Martin Brundle on the Hungarian GP: Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso make big decisions, Ferrari inexplicably fumble
From some big decisions off the track to some baffling ones on it, Sky F1's Martin Brundle casts his expert eye over the Budapest weekend and has his say on Max Verstappen vs Charles Leclerc after a potentially critical comeback drive from the world champion
Last Updated: 02/08/22 2:02pm
The Hungarian GP delivered on and off the track, with a thoroughly entertaining race helped by Mercedes being genuinely competitive up front while major announcements kept all of us guessing.
In the distant past we've had some very dull processions around this tight and relatively slow circuit, but without any high speed corners to stretch the pack the 2022 cars were able to run nose to tail and side by side even better.
We saw some great overtakes all through the race, most of which had to be completed on the brakes and remaining fully under control, just as it should be.
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Off-track it was an event focused on former champions with Sebastian Vettel announcing his retirement at the end of the season, where all things being equal Abu Dhabi will be his 300th Grand Prix start. It seems no time at all since he was a BMW Friday test driver and then on the grid for Toro Rosso looking like a fresh-faced uni student enjoying life some 15 years ago.
He has won four world championships and 53 races, third on the all-time F1 list, and he remains the youngest-ever world champion. He may only be 35 but he's burned the candle hard.
Fourteen of Seb's victories were with Ferrari over six seasons which is perhaps more than some might imagine given that adventure didn't go much to plan. I asked Christian Horner on Sky Sports F1 if he felt Seb had made a mistake leaving Red Bull for Ferrari at the end of 2014, and he was crystal clear that he felt it was the right move for him at that time.
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Sebastian wants to pursue family life and no doubt some of the other global initiatives and causes he has championed in recent seasons. Whilst on the same day he launched an Instagram account which already has 2.1m followers, he will find it hard to maintain an awareness and springboard away from the global F1 stage because that game relentlessly looks forward. How often has anybody mentioned Kimi Raikkonen this year, for example?
Sebastian is a true champion and a thoroughly good human being, and it was a pleasure to commentate on his career.
The timing of his video retirement declaration made even more sense when Fernando Alonso was surprisingly announced as taking his seat on Monday morning. It appears that Alpine couldn't or wouldn't offer Alonso a two-year deal, and his Aston Martin deal is officially described as multi-year.
He's also been fairly underwhelmed at how punchy his team-mate Esteban Ocon has been towards him in combat at Alpine rather than turning all their guns on their rivals.
Fernando is a force of nature on and off the track and he will push the team very hard. He's mellowed a little these days but there could easily be fireworks as he joins the Stroll family 'firm'.
I remember interviewing Fernando on the 2018 Abu Dhabi grid and he was very convincing that it really was the end of his F1 career, but now he'll be on the grid until at least the end of 2024 at the age of 43 and with 400 F1 races under his right foot. Extraordinary.
Setting up the race: Leclerc hunts down Russell
George Russell's pole position lap was a cracker out of the blue. He didn't top any sector times or speed traps, but he did prepare his tyres very well and hooked up a beauty to deny Ferrari what seemed like a certain front row lockout, particularly after Max Verstappen's Red Bull developed power unit problems in final qualifying.
Both Ferrari drivers had shown great pace wet or dry and, just as in Paul Ricard the week before, Carlos Sainz had looked marginally the more comfortable and faster than Charles Leclerc.
Verstappen was lucky that his motor failed at the very end of qualifying rather than the beginning of the race but he'd start 10th with an ambition to get somewhere near the podium. It was an intriguing grid with Hamilton similarly out of position after his DRS rear wing failed in qualifying.
Alpine locked out the third row and Lando Norris had grabbed fourth for McLaren too. Those three drivers along with Valtteri Bottas would slog round on an unadventurous but presumably necessary strategy using the unloved hard compound tyres in an attempt to beat each other for best of the rest in seventh, won by Norris. Alonso and Ocon were eighth and ninth with Vettel scoring the last championship point in 10th.
Bottas stopped with two laps to go but would still be a classified finisher meaning for only the 13th time in F1 history all starters finished.
Russell valiantly held onto the lead eking 16 laps out of his starting set of soft compound tyres. Perhaps curiously Sainz was called in a lap later to dispose of his medium compound tyres for another set of the same, as indeed did Ferrari team-mate Leclerc on lap 21, again for mediums. Under the rules unless it rained both drivers would be forced to pit again to use the mandatory second compound which restricted options to an extent.
Meanwhile the impressive Leclerc had been lapping faster on his old tyres and over-cut Sainz to take up the chase of Russell out front, who succumbed on lap 31. This appeared to be yet another race for Leclerc to win.
Where it all went wrong for Ferrari as Verstappen and Hamilton star
A lot of the pit stop activity was driven to cover off the recovering Verstappen as Red Bull forced the agenda by calling their man in on laps 16 and 38. Max then delivering some blistering pace immediately after.
He'd been struggling with a slipping clutch which some kind of voodoo sensor default setting on his steering wheel helped mitigate.
Ferrari were still busy reacting and on lap 39 they pitted Leclerc. He either had to take soft tyres which wouldn't last until the end of the race, or the hard compound tyres which had looked pretty dire on other cars. They fitted the hards and consigned Leclerc to P6 whilst sliding all over the place.
The Ferrari team keep it tight and support each other on these reasonably frequent errors of late, but however you paint it they somehow navigated a fast car from second and third on the grid to finish fourth and sixth. That was all compounded by surprisingly poor pace on the soft compound tyres on a cool day with constant spots of rain around, but the medium/medium strategy pitting for the second time a little over half distance made no sense.
Max even lost the lead with a spin in turn 13, brilliantly booting it to complete a 360 spin and charge off after Leclerc to pass him again. It was a truly top drive from Max to win by eight seconds, and the rain was just a tease all race by never quite arriving.
Equally impressive was two stopping Lewis Hamilton from seventh on the grid. The Mercedes really did use the soft tyres well in the closing stages and Lewis rose to the occasion as usual for his fifth straight podium. He and the team did make a medium/medium/soft tyre strategy work by pitting on lap 51, just to torment Ferrari a little more.
Russell would have been very disappointed in third having been caught and passed by Hamilton on a different strategy, but he played his part for the team very well out front. They still seem to be pretty confused as to why the Mercedes works sometimes better than others and they had a wild weekend trying to harness it. If they can't work out the problem then there's no point in anybody else having an opinion as to why.
Nine races to go and Verstappen has an 80-point advantage which is greater than three victories combined with three fastest laps. Mercedes are now only 30 points behind Ferrari in the Constructors' table too, and so it's going to feel like a very long summer break in Maranello.
Talk to you from Spa at the end of the month.