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#TheXtraLap: Strategy wins Hamilton the #HungarianGP

What a race and where to begin. The Hungaroring, a circuit known for lack of overtaking but even without many overtakes, it was a race to remember.

The excitement from start to finish, from the front to the back of the field. It is now the F1 summer-break so I’ll try to give my low-down of the HungarianGP and my thoughts on the driver performances so far this season.

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Did the Mercedes strategy win the race?

Obviously that helped but it has to be said that Hamilton stayed close to Verstappen from the get-go. He was the only one able to match Verstappen’s lap times and when the gap to P3 was big enough, a second pitstop for medium tyres made all the difference in the end. To say the strategy won the race, yes.

The undercut worked as Verstappen couldn’t react by coming in on the next lap as the pitstop window fell beneath 20 seconds so even if Verstappen pitted, he would have ended up behind Hamilton so he was forced to go to the end on the hard tyres while the Mercedes on the medium tyres was much faster than Red Bull and four laps before the finish, was able to pass for the lead and eventually the victory.

Then there was Bottas. He held his ground at the start but was defending from Hamilton as soon as he was through turn 1. Instead of defending his position, he was just too nice and lost out quickly. By doing so, he was somewhat out of position and other drivers, including Leclerc, had a go at him which caused contact and some damage to the #77 Merc front-wing so he was forced to pit early, which also meant he had to do a 2-stopper. Bottas worked his way back up to finish P8 behind Raikkonen. All in all, ‘Bottas 2.0’ was nowhere to be found in Hungary.

Hamilton so far: Started the season strong and kept his consistency up. Had a few races where things didn’t go his way but overall, is still leading the championship. (1st – 250 points)

Bottas so far: Surprised a lot of people at the start of the season but is too inconsistent and has dropped back from his teammate. If he wants to stay at Mercedes, he needs to get his level up again. (2nd – 188 points)

Are Ferrari the second-best team or third?

Looking at the standings, you would think 2nd BUT, unlike RedBull, both Vettel and Leclerc are scoring points which means that Ferrari is above RedBull in the standings, 288 to 244.

In Hungary, it was no different. Both Ferrari drivers got a good start and for the remainder of the race were more or less in 3rd and 4th position. Still, they couldn’t match the pace of both Verstappen and Hamilton, no matter what they tried.

With Leclerc pitting from medium ro hard tyres, like almost everybody else, it was Vettel who tried something else and went from medium to soft, which gave him a slight edge over Leclerc and at the finish Vettel came home in 3rd while Leclerc had to settle with 4th.

Vettel so far: In my opinion, he started the season so so and somehow, his driving style, didn’t suit the car. He has made a number of small mistakes but in my opinion, is trying to change the car too much to suit his driving style instead of adapting his driving style. (4th – 156 points)

Leclerc so far: To jump in at Ferrari after just one year at Alfa Romeo is a tall order but he did very well so far. He should’ve, could’ve, would’ve won a race or 2 if things went a bit different but that’s how it is. His performance is high and if he keeps it up, he could make life very difficult for Vettel in the second half of the season. (5th – 132 points)

Does Red Bull need to set new goals?

It was again a race with two faces. On the one hand, Verstappen did an amazing job, not only during qualifying but from the moment the lights went out, he didn’t put a foot wrong. He knew he wasn’t fast enough to create a big enough gap when Hamilton stayed within striking distance. When Hamilton pitted for softer rubber, Verstappen wasn’t able to counter it and at towards the end of the race, was a sitting duck.

On the other hand, there was Gasly, who started in 6th but was 9th after Turn 1 when both McLarens and the Alfa Romeo of Raikkonen got past him. He tried and tried but was pretty invisible throughout the race and ended up 6th at the finish line, a disappointing 1 lap down and even with one pitstop less than teammate Verstappen.

So does RedBull need to set new goals? I think they might because, looking at previous years, RedBull is known for a strong second half of the season. They can take 2nd in the WCC and Verstappen can take 2nd in WDC from Bottas.

Verstappen so far: He has matured so much and is pretty much faultless since Monaco 2018. He keeps outperforming the car, as Horner mentions many times, and if the car improves, there’s no telling what Verstappen can achieve in 2019. (3rd – 181 points)

Gasly so far: He came from Toro Rosso where he showed great things and with one-year experience with Honda, expectations were high that he could do well at RedBull this year. Crashing out during pre-season testing was a bad omen of things to come as he can’t keep up with Verstappen.

