match his soft-shod teammate – Russell’s tires were starting to wear out – on pace.

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In the second stint Hamilton started out faster than Russell, especially as Russell lost time to lap 31 battling Charles Leclerc. Russell’s pace picked up as Leclerc pulled away, but Hamilton was still a little faster.

Hamilton extended his second stint while Russell had to stop to block Verstappen’s undercut. Hamilton therefore managed to swap for soft tires for his final stint and was over a second faster than his teammate, allowing him to overtake both Russell and Carlos Sainz towards the end.


Hamilton’s crucial second stint

The second stint, where Russell and Verstappen opened the window after jumping from softs to mediums on lap 16, proved crucial not only for Verstappen, but also for Hamilton. Pirelli’s pit stop summary below shows how the race went.

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Initially, all the top six drivers were within 0.5s of each other and when Leclerc and Russell lost lap time in the battle from around lap 26 to lap 31, Hamilton became the fastest driver on the track – as evidenced by the race tempo chart below.

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Perez was in the mix until lap 37, when his tires started to wear off and his pace dropped sharply.

Sainz managed to extend his stint until he moved into the softs on lap 47; Hamilton extended until lap 51. Crucially, Hamilton was now able to push on the soft tires during his final stint, while other drivers had to manage their tires, and the Mercedes driver was able to reach P2.


Could Hamilton have won?

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said: “We would have had a nice fight up front for the win” had Hamilton not had a DRS problem in qualifying. What would have happened if Hamilton had taken pole on Saturday?

The chart below shows the race pace of the top six and simulates Hamilton’s race pace, using Russell’s lap times from pole to lap 11 (when Hamilton passed Norris).

Assuming Hamilton would have made his first stop on lap 19, as he did in the race, he would have finished third behind Russell and Leclerc, eventually overtaking them and fighting around lap 25-30 which would have cost him lap time . In addition, our simulation says it would have been likely that Leclerc would have passed Hamilton shortly after that battle.

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An extended middle stint, such as he performed on Sunday, would have seen Hamilton take off for Sainz – Leclerc again pitted for soft tires for Hamilton to inherit another place – for Hamilton to pass Russell on lap 55.

With a tire advantage over Verstappen, Hamilton may have been able to pass and hold on to Verstappen thanks to the late Virtual Safety Car – but Hamilton’s tires would then fall off Verstappen’s mediums and he might have lost.

But either way, if Hamilton had taken pole it would most likely have set up a scintillating battle for victory in the late race, as Wolff said.

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