2014 Hungarian GP analysis: Delving into the detail and the strategies from the race
Would Rosberg have won if Hamilton had heeded orders? Just how did Alonso finish second? How did the first Safety Car shuffle the order?
By James Galloway, William Esler and Mike Wise
Last Updated: 07/08/14 9:04am
What would have happened if Hamilton had moved over?
Not for the first time in recent F1 history, the interjection from a team’s pitwall during a race prompted no end of contention and, for the purposes of this exercise, post-race intrigue in Hungary.
Whether or not you think that Lewis Hamilton was fully within his rights to resist the order/instruction/advice to “let Nico past” as the Mercedes’ pair’s divergent tyre strategies met on track – and the weight of opinion in the 48 hours since from fans, commentators and even some of the Mercedes hierarchy would suggest Lewis was indeed fully justified – the inevitable ‘what if’ question is where Rosberg would have finished had his team-mate acted differently.
Before we do that, however, it’s worth just pinpointing when and why Mercedes put their title-duelling drivers on different tyre strategies in the first place. With the first Safety Car having dramatically shuffled the order at race leader Rosberg’s expense, by lap 15 just Sebastian Vettel separated the German from the fast-recovering Hamilton. The Red Bull stayed wedged between the Mercedes’ all the way to lap 33 when Rosberg, having been unable to pass Jean-Eric Vergne ahead of him, pitted for a second set of the soft tyres. Hamilton, immediately passing a spinning Vettel and then, in thrilling style, the Toro Rosso, stayed out until lap 39 when he switched to the more durable mediums.
“We needed to split the strategy because it was so difficult to read the race,” Toto Wolff later explained. “It could have worked out very well for one and not very well for the other one.” With Rosberg having endured a slower stop than his team-mate and then navigating Valtteri Bottas on his return to the track, Hamilton re-emerged 2.9 seconds ahead of the sister car - although the difference in their respective compounds soon wiped that advantage out. Hamilton, four seconds behind what turned out to be the similarly two-stopping Alonso, may have been catching the Ferrari but Rosberg was closing on him at an even quicker rate of knots and by lap 45 was just 1.1s adrift. The first call to “not hold him up” was duly delivered to Hamilton on lap 46, and although Rosberg did actually close to fractionally within DRS range at the end of laps 48-50, the Briton felt his team-mate wasn't close enough to consider moving aside.
With no change of position forthcoming, and Rosberg’s tyres beginning to go off and/or suffer in Hamilton’s turbulent wake, the gap increased back out to 1.2s before the championship leader pitted for the final time on lap 56 – some 11 laps on from when he first closed to within 1.1s of the sister W05. Rosberg returned to the track on new soft boots but right behind three cars – Raikkonen, Massa and Bottas – he should otherwise have been clear of. It wasn’t until lap 61, when he passed the lead Williams into Turn One, that he was finally in clear air again and to underline how much time again lost, Rosberg’s next lap - 1:26.083 – was a full two seconds quicker than his previous ones in traffic. The German, lapping anything up to three seconds quicker than the two-stopping Alonso and Hamilton, was back right with the pair with two laps to go - but, a rebuffed attack on Hamilton into Turn Three aside on the last lap, he had run out of time to claim a podium.
But had Hamilton let Rosberg through in that previous stint then the German would have arrived back on his gearbox with several more laps to spare. Although you can be sure the Briton wouldn't have made it easy for the sister car even on well-worn tyres, the cards would have been stacked far more heavily in Rosberg's favour. From there Alonso's Ferrari, as Ricciardo proved, would have been easier meat and so a second-place finish at the very least would have been Rosberg's for the taking.
But did Hamilton have a victory opportunity of his own?
One additional moot point was why Hamilton, like Rosberg, wasn't put on back-to-back soft-tyre stints as well, particularly as he had more new sets of the yellow-marked rubber available to him given he didn't use any in qualifying. Alonso, who it should be pointed out was running ahead of Hamilton at all times and unfathomably made one set of softs last to the end, admitted “it was difficult but Lewis had the medium tyre, which was a little bit less grippy, and I had a little bit of an advantage in the level of grip there".
But Mercedes, out of position in a chaotic race and chasing a win by hook or by crook, hedged their strategic bets and as Paddy Lowe conceded afterwards: "In the event, neither strategy was capable of recovering the win given the impact of the safety car periods".
But for Hamilton, with championship deficit to Rosberg nonetheless trimmed, just how important will his in-car decision to go with his gut instinct prove in the final title reckoning?
How much time did the first Safety Car cost Rosberg and co?
In short, it cost Nico Rosberg the race victory. When Marcus Ericsson lost control of his Caterham and was fired into the wall on the exit of Turn Three on the eighth lap the championship leader was streaking away at the front of the field and had opened up a gap of over ten seconds to Valtteri Bottas. That was an advantage that looked destined to continue to grow as the German set the then fastest lap of the race – 1:42.447, nearly 1.5 seconds quicker than Bottas – before the Safety Car picked him up at Turn One.
Rosberg’s lap back to the pits would take 2:26.958 – compare that with his team-mate’s in-lap to the same box and the German lost 37.745 seconds to Lewis Hamilton – the man he would ultimately finish just half a second behind at the chequered flag. It was also that caution period that set Daniel Ricciardo on course for victory – he was running in sixth spot and trailing by over 18 seconds when the Safety Car came out. However, he was the second man into the pits once the signal had been given from Race Control and, thanks to a slow stop for Jenson Button at McLaren, found himself in the lead of the race.
