Hungaroring reverses fortunes for Vettel in 2018
Back in 2017, as Sebastian Vettel entered the Hungaroring- he was marginally ahead of second-placed Lewis Hamilton in the driver’s championship.
By the time the 70th lap was completed, the German driver was on top of both the podium as well as in exceeding his lead over Lewis Hamilton in the driver’s standings.
The men in red sprayed champagne everywhere and sprayed the epic Central-European track with an air of swagger and ebullience.
Denying Lewis a win, who found no pace to challenge the red cars, Vettel entered the mid-season break in supreme confidence.
Cut to 2018 and what do we see?
What must be Vettel’s thoughts as he enters the mid-season break 24 points shy of race-winner Hamilton?
A few hours ago, Vettel entered the legendary Hungaroring 17 points adrift of Hamilton. He couldn’t be blamed for thinking he’d turn around a corner for Ferrari in the dry conditions and pass Hamilton for the top position.
Ferrari was concerned about the wet-weather conditions on Saturday. But even in dry weather, there was no denying Lewis Hamilton.
How quickly do fortunes change in Formula 1, isn’t it?
In taking a clinical, dogged and a visibly comfortable win, Lewis Hamilton ruled with an iron-fist here at the former iron curtain at Hungaroring.
So quick was he on the legendary Hungaroring- wherein he just claimed his sixth win and Mercedes’ 81st overall, it could be said, racing at the 70-lap contest was a morning jog in the park for the four-time world champion.
In a sport where mental advantage has about as much relevance as tenacity and pace, you can’t be forgiven for thinking that Mercedes hold an advantage to claim the 2018 season once again.
That’s unless a sudden turnaround marked by inferior Mercedes driving results in the climax to what’s already been a fantastic year all around, checkered by 6 wins now for Lewis.
At a track where Senna clinched his maiden pole in that Lotus of 1986 and where Lewis climbed from the back of the grid as Button clinched a win in 2011 Hungaroring often favours the brave. There was little doubt who that would be as no driver seemed solid enough to threaten the Mercedes driver.
Here’s how the race panned out.
Vettel seemed comfortable inside the opening lap
Passing teammate Raikkonen around the challenging Turn 2, after the long run to the first corner, Vettel jumped into third, dampening Kimi’s hopes for a podium early on.
Bottas was quick and got a clean getaway as did Hamilton who charged ahead with searing pace. Vettel seemed marginally under attack from fifth-place Carlos Sainz but did well to challenge his teammate early on.
At the back of the grid, Ricciardo began on a lacklustre 12th, which would, of course, be revered by some clinical overtaking and good solid driving as the race progressed. It was heartbreak for Sauber’s Charles Leclerc who race-retired following a collision in the opening lap, being sandwiched between the two Force India’s of Ocon and Peres.
By Lap 5, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, entering Hungaroring at the back of some great driving was already up into seventh. Meanwhile, Hulkenberg in his Renault got the better of the backmarkers to climb to tenth.
Alonso, meanwhile, challenged Grosjean and looked set to make most of his 37th birthday.
On Lap 6, the race dampened for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Facing a complete loss of power in his Renault-powered engine- a prospect that explains his teammate Ricciardo’s tight-lipped concerns for 2019- the Dutchman pulled to the side of the track. Enduring his fourth non-finish in 2018 explained the murmur on the team radio.
Meanwhile, by Lap 10, the grid was dancing to the ‘Hammertime’
About 4 seconds ahead of second-placed teammate Bottas, Hamilton looked visibly comfortable as the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, intent on the overcut was playing catch-up.
Raikkonen, by now pursued by Gasly, promoted to fifth by Max’ retirement looked stable and breezy in fourth.
There was one driver, though, who was making some serious progress at the back of the grid.
It was the ‘honey badger’ Daniel Ricciardo. In a race where climbing up the order seemed as easy a task for Ricciardo as playing his favourite game on PlayStation- is it F1 racing, we don’t know- there was hardly any stopping the Aussie.
