2013 Hungarian Grand Prix analysis: Where Sunday's race was won and lost
Was the Red Bull RB9 still the weekend's fastest car? How bad were Ferrari's struggles? And why were Marussia cut adrift at the back?
By James Galloway, William Esler and Pete Gill
Last Updated: 05/08/13 12:35pm
Was the Red Bull, and not the Mercedes, the fastest car?
While it would be an exaggeration to suggest Red Bull were crestfallen after finishing third and fourth in Hungary, it was clear from both Sebastian Vettel and Christian Horner's post-race remarks that they felt the result hadn't reflected the ultimate potential of the RB9 around the Hungaroring.
The final race timesheet shows that Vettel finished 12.5 seconds adrift of the flying Lewis Hamilton. In mitigation, he spent two separate 12-lap stints running in the dirty air of two slower cars, McLaren's Jenson Button and then Lotus's Kimi Raikkonen's during the final run to the flag. The latter was a direct consequence of the former and so Vettel's dozen laps behind Button were certainly what wrecked his afternoon. The lapchart tells its own story: at the time of Hamilton's opening nine-lap pitstop Vettel was within 0.9 seconds of the race leader; after finally passing Button 15 laps later that gap had ballooned out to 13 seconds. Game over.
To compound matters during that frustrating stint Vettel damaged his front wing against the McLaren in a failed overtaking move on lap 17 - something Horner later claimed had probably cost the German "up to half a second" a lap thereafter. Vettel's pace once finally clear of Button from lap 24 was certainly more competitive - he cut Hamilton's lead by 1.8s in the space of seven laps before the Mercedes stopped again. After spending three more laps behind Button after his own second visit to the pits, there was nothing to choose between the Red Bull and Mercedes during that next stint - the gap between the two cars increasing by a mere two tenths of a seconds in Hamilton's favour across the final 13 laps before the leader's final stop.
By now Hamilton essentially had the race won while Vettel's frustration was compounded when he ran into the two-stopping Raikkonen, meaning neither's pace across the final stint was wholly representative. Yet, given he had been running around with a slightly damaged car which would have certainly cost him some laptime for 53 laps, the fact his final deficit all-but amounted to the same time he spent trapped behind Button suggests Vettel would have had pace to run the Mercedes very close. However, even without the delays, there's still the question of how he would have passed Hamilton had he managed to stay with him having already lost one chance at the first pitstops when his tyres went off. It was therefore Vettel's failure to beat his rival to pole by that minuscule 0.038s margin on Saturday that undoubtedly proved the biggest factor in losing his best chance of breaking his Hungarian duck this year.
Could Romain Grosjean have won without his drive-through?
Red Bull weren't the only ones who felt Sunday's race could have had a different outcome, as Lotus too reckoned Romain Grosjean had the pace to trouble Hamilton had he been able to have a direct attack at the Briton. That never materialised thanks to the fact he followed Vettel round for the opening 25 laps, who we already know was bottled up behind Button for half of that period himself.
But of what of the effect Grosjean's later controversial drive-through penalty for his bold move on Felipe Massa had on his race? What had almost gone noticed at the time was that, by running a very short 12-lap second stint, the Frenchman had actually finally managed to gain track position over the lead Red Bull thanks to some very swift mid-1:26 to low-1:27 laps on fresh medium tyres after his early lap-25 stop. In fact, at the end of the lap before he served his penalty on lap 37 he was seven seconds ahead of Vettel and only eight adrift of Hamilton, a gap that had been as large as 14.7s some 15 laps earlier.
So, while his early second stop meant he would be required to run a longer final stint than Vettel, the drive-through meant he lost crucial track position to not only Vettel but Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso as well, who he would spend the rest of the race unable to find a way past. Without the punishment, Grosjean would certainly have been in the plum seat for a second successive third-place finish rather than the frankly completely unrepresentative sixth place he ended up in.
What did Nico Rosberg's pace tell us about Mercedes' W04?
Nico Rosberg was running 49.773 seconds behind his team-mate when he retired from the race on lap 65 with an engine failure - so was Lewis Hamilton outperforming the car, did the German himself underperform or was this simply a case of being caught in the dirty air?
