Hungarian GP 2017
JULY 31, 2017
Race Analysis - An uneasy breeze: How Vettel barely won
By Dan Knutson in Budapest
"I think it's going to be an easy breeze for them," Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said after he qualified fourth for the Hungarian Grand Prix while Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen gridded first and second. "You can't overtake here so it's most likely going to be a train unless we can do something on strategy."
The grand prix did turn into a train, but it was not an easy afternoon for Vettel or Raikkonen who finished first and second in a race Vettel could have and very nearly lost. Here is how it all unfolded.
As Hamilton said, qualifying well is important because it is so difficult to overtake around the twisty Hungaroring. Ferrari locked out the front row of the grid with Vettel taking pole position and Raikkonen qualifying second.
POLE SET UP
Ferrari didn't have the pace on Friday to get that front row. The team made numerous changes to the car's set ups on Friday night and Saturday morning which transformed those cars into front runners in qualifying.
"I don't think there was any moment that we had a shot of pole," Hamilton said. "We couldn't match the Ferrari's time today."
Mercedes had a very quick car in Silverstone but couldn't match the Ferraris in Hungary.
"It is track specific," noted Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. "There are three tracks that are similar high downforce tracks: Monaco, Budapest and Singapore. We are starting to see a little bit of a pattern that the DNA of our car just seems to be running more stable on the faster circuits. Ferrari does very well on these twisty slow circuits."
A mistake by Vettel at the start could have cost him the lead. But he was error free and stayed in first place.
"I had a very good start," Raikkonen said. "We both had very similar starts, but I could obviously get the tow effect and then braked slightly later. But obviously with a teammate I'm not going to force the issue in Turn 1; I'm going to fight but we're going to fight fair, so since that moment there's not an awful lot you can do. I had a very good car today."
Red Bull had the same race pace as Mercedes and Ferrari, but not the same qualifying pace. Starting fifth and sixth compromised Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. And then any hopes for the race were dashed when they collided just after the start. Ricciardo was out on the spot, and Verstappen got a 10 second penalty.
Vettel had a problem with the steering that early on.
"Check the steering, it's hanging to the left," radioed Vettel. "It's getting worse."
"Steer clear of the curbs," his engineer later told him.
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
Vettel had to take it easy and avoid the curbs at a track where the drivers use the curbs at nearly every corner. He had to control his pace, and Raikkonen got stuck behind him while at the same time having a Mercedes driver, first Bottas and then Hamilton, closing up behind him.
"I'm stuck behind Seb now, and I'm suffering," Raikkonen radioed. He later asked if Vettel "is going full speed, because the Mercedes are closing."
"I'm going to only ruin my tires even more. Is this what we're going to do the rest of the race?" Raikkonen grumbled later.
He also said he did not want to come under pressure from the Mercedes "for no reason."
Raikkonen's requests and hints that he be allowed to move ahead of his teammate fell on deaf ears at the Ferrari pit wall.
Ferrari wanted Vettel to win so that he could extend his championship lead over Hamilton. The team gambled that Vettel could hang on to the lead with Raikkonen acting as a buffer against the Mercedes attack. This instead of letting Raikkonen go out front and pull out a healthy lead so as to be immune from any challenge from behind.
In contrast to Ferrari, Mercedes did ask its drivers to switch positions so that Hamilton could have a go at Raikkonen. The team promised Bottas he could have third place back if Hamilton did not succeed. The strategy nearly went wrong as the team had to handle a tricky handover on the final lap, and Hamilton barely held on to fourth place ahead of a charging Verstappen.
Vettel hung on to win a tense race.
"I'm over the moon," he said. "It was really difficult. I had my hands full from three four laps after the safety car. The steering started to so sideways. I stayed off the curbs, tried to save the car. I didn't do any favors to Kimi, who could go faster. I really had to stay focused the whole race."
10 of 11
Vettel has now won 10 of the last 11 races he started from the pole. It was also his 46th career victory.