Hungarian Grand Prix 2016: Winners and Losers from Hungaroring Race

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2016

Hungarian Grand Prix 2016: Winners and Losers from Hungaroring Race

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    Lewis Hamilton claimed his fifth victory of the 2016 Formula One season in Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring.

    After winning four of the previous five races, the three-time world champion was unfortunate to miss out on pole position after yellow flags appeared at the end of qualifying, gifting the No. 1 grid slot to Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg,

    However, Hamilton recovered from second on the grid to snatch the lead at the start and secure his fifth Budapest win in 10 appearances at the track, overtaking Rosberg for top spot in the drivers' championship.

    Joining Hamilton and Rosberg on the podium was Daniel Ricciardo, who came out on top in a fascinating battle between the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers.

    With a look at the contrasting fortunes at McLaren-Honda and the latest setback for Renault rookie Jolyon Palmer, here are the main winners and losers from Hungary.

Winner: Lewis Hamilton

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    There were shades of Silverstone 2014 at the end of qualifying in Hungary, where Hamilton was forced to abandon his final lap as Rosberg soldiered on and stole pole position from his team-mate's grasp.

    But unlike two years ago, Hamilton, having recovered from countless setbacks in the first half of 2016, refused to become too downhearted, telling Sky Sports' James Galloway there would be "opportunities through the race" to make up for that disappointment.

    "The most advantageous opportunity," he added, would be at the start, the area in which the three-time world champion—despite his several sloppy getaways earlier this season—has generally outperformed Rosberg over the last 12 months.

    And just like Suzuka last year, Hamilton used the end of the formation lap to set up the pass, slowing on the exit of the final corner as an unaware Rosberg made his way to his grid slot, where he sat motionless for around 46 seconds before the five red lights went out.

    On the hottest race day of the year, that would have played havoc with Rosberg's tyre, brake, clutch and engine temperatures, and it gave Hamilton the advantage he needed to draw almost immediately alongside his team-mate and seize the inside line of Turn 1.

    With the grand prix littered with multiple-stop strategies, tyre management was the aim of the game, and we saw yet more evidence of Hamilton's increased maturity as the afternoon progressed and he sought to win the race at the slowest possible speed.

    Indeed, it almost seemed as though Hamilton was struggling at times—a potential consequence of his lost track time on Friday afternoon—but the British driver was always capable of extending the gap whenever Rosberg came too close for comfort.

    With his fifth win in Budapest, Hamilton is now the most successful driver in the 30-year history of the Hungarian GP and has taken the lead of the drivers' standings for the first time in 2016.

    His victory also means Mercedes have now won at every circuit used since the V6 turbo regulations were introduced at the beginning of 2014.

Loser: Nico Rosberg

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    The stunt Hamilton pulled at the start of the Hungarian GP was nothing we haven't seen before. So why didn't Rosberg, so often regarded as the most intelligent driver on the grid, see it coming?

    It seemed the German was concentrating so much on his own pre-race preparations—completing his burnouts, generating tyre and brake temperatures, engaging the correct engine modes—that it didn't occur to him to glance in the mirrors and check how far behind his team-mate was at the end of the formation lap.

    Was this a sign of Rosberg lacking awareness? Of being unable to understand the depth of Hamilton's racecraft and anticipate his manoeuvres? Of failing to learn from his previous mistakes?

    Or, most worryingly, was it an indication that Professor Rosberg lacks the spare brain capacity of his team-mate, which is only magnified in high-pressure situations such as these?

    Whatever the reason, his failure to recognise and respond to Hamilton's tactics cost him both a sixth victory of 2016 and the lead of the world championship.

    Sandwiched between Hamilton and Ricciardo, Rosberg was left with no option but to take a cautious approach at the first corner, falling down to third momentarily before repassing the Red Bull with a bold move around the outside of Turn 2.

    That put him in a position to challenge his team-mate once more, but at a circuit where it is notoriously difficult to follow the car ahead and on an afternoon with no safety car interventions, Rosberg—even with the occasional aid of DRS—was unable to make an impression on Hamilton throughout.

    Forty-three points ahead of his team-mate just two months and six races ago, Rosberg is now six behind Hamilton at the halfway stage of 2016.

    His worst nightmare is quickly becoming a harsh reality.

Winner: Daniel Ricciardo

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    Mortified by Red Bull's missed opportunity in Monaco, Ricciardo has been unable to hit his early-season heights in recent months.

    In the four events since that calamitous pit stop at the principality, the Australian had twice come home seventh and finished no higher than fourth, with his shortage of results leading to a change in expectations.

    Rather than obsessing over a first grand prix win in almost two years, Ricciardo was simply looking to have a little fun after a "boring race" at Silverstone, as he explained per Fox Sports' Will Dale.

