Conclusions from the Hungarian GP
Vettel returns as F1's leading man, F1 does the memory of Jules proud, the two 'what ifs' of Lewis Hamilton's day, and...
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 27/07/15 10:29pm
F1 does Jules proud with a race worthy of the occasion
Sometimes, F1 is better than its word. As the sport reconvened in Budapest just two days after saying farewell to their fallen comrade in Nice, its leading protagonists said they would drive for Jules Bianchi in Hungary. And then they did just that: incredibly, despite being weighed down with the burden of pain and grief and uncertainty, F1 delivered its most memorable race of the year on a weekend dedicated to remembrance.
In the most trying of circumstances, F1 raced hard and respected impeccably, somehow finding the right tone for the occasion and performing a pre-race tribute – when the drivers formed an interlinked circle at the front of the grid – which silently, beautifully, spoke volumes of Jules and his peers' sense of loss.
Out of the darkness, F1 rediscovered its heart and capacity to stir the emotions.
Vettel leads on to show Hamilton what could have been
So F1's early-summer crisis has well and truly been averted. The Hungarian GP was a rip-snorter of a race, a roller-coaster of emotional and sporting tumult as battle raged up and down the field and the world championship pendulum swung back and forth between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Only the serenity of Sebastian Vettel, in sublime front-running form of Red Bull yore, remained a constant theme – almost reassuringly so amidst the bedlam.
First into the first corner, Vettel was in cruise control thereafter. Forget about qualifying; it’s a fast getaway which has come ninth-tenths of the law behind 2015 victory, Williams’ strategic brainfade at Silverstone the exception to prove the rule.
The vast majority of races this year have been won by the driver first into the first corner, underlining in bold the importance, bordering on a decisive advantage, which a driver treated to clean air enjoys. The crippling effects of dirty air remains F1’s unwashed dirty secret.
But Vettel’s serenity also begs another question: namely, would Hamilton have run away with the victory and the title race had he managed a fast getaway?
With barely a dozen laps of the weekend remaining, a situation had unfolded which appeared poised to propel Rosberg into the summer break at the top of the world championship – a shocking proposition given Hamilton’s weekend dominance and 9-1 thrashing of his team-mate in qualifying this term.
It’s an incredible ‘what if’ alternative reality difficult to move on from, especially when the destination envisaged is a prosaic victory, but there was plenty in the middle of the race, when Hamilton was the fastest driver on the track and Rosberg lost almost around a second per lap to the Ferraris, to suggest that had Hamilton made it to the first corner then he was nigh-on certain to win and Rosberg would most probably have finished a distant third or fourth. In which case Hamilton would have left Hungary in the region of 30 - perhaps even 35 or 40 - points clear at the summit.
It’s not as exciting as Rosberg and Hamilton standing equal in the standings halfway through the season, but Hungary was as much an opportunity missed for the world champion as a lucky escape.
Ricciardo finds just the tonic
The problem with Daniel Ricciardo, remarked Damon Hill at the weekend, is that when you give a driver of his competitiveness an uncompetitive car “his fizz goes”. The Australian, as this year has already testified on a few moderate occasions, can be pretty ordinary in ordinary circumstances. Conversely, Ricciardo is the sort of driver who truly comes alive given the whiff of a podium or better. We saw it three times last year, when he stole a hat-trick of victories, and we saw it again this weekend when he very nearly mugged Mercedes and Ferrari for the win.
Even if the Red Bull driver not been a tad too aggressive in his attempt to overtake Rosberg for second place, his victory was still anything but guaranteed. But he would have had a chance – and the great, untamed treat about Ricciardo is that it’s guaranteed he would have given it a go.
McLaren make their own luck
Has a chink of daylight finally appeared at the end of a dark tunnel for McLaren-Honda in 2015? Their double-points finish in Hungary owed more to persistence than performance and the team were quick to privately warn after the race that Spa and Monza, where engine power is critical, are likely to host severe regressions. But even if fortunate – and indebted to Mercedes’ self-inflicted pain, the ill luck of Kimi Raikkonen, the madness of Pastor Maldonado, and so on – it is difficult to begrudge McLaren their welcome pain relief.
While the sight of Fernando Alonso pushing his broken-down car along the pitlane during qualifying captured in a single frame the wretched indignity of the former superpower's struggles this year, it was a moment which also encapsulated the astonishing chin-up resilience of a team which is refusing to accept its plight without doing everything in its power to get back on its feet.
"I want to be out there and I want to race and this shows how much I love my sport,” explained Alonso on Saturday night. “It doesn't matter if you are last, 15th or on pole position, you want to drive the car and be out there." For attitude alone, Sunday’s lucky-ish reward was the least he deserved.
Wind tunnels make for non-testing times
While the Hungarian GP stands out on the 2015 calendar as the lone outpost in six weeks, be thankful for small mercies. As reported at the start of the week, F1 is to come to a complete standstill at the start of 2016 for a three-month break.
While such an interminable period between season closer and season opener is hardly new to F1, the difference next year is that, with the first 2016 test delayed until March 1, F1 cars will not run on track at all between the conclusion of November’s Abu Dhabi GP and the third month of 2016. In short: the world’s most global sport will be mothballed for a quarter of the year.
Why? Costs predominantly. The travelling, accommodating, and operations of multi-day tests doesn’t come cheap. Moreover, the teams are acutely aware of the strains their personnel and budget will be burdened with next year when the sport will dispense 21 races across barely 30 weeks. Batteries, both personal and monetary, will need maximum charge ahead of that relentless globe-trotting compression.
Yet the reduction in testing, a staple diet of F1 in years gone by on a near-weekly basis, is also a reflection of its diminished value in the face of enhanced computer technology. While a F1 track still delivers the ultimate gauge of performance, teams increasingly regard wind tunnels and their in-house circuit simulators as a more efficient and cost-effective use of their development time.
Pre-season testing still represents a vital, pre-requisite systems check and the best possible means for teams and drivers to rediscover match fitness, but in years to come the surprise is likely to be the length of F1's hibernation but that it ever went back to work in January and February. For F1 testing, the 2016 shutdown may be the first of many testing times to come.
Don’t miss the F1 Midweek Report for all the analysis of the Hungarian GP. Reuters' F1 correspondent Alan Baldwin and The Daily Telegraph’s Daniel Johnson join Natalie Pinkham in the studio. Catch it at 8:30pm on Wednesday July 29 on Sky Sports F1.