Starting from pole, Hamilton had the benefit of clean air as he set a 1:28.648 on lap two before settling around the 1:27.6 mark. Rosberg, on the other hand, had slipped from fourth to 12th on the opening lap and, stuck behind the Williams of Pastor Maldonado, set a time of 1:31.075 on lap two, followed by a 1:30.1 and a 1:30.3. Such was his time loss in turbulence behind the Williams, Rosberg was 20.164 seconds behind his team-mate by the end of lap five.
After the first round of stops, both drivers found themselves in clean air on lap 12 and it was Rosberg that was the quicker of the two drivers by four tenths of a second. However, next time around the German was hooked onto the gearbox of Maldonado once more, dropping back into the 1:29s and losing over a second to Hamilton. It wouldn't be until lap 24 that 28-year-old would finally find a way past the Venezuelan which heavily compromised his race.
After the final round of stops, there was little to choose between the pair - if anything Rosberg was the quicker of the pair by a couple of tenths. Interestingly they both set their fastest laps of the race late in their respective final stints - Rosberg after 14 laps and Hamilton after 19 laps - suggesting Mercedes have made significant steps forward with their tyre degradation problems.
Thus it would seem Hamilton's race-winning pace is the true form of the Silver Arrows at present. When presented with an opportunity to run in clean air, Rosberg was able to match his team-mate's pace or better it. With a better start from the dirty side of the grid, perhaps we could have been looking at a one-two finish for Mercedes had the German leapt up to P2 at the start.
How stark was Ferrari's under-performance?
In the wake of an improved qualifying performance that saw him take fifth place on the grid, Fernando Alonso spoke optimistically on Saturday night of closing the gap to Sebastian Vettel in Sunday's race. Despite the Red Bull starting three places ahead of the Ferrari, it wasn't an outlandish ambition; the F138 has typically performed far better in race conditions than in qualifying this season.
Yet in Hungary the Ferrari performed an unexpected role reversal with Alonso sorely bereft of competitive race pace despite qualifying within four-tenths of Vettel. The deficiency was starkly exposed just before the halfway stage of the grand prix. Having been within two seconds of Vettel when the Red Bull was finally released from behind Jenson Button's McLaren, the Ferrari immediately began to drop back at an alarmingly fast rate. Whereas Vettel instantly reeled off six consecutive laps below the 1:27.5 mark, Alonso could only manage a 1:27.8, 1:27.7, 1:27.5, 1:27.8, 1:28.1, 1:28.4, 1:27.9 and a 1:28.8 before following the German in for a second pit-stop on lap 35. And by then, what had been a two-second gap had been stretched to an 8.8-second chasm.
The Ferrari's fundamental lack of pace was further underlined by the fastest laps chart, with Alonso's best almost a second shy of Vettel's despite being set at almost exactly the same stage of the race - laps 56 and 57 respectively - after running a near-identical strategy. But for Vettel's troubles with traffic, the Spaniard would surely have finished more than half a minute behind a driver he had believed he could beat 24 hours earlier.
No wonder that upon being asked on Sunday night what he would like for his birthday, Fernando asked for a new car...
Why were Marussia so far off the pace?
Marussia started the season ahead of Caterham on outright pace, but whilst the gap had closed as the season progressed, Hungary will have been a major worry for John Booth's team as they fell a long way behind their nearest rivals and were the only team to be lapped three times.
Jules Bianchi has usually been able to get ahead of one, if not both, green and yellow cars in practice and qualifying, but at the Hungaroring the Marussias finished 21st and 22nd in every session and were the last of the finishers.
Furthermore, after comparing Bianchi's and Max Chilton's times with those of Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde, it becomes clear the MR02 was over a second per lap slower than the CT03. Looking at the opening stages of the Hungarian GP, Pic and van der Garde lapped in the 1:30s on every lap between four and seven. Marussia, on the other hand, were in the 1:32s with Bianchi twice dipping into the high 1:31s and Chilton achieving the feat just once.
Tony Fernandes's team benefit from a Renault engine and Red Bull gearbox, compared with the Cosworth unit in the MR02 which is considered to be the worst powerplant on the grid. A switch to Ferrari power, gearbox and ERS system in 2014 could help to remedy the situation, but until then it could be a long final nine races for the team.