Hungarian Grand Prix — Ferrari Blunder Hands Hungary to Verstappen
Max Verstappen heads into the Formula One summer break after winning two races in a row following his Hungarian Grand Prix triumph from P10 on the grid. The team’s Pirelli tyre choices were at the heart of the race, where Ferrari, once again, seemingly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. But, most encouragingly, the Grand Prix saw Mercedes join Red Bull and Ferrari in the fight for victory to set up the final nine events as races any of six drivers could win when F1 returns at the end of August.
George Russell began from P1 after taking the first pole position of his F1 career. Despite his inexperience in starting from the front, the young Brit led the field around the first corner after soaking up pressure from an attacking Carlos Sainz. Sainz’s Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc followed closely, but the Scuderia’s choice of Medium tyres while most had opted for Pirellis Soft compound hampered any progress. The decision would prove even more fateful later on.
The Alpine duo of Esteban Ocon, last year’s winner in Hungary, and Fernando Alonso spent the opening portion of the race as rolling roadblocks for the frontrunners. Lewis Hamilton passed them off the line, but they would prove to be obstacles for Verstappen and Sergio Perez to overtake. Then, as the leaders began to make their pit stops, the blue and pink cars continued to be in the way as they tried to make a one-stop strategy work. They eventually fell back to finish in P8 and P9 as the only drivers to visit the pits just once.
Russell had triggered that first round of pit stops, and Ferrari responded by pitting Sainz for another set of Medium tyres to prevent the Mercedes driver from attempting an undercut. Leclerc followed suit four laps later, ended up passing his Spanish teammate in the pits, and began to close in on Russell with his fresh tyre advantage.
The Monegasque driver went wheel-to-wheel with Russell to try and take the race lead, but a sturdy defence from the Brit meant he initially kept P1. Then, with the benefit of DRS down the main straight, Leclerc could take the outside line into the first corner to sweep past and take the lead. However, Leclerc would need to stop again after running two Medium tyres so far in the race, with F1 requiring all drivers to run two tyre compounds.
The cracks in Ferrari’s choice to start on the Pirelli Medium rubber began to show as Verstappen became the first frontrunner to stop for a second time. As the Red Bull driver had started his Sunday on the Soft tyre before moving to Mediums, this stop could be his final as he had used the mandatory two different compounds. Mercedes immediately sensed Verstappen’s threat and pitted Russell for a fresh set of Mediums to cover any possible undercut. The most consequential reaction, however, was Ferrari, who pitted their race-leading driver, Leclerc, and put him on the Hard tyre.
Verstappen’s route to victory was beginning to open up as he had passed Russell in the pit stops and now had a quicker tyre compound than the net race leader Leclerc. However, the Dutchman spun in the final sector to lose time and let Leclerc have a stay of execution. The rare error from the champion only delayed the inevitable, though, and he soon crept back up to the rear wing of Leclerc’s Ferrari. Leclerc’s Pirelli Hard tyres offered no traction out of the final corner, and Verstappen made a perfect ‘up and under’ overtake between Turns 1 and 2 to seize what would become the race lead once Sainz and Hamilton had pitted.
Ferrari’s disastrous fortnight of racing continued with Sainz suffering a slow pit stop as he went onto the Soft tyre. With Hamilton pitting shortly after, every second would count, and the lost time allowed the Mercedes driver to close in even sooner with the lightning pace he had on Pirelli’s red-walled tyre. Russell had also caught up on Leclerc for second place and eased past the Ferrari, who still couldn’t find any pace on the Hards. Ferrari had to bite the bullet and pit the one-time race leader onto a final set of Soft tyres in a three-stop strategy that had dropped Leclerc from P1 to P6 in just ten laps.
The woes for any watching Tifosi didn’t stop there. Sainz got stuck behind Russell in P3, and the Ferrari’s inability to overtake the number 63 Mercedes let Hamilton in the number 44 Merc close in. Hamilton’s rapid exit out of the final corner made short work of Sainz, and any hopes of a Ferrari podium evaporated. The two Silver Arrows squabbled over P2 for a short time, but Russell had no answer for Hamilton’s tyre advantage couldn’t. The seven-time champ soon returned to a second place he would keep until the chequered flag and made it a consecutive Verstappen-Hamilton-Russell podium after last week’s French GP.
A whopping 80 points now separate Max Verstappen from Charles Leclerc in the top two places of the championship. As a result, Leclerc can ill-afford further mistakes from Ferrari’s pit wall if he wants to keep any slim hope of staying in the title fight. With the Scuderia twice losing out to Mercedes in the last two races for the podium places, F1 heads into the summer break with two more cars capable of wins that Leclerc has to defeat to stop Verstappen from winning the championship well before November’s season finale in Abu Dhabi
Originally published at Tyres Northampton.