    And he engineered his own enjoyment at the start of the Hungarian GP, when—starting from third, the same grid spot former team-mate Sebastian Vettel won from a year ago—he almost overtook both Mercedes drivers around the outside of Turn 1.

    Only Hamilton's slight swipe to the left prevented Ricciardo from completing the most outrageous move of the season, and when he was passed around the outside of Rosberg at Turn 2, his fun was brought to a premature end.

    At a track that played to the strengths of the RB12, Ricciardo was able to keep the leaders on edge without ever emerging as a serious threat, with Red Bull's aggressive decision to pit the No. 3 car as early as Lap 33 acting as confirmation that they didn't have quite enough to challenge Mercedes on pace alone.

    Although their strategy was intended to pile the pressure on Mercedes at a time their rivals were debating whether to pit Hamilton or Rosberg first, the decision failed to pay off. 

    And rather than challenging for victory in the closing laps, Ricciardo was almost 30 seconds behind, defending third place from Vettel.

    A second podium appearance of 2016, and a third in as many years in Hungary, was the best result available to Ricciardo, but he may have to wait a little longer before he has the fun he's looking for.

Loser: Max Verstappen

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    Let's class this as one of those valuable learning experiences, shall we?

    With a similar driving style to Budapest specialist Hamilton, we were quite excited about the prospect of Max Verstappen in a race-winning car at the Hungaroring, where he finished as high as fourth for Toro Rosso in 2015.

    But while the pace was there—most notably in the final practice session, when he was just 0.002 seconds adrift of Rosberg—the teenager's weekend was defined by frustration in both qualifying and the race.

    Although it had no effect on the overall result, Verstappen was prevented from setting a final time in Q3 after driving too slowly on his out lap, meaning he was unable to begin his flying lap before the chequered flag appeared.

    Starting fourth, the Dutchman was heard complaining over pit-to-car radio as he followed Ricciardo in the early stages of the race before becoming the biggest loser of the first round of pit stops.

    When Vettel tried the undercut by pitting on Lap 14, Red Bull responded by pitting their lead car, Ricciardo, on the following lap, leaving Verstappen in a vulnerable position.

    After finally making his first stop on Lap 16, the No. 33 car rejoined having not only lost a place to Vettel, but to the sister Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, who—having started on the durable soft-compound tyres—didn't visit to the pits until Lap 29.

    Having been stuck behind Raikkonen for so long, Verstappen found himself chased by the 2007 world champion, then on the quicker supersoft rubber, in the latter stages.

    As noted post-Silverstone, there remain valid question marks over Verstappen's conduct in wheel-to-wheel battle and his manoeuvres against Raikkonen again toed the line between the defensive and the dangerous, with the Ferrari driver clearly unhappy with his competitor over team radio after a collision at Turn 3.

    Once again, however, the stewards were reluctant to investigate Verstappen, whose fifth-place finish saw him brought back down to earth with a bump after his podium appearances in Austria and Britain.

Winner: Ferrari

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    How you view Ferrari's performance in the Hungarian GP depends very much on whether you toe the party line.

    If, as team principal Maurizio Arrivabene said per's Jonathan Noble, this was a must-win race for the Prancing Horse, fourth and sixth for Vettel and Raikkonen respectively has ended Ferrari's 2016 championship chances.

    But if, like the rest of us, you felt their title hopes evaporated long ago, the team's display in Budapest was encouraging in the context of their fight with Red Bull for the runner-up spot in the constructors' standings.

    Following a difficult qualifying session, when Raikkonen was rather predictably eliminated from Q2 in difficult conditions and Vettel was isolated in fifth, both drivers recovered well in the race.

    After so many of their bold strategic decisions failed to succeed against Mercedes earlier this season, Ferrari's adventurous thinking finally paid dividends at the Hungaroring, where Vettel managed to successfully undercut Verstappen.

    He then benefited from Red Bull's overambitious plans for Ricciardo's second stop, hounding his former team-mate all the way to the chequered flag.

    Unable to match his team-mate on a normal weekend, fighting through the pack appears to bring out the best in Raikkonen these days, with the Finn frustrating and defending competently from Verstappen after the first round of stops.

    At the age of 36, however, Raikkonen is no longer as decisive as he once was in attack and he could have passed the Dutchman several times before he eventually hit the Red Bull youngster at Turn 2.

    Having raced closely alongside Verstappen in recent months, the 2007 world champion is well aware of how difficult it can be to pass the Dutchman, whose defensive tactics he complained about as long ago as last year's United States GP.

    Perhaps those previous battles were in Raikkonen's mind on the run toward Turn 2, where he seemed to be trying to second guess and outsmart Verstappen but made a misjudgement, damaging his front wing before following the No. 33 car to the finish.

