How F1's reigning king overcame its young pretender in Hungarian GP
Sky F1's Martin Brundle on how the Hungarian GP's top two left the rest in their wake, the highs and lows through the field, and whether a 2020 driver change might be afoot at Mercedes...
Last Updated: 05/08/19 12:01pm
Another F1 race well worth our precious Sunday afternoon time and heartbeats, even if a glance at the official results would suggest it was boring.
The bare facts tell us that Lewis Hamilton won his 81st F1 race by over 17 seconds from Max Verstappen in a Red Bull, with the two Ferrari drivers of Seb Vettel and Charles Leclerc finishing third and fourth over a minute behind, while everybody else was lapped at least once, with Romain Grosjean the only retiree.
Of course, it was a completely different story.
Verstappen led initially after a great start followed by a well-positioned car into Turn One, and as the two Mercedes of Bottas and Hamilton battled and nerfed, Max crafted a 2.4-second lead. At that point, I expected the Red Bull wheel-smith - with his Orange army in vociferous support - would edge away to a glorious third victory in four races.
Ferrari had no real pace, eventually losing 62 seconds in 70 laps. Bottas had to pit for a new nose after further contact with a darting Leclerc, and Pierre Gasly in the sister Red Bull had a poor start and made little progress thereafter. The facts contained in this paragraph would go on to determine the race winner, because it became a two-horse race between Verstappen and Hamilton way out front with nobody remotely in the same postcode to cloud Mercedes' clever decision to pit Hamilton for a second time on lap 48.
In the intervening laps, we had a great duel between the young pretender Max and the reigning King Lewis - relentless pace and side-by-side action full of imagination, daring, precision, and skill.
In the expected one-stop race, Lewis pitted six laps after Max, with both going onto new hard-compound boots. Lewis decided to go on the offensive and put the pressure on Max with blistering early pace in phase two, generating that overtaking opportunity.
Ironically, if Lewis had made the move stick around the outside of Turn Four, it would have been Red Bull who enjoyed the 'nothing to lose' decision of 'free' pitting from second place for new tyres with nobody close enough behind to get in the way of the strategy.
As Christian Horner said to me after the race, would anybody voluntarily pit from the lead and knowingly give up track position at the twisty Hungaroring? I can't help think that if they had the choice again, they would have pitted Verstappen and put him on fresh tyres to take the fight to Lewis, as they were most likely consigned to second place anyway.
It was a tall order for Max to get to the end on 45-lap-old tyres. If his pace had held up, he may have just run Hamilton out of available laps for the catch and pass, and hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the Merc pitwall aced the strategy.
Even before they pulled that little trick, Lewis looked to be faster, and the bottom line is that he was probably going to win whatever Red Bull did.
With 81 victories, LH is now only 10 behind the, at one time, seemingly unassailable total of 91 wins for Michael Schumacher. That's very likely going to be surpassed in the next calendar year, as he chases down seven world titles and leaves yet another high-water mark.
A sixth title in the remaining nine races of this season now looks highly likely.
Vettel's long first stint medium/soft one-stop strategy saw him lunge past Leclerc in the closing stages to take the final podium spot. Leclerc really beats himself up post-qualy and race while outlining where he needs to improve or stop making mistakes. On this occasion, he feels that he uses his tyres harder than his team-mate, who eked a full 12 laps more out of his starting set of mediums.
McLaren had a fine weekend again with Carlos Sainz in fifth and Lando Norris, who should have been sixth but for a slow pit stop, eventually ending up ninth. They have a solid slot in fourth in the Constructors' Championship with 12 of 21 races gone.
Talking of which, Red Bull are homing in on Ferrari for second, as is Verstappen on Bottas for second in the Drivers' Championship. If only Pierre Gasly could deliver better in the second Red Bull, then they could well be ahead of Ferrari.
Rookies Alex Albon in 10th, and George Russell driving the wheels off the reluctant Williams, both had solid weekends too. Albon and his Toro Rosso team-mate Dany Kvyat had a blistering and feisty scrap, albeit clean and ultimately sensible.
Kimi Raikkonen showed his speed, experience and class with yet another solid seventh for Alfa Romeo. He is flying along under the radar, which suits him nicely I suspect.
It was a second race in eight days for Renault to forget, pointless again for both Hulkenberg and Ricciardo. It's a miserable phase for the Enstone boys.
As we head into the summer break where teams are forced to close down for two weeks, we await news if Bottas will keep his Merc seat or whether Esteban Ocon will get the slot alongside Hamilton, or be released elsewhere. There won't be a big shake-up this winter, but Bottas could be the first domino in whatever musical chairs kicks off.
I don't know what they'll do. If I had to guess, I'd say they'll put Ocon in.
I'm hearing that key F1 teams are strongly resisting the proposed 2021 aero changes and the concept of increased standardised parts, on the basis that the former may not improve the racing in lieu of the massive development costs, and the latter will cost more for lower quality parts. With the deadline of October fast approaching, that sounds rather alarming, to say the least. There'll be trouble ahead.
Let's hope we can resume in Spa and Monza with some equally great F1 races, where the evolving cars, tyres and particular track layouts, cloaked in occasionally extreme weather, have allowed for some thrilling action.