By Lap 27, there was hardly a surprise to see Daniel up into 5th.
Kimi, who’d pit early in Lap 15 for a fresher set of rubber, began chasing Bottas for third. Despite a wobbly flex in the front nose of his Mercedes, Hamilton seemed utterly unperturbed, holding track position.
By lap 40, the pecking order was dominated by the familiar figure of Hamilton, with Vettel up in second, following Bottas’ stop earlier, the Finn emerging ahead of his compatriot, Kimi Raikkonen, following in fourth.
5 laps later, Ricciardo, intending to make the overcut work, pitted and emerged behind Raikkonen on fifth.
At all these times, one wondered what was Ferrari’s strategy for Vettel?
When was Seb’s Ferrari going to box?
As the battle for fourth saw the only Red Bull running in contention for points- Daniel Ricciardo- pursuing Kimi Raikkonen for fourth, there was heartbreak at the back of the grid for McLaren’s Vandoorne.
Following a gearbox failure at a time he was running in points- tenth by Lap 49- Fernando Alonso’s teammate retired.
Vettel pitted for a rather slower stop and emerged in front of his teammate, now trailing well over 10 seconds.
On Lap 53, the battle between Valtteri Bottas and Vettel was heating up as the German was 1.2 seconds behind the Finn.
This would be a seminal moment in the dogged fight at Hungaroring.
Vettel versus Bottas for a second would be an utterly exciting contest till the final stages. But it would yield a painful result for the Mercedes driver and would determine the fate of Ferrari in a weekend where they couldn’t salvage a win.
While up in the front Hamilton led the proceedings comfortably, holding track position by a margin of 13 points starting Lap 54, his teammate, on a dying set of rubber was defending brilliantly from the Ferrari of Vettel.
Whilst a solid battle was unfolding behind the race-leader, Raikkonen moved himself up and closer to the battling duo, his teammate’s Ferrari now reflecting in the Iceman’s visor.
Despite multiple attempts in the DRS zone and going as close and under a tenth of a second to Bottas, Vettel failed to blast past.
On Lap 62, Kimi, gaining on his teammate was 0.5 seconds behind Sebastian and seemed on the charge.
From the onset of Lap 55 to Lap 69, Bottas drove magnificently.
Even as a Ferrari fan, you wanted to tip your hat to the Finnish driver, not the luckiest bloke this season.
This is precisely when Bottas’ horror turned horrific as he’d come together on Lap 69 with a Vettel, under pressure to lap the Finn.
Thankfully, even Hungaroring was sprayed by lots of carbon fibre, there wasn’t terrible damage to Sebastian Vettel, quick to defend his move on a high-speed corner despite holding a narrow line.
Under breaking, Bottas couldn’t be blamed for playing his part in causing the skirmish. Though, this led Vettel and Raikkonen thorough, as the Finn fell into fifth and eventually, came under attack of a menacingly quick Daniel Ricciardo.
There was more drama on Lap 69.
Under 2 Laps to go with Hamilton way up in the lead, the race was not over for his teammate, Bottas, who’d exhibited a master-class in defensive driving all this while before his collision.
The Australian driver, under a second behind the Silver Arrows of Bottas, focusing on getting a good exit on Turn 14 came together with the Merc.
Bottas would experience another collision, the second racing incident at an action-packed Hungaroring.
More heartbreak for Bottas as Hamilton crosses the checkered flag
Finally, on Lap 70, Ricciardo lapped Bottas, in an undeniably quick Red Bull, the Finn gasping in what was left of his car.
By that time, it was clear that the man to pour champagne from the very top would not be a Ferrari ace but a certain Lewis Hamilton.
Under pressure since Silverstone, if there’s a man who’s completely transformed the fortune for his team and thus, for himself, then it’s the four-time world champion.
Probably, at this time, he’s rendered a blow to Vettel that may take a lot of effort from the German to ensure it’s not a decisive one.