PlanetF1’s conclusions to take from the Hungarian Grand Prix

Max Verstappen continued his rise to a second consecutive Formula 1 title with his eighth win of the 2022 season at the Hungarian Grand Prix, while Ferrari had another disastrous day. Have you ever felt like you’ve seen all this before? Here are our conclusions from Budapest…

Verstappen smiles all the way to a second title

And to think this would be one of Red Bull’s weaker races of the season…

The Hungaroring seemed to match the strengths of the wonderfully agile high-downforce Ferrari F1-75, with the track missing the long straights to feel Red Bull’s full speed advantage on the straight.

Ferrari’s chances only increased further as the Red Bulls ran into trouble in qualifying, Sergio Perez (still half asleep after securing his contract extension) fell in Q2 and Verstappen lost power in Q3.

But despite their troubles on Saturday, Red Bull could be encouraged that even when – on a Ferrari circuit and with their main competition out of the fray – Ferrari was still making it difficult for themselves, Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz somehow were picked to pole position by George Russells Mercedes.

Tenth on the grid and with a healthy points lead to maintain, Verstappen entered the race hoping to get somewhere close to the podium.

But when the opposition slammed for him – Russell and Sainz faded and Leclerc, invariably the real threat, sent a hard tire dead end past the Ferrari pit wall – he found himself almost 10 seconds ahead in the closing laps, even after a spin mid-race on the penultimate turn.

The team radio when he took the checkered flag and extended his championship lead to 80 points said it all. Verstappen chuckled to himself as he was congratulated by race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase and team principal Christian Horner.

They won’t admit it yet, of course, but this title fight is over.

Another day, another Ferrari disaster

Ferrari pair Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.  Hungary July 2022.

If it’s not reliability, it’s strategy; if it’s not a strategy, it’s a driver error. If there is a way to lose a Grand Prix in 2022, rest assured that Ferrari will find it.

After Leclerc’s retirement from France – his third DNF at a race this season – Hungary had become a race Ferrari could not afford to lose if they kept their title hopes alive after the summer break.

The manner of their defeat in Hungary was arguably the worst of all, especially in the context of Red Bull’s difficulties in qualifying – at a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult – and Leclerc’s ominously fast pace in the opening stages of the race.

The demise of both Alpines after their switch to hard tires should have been enough to scare everyone else in the pit lane from the smell of the white-striped Pirellis, but when he reacted to Verstappen’s second stop on lap 39, Leclerc was inexplicably equipped with a set its own.

Leclerc had a serious lack of grip and almost immediately realized the seriousness of the mistake.

He has become an expert at pointing out Ferrari’s shortcomings in recent months, but after admitting he intended to extend his stint on mediums as long as possible, this was yet another example – like Monaco and Silverstone – from Leclerc who lacked the vision and strength of Sainz to lead the team to the right decision?

Once highly respected, team boss Mattia Binotto has taken a more confused stance in recent months, forced to explain time and again the thinking (or lack thereof) behind Ferrari’s latest strategic masterstroke in the paddock after a race.

After stubbornly defending the decision to keep Leclerc out behind the Safety Car at Silverstone, Binotto finally admitted they made a mistake on this occasion.

That’s progress… of sorts.

Two more cars on the podium, but is Mercedes really here to stay?

With two cars on the podium in consecutive weekends and a first pole position of 2022 under their belt, Mercedes has closed the first half of their most difficult season in a decade with a high.

It didn’t look like that would be the case on Friday or during Saturday morning’s wet FP3 in Hungary, Russell and Lewis Hamilton struggled desperately for grip and spent much of the session towards the bottom of the timesheets.

A few hours later, however, Mercedes was back on top after Russell’s stunning final lap secured his first pole position in the closing seconds of Q3.

How to explain such a dramatic turnaround? Had the cool temperatures on a green track favored the cars with inherently less downforce, and the extra sliding generated more tire temperature than the usual pacesetters?

That could explain why Nicholas Latifi’s Williams set the third fastest time through the first sector in the full hour of qualifying – faster even than Leclerc, Verstappen and Hamilton – despite being slowest overall in Q1.

Strange things happened on Saturday – not least Latifi setting the pace in final practice – and as such it would be unwise to view Russell’s pole as a breakthrough moment for Mercedes.

You often find that even they don’t fully understand how their fortunes fluctuate wildly from weekend to weekend, sometimes from session to session.

What has become apparent, however, is that their speed over a stint is much better than that over a single lap and as Russell faded into the race as he found himself reacting to the cars around him after an assertive start, Hamilton gradually came to the furrow from seventh on the grid.

Team and driver were confident he could have won in qualifying without the DRS issue – just as he could have won at Silverstone without the slow stop and the Safety Car and just as he could have won in Barcelona without the collision in the first round.

“There is no doubt that we are making progress,” concluded Russell after the race. “At the start of the season we were almost a minute behind the win and the last few races it was 10 seconds.

“If we can continue down that road, we will definitely go hunting.”

Finally tension at Alpine?

The only real surprise is that it took so long for tensions to develop between two of the most combustible personalities on the grid.

Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon have formed a pretty strong partnership since the start of last season, pushing Alpine forward, celebrating each other’s successes and taking turns defending like lions.

But leopards, to continue the big cat theme, tend not to change their place and a day less than a full year since Alonso helped Ocon to victory in Hungary, the teammates turned against each other. That’s the way in the animal kingdom an F1 starting grid is…

Alonso’s anger – “never in my life have I seen a defense like Esteban,” he lamented on the team radio – centered on Ocon’s move at the start, pushing him towards the pit wall and Hamilton enabling them both into the first corner to pass.

Later, after an undercut attempt by Alonso on his own teammate failed, the Alpines were so busy fighting each other that Daniel Ricciardo was able to slip through with a strong contender to make up for the season.

Alonso – who radioed in Canada earlier this season that he was “a hundred times faster” than his teammate – eventually passed Ocon and led the team’s sixth two-car points finish in the last eight races with P8.

The flashpoint comes at a delicate moment in Alonso’s contract negotiations with Alpine, with the two-time world champion reportedly seeking a multi-year extension and the team hoping to promote 2021 F1 champion Oscar Piastri to a race seat in the near future, reluctant to commit to following. 2023 to tie Alonso.

There is friction there and with Alonso making his point clear in Budapest and insisting that a deal can be reached in 10 minutes if both sides really want it, could this still affect his future?

Norris continues to shine for McLaren

As the weeks go by, Lando Norris’ podium finish at Imola in April almost symbolizes the end of his F1 adolescence.

McLaren

It was a result – a weekend – straight out of his breakthrough 2021 season, Norris grinning to himself in the post-session interviews after finishing third in both qualifying and the race, not quite sure how he got there and not fully aware of how good that he really was.

The past few months have seemed like a return to reality, Norris can no longer reach the same heights as last year with a woefully inconsistent McLaren, but the potential remains very much.

After splitting the Mercedes on the grid in France, only Russell’s pole prevented Norris from getting the most credit for his own qualifying exploits in Hungary.

His lap for P4 was just two tenths slower than Leclerc’s Ferrari, McLaren another team whose usual vices may have been hidden by the nature of the conditions and layout.

The leading teams were of course untouchable on race day, but Norris posted his third consecutive P7 finish, crossing the line 22 seconds ahead of the battling Alpines and being the only driver outside the top six to avoid making a lap.

Last season’s headline results may be out of reach at the moment, but Norris continues to shine in the shadows.

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