His learning curve might have been steep, but it was expected that his performance would go up as well and slowly, race by race, he would have been closer to his teammate. Now, 12 races into the season, the 0.5 / 0.8 gap remains and it not looking to get smaller any time soon.

Again on race day, he was lapped by his teammate and that can’t do any good to his self-confidence. If he doesn’t make big improvements during the second half of the season, I think we won’t see him back at RedBull in 2020. (6th – 63 points)

Are McLaren punching above their weight?

Both cars were starting in 7th and 8th but after Turn 1, Norris was 6th and Sainz 7th. Throughout the race, they were there or thereabout and not sure what exactly happened that made Norris lose positions, but Sainz was running in fifth for a long time and managed to keep that position at the finish. Norris, on the same strategy, finished in P9, scoring good points for the team.

Are they really punching above their weight?

I don’t think so. They are very consistent as a team and both drivers doing a stand-up job, scoring good points for the team that is standing strong in 4th position, 39 points clear of Toro Rosso.

Sainz so far: As the “senior” driver at McLaren, his experience counts and so far he’s doing a good job, leaving him 7th in the driver standings, just 5 points behind RedBull’s Gasly. (7th – 58 points)

Norris so far: When he was announced as a driver for McLaren, many people, including myself, were sceptical. Would he be good enough? Could he handle the pressure? He has proven us all wrong and even though he had some bad luck along the way, his first half of the season was a steady one with some great driving. On and off track, he’s a breath of fresh air for Formula1 and I can’t wait to see him for the second half of the season. (10th – 24 points)

Are Toro Rosso falling behind?

Starting 12th and 13th, they would need a strong race on a circuit with not a lot of overtaking possibilities to get a great result. Both Kvyat and Albon did a solid race but were more busy fighting each other than to go forward. It looked awesome to watch them race each other hard but fair but at the end of the race, Albon finished P10 and scored another point while Kvyat lost ground after pitting too early and crossed the finish line in 15th.

Kvyat so far: During his second career at the RedBull family, he’s doing a much better job. He’s no longer “torpedo-worthy” but has become a smarter racer. His 3rd place at Hockenheim was on merit and showed that he still has great potential. (9th – 27 points)

Albon so far: Stepping in as a “rookie” is always hard. Not knowing all the circuits and not having raced in different weather conditions doesn’t help either BUT Albon is showing great progress. Eventhough the driver standings aren’t showing it, he is helping Toro Rosso to reach 5th in the constructors championship so far. (15th – 16 points)

When will Renault be stepping up?

Another race without results. The whole weekend, both Hulkenberg and Ricciardo couldn’t extract the full potential of the car. Either that or there’s simply not more in the car. That wouldn’t be a good thing after hearing from Renault that their PU can deliver 1000bhp.

During the race, Hulkenberg was in points position but couldn’t hold on and finished 12th while Ricciardo had some fun battles, including a tough one with Magnussen but starting 20th, it would have been a hard race no matter what and he finished in 14th position.

Ricciardo so far: A surprise move to Renault would promise a lot of on-track action from this late-braker from down under. Sadly, it looks as if Ricciardo wants the Renault to react like the RedBull he was used to but that simply isn’t possible. Reliability of the car has let him down a few times but I’m sure Ricciardo wasn’t expecting to be where he is after 12 races. (11th – 22 points)

Hulkenberg so far: What to say about the man that has 168 race starts under his belt, but never managed to get a podium. Having raced for a number of teams, he has a lot of experience and is doing okay so far this season. He was close to having a shot at the podium in Hockenheim but he’s just not capable of outperforming the car he is racing in so keeps being an “average” driver and I say this with all due respect. (14th – 17 points)

Is the progress at Alfa Romeo for real?

Last weekend at Hockenheim, Alfa Romeo scored an awesome result, before getting penalized and lose it. This weekend, they were again a strong contender in the midfield pack with Raikkonen extracting more from the car than Giovinazzi.

The lights went off and Raikkonen made progress right away and found himself inside the top 10 for the remainder of the race, finishing a solid P7 while Giovinazzi made a few small errors which made him drop down the order and crossing the finish in 18th.

Still, another strong race weekend so the progress seems real. Looking forward to the second half of the season.