    With Ricciardo and Verstappen frequently challenging for podiums in recent months, there has been much debate about whether Red Bull have overtaken Ferrari to become the second-best team in the pecking order.

    But if Ferrari were this close to Red Bull at a circuit like Hungary, they should be ahead of them at most of the remaining venues on the 2016 calendar.

    The championship may be long gone, but second place is theirs to lose.

Loser: Jenson Button

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    It was a decade ago at the Hungaroring when Jenson Button, with the Honda "H" plastered on his chest, finally began to realise his vast potential and secured his maiden grand prix win.

    The Honda "H" remains but, 10 years and 14 victories later, his latest visit to the Budapest track was a far more harrowing experience.

    With the tight and twisty circuit minimsing the effect of McLaren's lack of straight-line speed, the Hungarian GP proved to be the team's most competitive weekend of the season to date, with Button and Fernando Alonso progressing to Q3 for the first time since Honda's return to F1.

    Race day offered the pair a chance to make considerable gains on Toro Rosso in the fight for sixth place in the constructors' standings.

    But while his team-mate was able to cash in, Button's race was effectively over before it started.

    Per the team's official website, a sensor problem on Lap 4 "caused his brakes to stop functioning properly," dropping Button to the rear of the field.

    He then received a drive-through penalty for breaking the new restrictions concerning team radio, with the pit wall instructing him to avoid changing gear while the glitch was resolved.

    That punishment only added insult to injury, with Button telling the same source how another issue left him with "massive understeer throughout the whole race" at a place where front-end grip is essential before an oil leak forced him to retire with 10 laps remaining.

    As Button commented over team radio at the height of his early problems, this really was the "race from hell."

    Happy anniversary, JB.

Winner: Fernando Alonso

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    Strange, isn't it?

    In terms of his own performance, the Hungarian GP was arguably Alonso's least convincing event of the season, a weekend that seemed to offer more evidence that the two-time world champion's powers are slowly beginning to fade.

    Spins in practice were followed by a very uncharacteristic error in qualifying, when—just seconds after running wide at the chicane—Alonso performed another pirouette at Turn 9, losing control of his MP4-31 after allowing the car to run wide and over a damp patch on the exit of T8.

    Yet F1's wily old fox was also fiercely quick, running comfortably inside the top 10 throughout the weekend to secure his third points finish of 2016.

    That Q3 spin had the effect of securing Alonso's best qualifying result since Brazil 2014 and set him up for a quietly effective performance in the grand prix.

    With McLaren still nowhere near quick enough to challenge Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, seventh place—ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr., Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hulkenberg—was the limit for Alonso.

    The consistency he showed in Hungary—he finished seventh in all three practice sessions, qualifying and the race—confirmed the team can compete with the best of the midfield runners when the car functions as it should.

Loser: Jolyon Palmer

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    After failing to start in Bahrain, being assaulted by his own team-mate in Spain, crashing just metres into the Monaco GP and pulling away from the pit box with three wheels on his wagon at Silverstone, the sun was finally shining on Palmer with around 20 laps remaining in Hungary.

    Running in 10th place, the British driver was on course for his first points finish in F1 at a time his place in the sport has come under threat from reserve driver Esteban Ocon, as reported by Sky Sports' Matt Morlidge.

    But with the screech of flatspotted Pirellis and the sight of tyre smoke, the FOM camera located Turn 4 panned to find the blue-helmet Renault sat motionless in the run-off area.

    In an instant, P10 had become P13 and that first-ever point suddenly felt a million miles away.

    His spin on Lap 49 of 70 marred what was Palmer's most complete weekend since the season-opening Australian GP, with an ill-timed red-flag stoppage preventing him from making an overdue return to the second segment of qualifying.

    Utilising an alternative strategy, which saw him complete a 13-lap stint on supersoft-compound tyres while most others remained faithful to the softs, Palmer had worked his way ahead of Hulkenberg, Esteban Gutierrez and Sergio Perez until that fateful spin.

    Palmer insisted the incident was not a result of driver error, telling the team's official website he was "driving well within [himself]" and "turned in the same as normal" while "looking after the tyres" at Turn 4.

    But it was quite telling that team principal Frederic Vasseur didn't attempt to protect his driver.

    Rather than offering his sympathies to Palmer or vowing the team would work to identify the cause of the spin, the Frenchman told the same source it was simply "unfortunate, especially as his first Formula 1 points were there for the taking."

    Palmer may not get a better chance to score a point this season.

    Timing and tyre data, as well as team radio quotes, sourced from the official F1 website, the FOM television feed and Pirelli's official race report.


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