Rosberg not only dropped behind the Australian and Button, but also Felipe Massa during the scramble - and the Williams driver had been 25.430 seconds behind him prior to Ericsson’s accident. That is three seconds more than required for an average pit-stop and demonstrates how those drivers behind the early top four - Rosberg, Bottas, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso - all benefited from what was effectively a free pit-stop compared to the leader. For that quartet only the brilliant Alonso, as detailed above, recovered to a higher position at the chequred flag.
The Safety Car undoubtedly cost Rosberg the race victory and the other two steps on the podium could also have looked very different indeed.
How did Nico Hulkenberg’s points-scoring run compare?
Just one 100% points-scoring record now remains in 2014 after the usually unerringly consistent Nico Hulkenberg crashed out in Hungary after breaking his front-wing in a botched overtaking move on Force India team-mate Sergio Perez.
Much has been made of the fact that Hulkenberg had registered top-ten finishes in each of the season’s opening ten rounds since his return to the team, but the German’s points-paying run actually stretched back to his final two races at Sauber. It meant that, either side of the winter break and his switch of teams, Hulkenberg scored points in 12 consecutive events – a run good enough for joint 16th place on the all-time list.
So, to probably the surprise of no one, it’s Fernando Alonso who stands alone at the summer break as having left a grand prix weekend in 2014 with at least some points to show for his troubles. The Spaniard’s overall points run now stretches to 14 races and, in fact, had it not been for an 11th-place finish at last October’s Indian GP then the 33-year-old would have broken team-mate Kimi Raikkonen’s all-time sequence on Sunday given the race represented Alonso’s 28th consecutive finish - all but one of which have come in the points.
Much of that stunning consistency, of course, reflects Alonso’s meticulous driving, but having by far the most reliable car in the field doesn’t half help either – the one and only race-ending technical car failure of the Spaniard’s Ferrari career occurred back in Malaysia 2010, a staggering 85 races ago.
The longest points streaks in history
1. Kimi Raikkonen – 27 races (2012 Bahrain GP – 2013 Hungarian GP).
2. Michael Schumacher – 24 races (2001 Hungarian GP – 2003 Malaysian GP).
3. Fernando Alonso – 23 races (2011 European GP – 2012 Hungarian GP).
4. Sebastian Vettel – 19 races (2010 Brazilian GP – 2011 Indian GP).
5. Michael Schumacher – 18 races (2003 San Marino GP – 2004 Spanish GP).
10= Fernando Alonso – 14 races (2013 Abu Dhabi GP – ongoing).
16= Nico Hulkenberg – 12 races (2013 U.S. GP – 2014 German GP).
Fernando Alonso – fashioning a silk purse from a sow’s ear (episode 53)
In terms of how circumstance and fortune can conspire to create a gripping climax, F1 never ceases to impress. It’s a thought that immediately jumped to mind the moment three drivers – one of whom started from the pitlane – found themselves fighting for victory within a second of each other in the closing stages of Sunday’s race.
And if the identities of those involved – Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, with Nico Rosberg further back but fastest of all – wasn’t good enough, then the order they found themselves in, not to mention the tyres they were on and their respective speeds, made it even better. You probably couldn’t have placed the cars better yourself.
The part Alonso played in creating this perfect storm stemmed from a curiosity of the weekend - that the soft option tyre proved a better choice than the medium prime. It was lasting much longer than expected, but 32 laps long? Fernando made it happen, even if he could do nothing to deny Ricciardo three laps from home.
Regardless, he said he was “extremely satisfied” on the podium. But in such a topsy-turvy race, there was inevitably more to it than that final stint. As he’d predicted on Saturday, Alonso made a “strong start” from fifth on the grid but was the last of the top four runners to lose time behind the Safety Car when it first appeared on lap eight.
Until Ricciardo – the main beneficiary of Marcus Ericsson’s crash - provided the final flourish, it was the only ground Alonso lost all afternoon. Relegated to eighth, he had managed to jump Valtteri Bottas’ Williams when they, together with leader Rosberg and third-placed Sebastian Vettel, stopped under caution on lap nine. Once the Safety Car peeled in, Alonso soon passed the Red Bull and Mercedes cars (respectively handicapped by ERS and brake problems) and also Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso.
The failure of McLaren’s tyre gamble – keeping Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen on intermediates in anticipation that the rain which fell pre-race might return – removed them from the equation and after Ricciardo and another three-stopper, Felipe Massa, ducked in when Sergio Perez’s close encounter with the pitwall brought out the Safety Car again on lap 23, Alonso was leading.
Once racing resumed his cause was aided by Vergne, who was running second and keeping a gaggle of pursuers, led by Rosberg, behind. Alonso had built a six-second lead by the time he pitted on lap 38 – Ferrari now throwing the dice and going to the end. “At that point, the strategy suggested that if we had made a third stop, we could have finished fourth, but we decided to run to the flag instead,” Alonso said.
With his F14 T serving as the ‘cork in the bottle’ as first Hamilton and then Ricciardo beared down, Alonso acknowledged that limited overtaking opportunities had played their part. He also ran off the track at the Turn6/7 chicane when followed by Lewis, although it was Dan who eventually got the better of both of them.
“It tastes like a victory for us at the moment,” the Spaniard said afterwards. A morale booster for Ferrari it might have been, but the fact it came in a race shaped by so much more than car performance once again served to highlight their deficiencies. And once again, the same could not be said of Alonso.