Raikkonen so far: The old fox still got it. Going from Ferrari to Alfa Romeo should be considered a step-down but Raikkonen doesn’t care what he’s driving. He takes it and drives it socks off. Even at his age, he’s still delivering at a high level and I don’t see that change any time soon during the second half of the season. (8th – 31 points)

Giovinazzi so far: From the moment I heard he was joining Alfa Romeo, I had my thoughts on it and they weren’t very positive. I can’t put my finger on it but there is something about Giovinazzi that makes me think he’s just not good enough for F1. So far this season he has done okay but didn’t really stand out up till last weekend at Hockenheim. At the Hungaroring, he was invisible again. (18th – 1 point)

Is money pushing Racing Point forward?

During the race, both Perez and Stroll weren’t very impressive. Both struggled to make progress and at the end, Perez made it to 11th while Stroll finished down in 17th, being lapped twice.

Is money pushing Racing Point forward?

Well, it gave them an almost completely new car with many updates and upgrades and it might take some time to fine-tune all these parts but if they don’t make it work, they will drop off to the back of the midfield, already being down in 8th.Perez so far: This season, I’m not really impressed with the Mexican. It might be because of the car not performing but I don’t see that fire that he used to have. Not sure if he still has the same passion or that a great race might change it all. (16th – 13 points)

Stroll so far: What to say about Stroll. He came from Williams where he didn’t impress and was put in the Racing Point, thanks to his father who bought the team. New team, new people, that takes time. Time to adjust, time to learn BUT race by race, you should get better. I’m sorry but he just doesn’t. His 4th place at Hockenheim makes him jump in the drivers’ standings but doesn’t really show his progress with only 4 top-ten finishes in 12 races. (12th – 18 points)

Haas the American team missed the boat?

Starting the weekend, both drivers were on different setups again. Whereas Grosjean opted for the Australia spec-car again, Magnussen got the updates as planned for Budapest. Although Grosjean felt happy with the car, it was Magnussen who was quickest up until it mattered on Saturday afternoon.

Grosjean started ninth while Magnussen had to come from 15th on the grid. During the race, none of both drivers could make a difference and while Grosjean had to retire with a water pressure issue. Magnussen couldn’t get any better than 13th at the finish line.

Grosjean so far: Not sure what it is but Grosjean is missing something this year. He has been making too many mistakes, is blaming others a lot when things go wrong and can’t seem to avoid contact with his teammate. To talk in F1 terms, maybe he’s over the cliff? (17th – 8 points)

Magnussen so far: Since the start of the season, you pretty much know what to expect from Magnussen. He’s on a certain level and stayed there. You can’t see a learning curve and having a car that is so unpredictable doesn’t help either. I don’t expect much more from him than what he has shown so far. Unless they can get the car sorted out. (13th – 18 points)

Can Williams close the gap to the midfield?

It was a positive weekend for Williams. Mainly due to Russell’s achievement. Williams has been the team that claimed P19 and P20 throughout the first half of the season but in Hungary, they weren’t far off the midfield and on Saturday, Russell qualified in 16th.

On merit no less. It was a good effort and although points weren’t the goal, they both had a great race that ended up with Kubica in 19th position while Russell crossed the finish line in 16th. Signs are there that they can get in reach of the midfield and I hope they can make it during the second half of the season.

Kubica so far: When the season started, he needed to learn many things and often looked like a rookie. But being the backmarker, your efforts are measured against your teammate and even though Kubica claimed many times that the cars are different somehow, he hasn’t been able to match the speed of his teammate. 12 races into the season and he’s still a long way off his teammate, which is a shame. In Hockenheim, he had all the luck of the world and even scored a point but in Hungary, it was same old, same old.

Has Kubica lost it? Do his limitations prevent him from doing better? I don’t have the answer. Because his story is a “feel-good story” I really hope he can make more progress. (19th – 1 point)

Russell so far: Coming in as a rookie and in a position to go against a driver like Kubica, most of us thought Russell would have a hard time. Nothing was further from the truth when he was on top of it since the start of the season. Russell seems to learn with every race weekend he does and shows improvements, not only for himself but also to the car.

Unfortunately, the car is a really bad car and has been so far off the pace since the beginning that it isn’t fair to Russell to judge him, just by looking at the drivers’ standings. I think, when they get the car in order, Russell would be a regular customer in the top 15 with a shot at points when the opportunity is there. (20th – 0 points)

There you go. My review of the HungarianGP with a little “extra” on the side. I have done 12 #TheXtraLap and I hope you had the same fun reading them as I did writing them. #TheXtraLap will be back in September when the F1 circus hit the awesome Spa circuit in Belgium.

Till then, enjoy the summer break and when you can’t go without your motorsport fix, here’s what to enjoy the upcoming weekend.

Austrian Grand Prix: Verstappen denies Leclerc in a thriller