With the Formula 1 circus going into a well deserved summer break, the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest provided the perfect send-off – here are five takeaways from an unforgettable race.
After the dramatic events of the previous grand prix at Silverstone with the ramifications of the first lap incident between this year’s title contenders – Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen – still causing substantial turmoil among the F1 community, this week’s race at the Hungaroring was to be an indicator of things to come in the most exciting championship we have witnessed in years.
How the parties (drivers and their respective teams) involved in last race’s Copse fiasco would “behave” this week was interesting to behold to say the least. With Mercedes and Red Bull being the favorites as usual to fight for pole and the win, everyone was anticipating a blockbuster of a race as many fantasized on how the run towards turn one between Hamilton and Verstappen would transpire.
Saturday delivered a shocker with Verstappen failing to qualify on the front row. Nevertheless all hope was not lost as he was starting on the soft tyre compound (as opposed to the two Mercedes starting on the mediums). The extra grip the softs would offer promised to give the RB16B a proper launch giving the two Silver Arrows a good run for their money.
However, the Hungarian grand prix had other plans to spice things up. Rain arrived on Sunday and reset the track conditions. Until then the ambient and track temperatures were sizzling throughout the weekend.
It was a hell of a race after all, not for the reasons everyone expected, for an overzealous Valtteri Bottas pulled a “Romain Grosjean” on lap one and mixed things up; literally.
So off to our usual five takeaways from the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix.
No one more than Max Verstappen needs a summer break
After the great run he had pre-Silverstone, Max wouldn’t have imagined the ugly turn of fortunes in store for him. Zero points in Silverstone because, well you know why. Being taken out on lap one after the Bottas-induced chain reaction in Hungary meant that the fight we all awaited between him and Lewis was not to be.
His car was severely damaged, but he was given a lifeline with the red flag to try and salvage his race. The damage to his RB16B was however too extensive to fix in time for the race restart, and the Dutchman had to make do without his right bargeboard assembly and a patched up floor, which in turn significantly compromised his car’s performance on a track requiring high downforce.
To his credit he didn’t give up and fought till the bitter end, achieving tenth position and securing one point which later became two after Sebastian Vettel’s disqualification. His struggles during the race where evident, but any points on the board for him would be welcome especially in such a closely contested season where a point may make the difference between winning or losing the championship.
Despite both Verstappen and his team losing their leads in both championships, all is not lost yet and there is no better way than a relaxing summer break for him to recharge the batteries and come out swinging.
Esteban Ocon: Another feel-good story this year
We witnessed the first feel good story this year in Baku with a surprise win for Sergio Perez, a second place for Sebastian Vettel, and the on form Pierre Gasly in third. Well, Budapest gave us another one. Esteban Ocon’s win.
Since Alpine announced that Esteban Ocon has signed a contract extension on the eve of the French grand prix, his form has taken serious dip. No doubt that had him and his team worried. Nevertheless, Alpine kept the faith and did all they could to assist Ocon in his struggles which culminated in the team providing him with a new chassis.
Since then, the young Frenchman has steadily improved and duly rewarded his team with the win in Hungary.
Although he found himself in the lead due to Bottas’ lap one theatricals, but at least he made a clean getaway through all the chaos, and never put a foot wrong the whole race while sustaining race long pressure from four time champion Sebastian Vettel in the Aston Martin.
Having to deal with a formidable teammate such as Fernando Alonso is quite the challenge, but Ocon has faired well up to now. His win in Hungary will no doubt boost his morale.
Fernando Alonso: The 40-year-old Samurai
Alonso celebrated his 40th birthday this weekend. Now despite being out qualified by his teammate, who went on to win the race, the Spaniard’s tussle with Lewis Hamilton during the race was epic. Keeping the seven-time world champion – in the fastest car on the day – at bay was the stuff of legends. His efforts were rightly rewarded by being voted driver of the day.
Alonso proved that age is just a number. Watching him racing Hamilton today in an inferior car shows the depth of his talent and the height of his performance levels.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that his return is one of this season’s highlights.
So Happy Birthday Fernando and many years to come.
Lewis Hamilton: Race hard or complain hard
That was a tough race for Hamilton. His team’s decision to keep him out on intermediate tyres after the restart put him on the back foot. He ended up in the most bizarre starting grid, being the sole starter, a situation more bizarre than that of the 2005 US grand prix in Indianapolis. Back then, for those who still remember, only six cars using Bridgestone tyres started the race after all the 14 remaining cars, riding on Michelin tyres at the time, refused to race for safety concerns of tyre failures.
Pitting at the end of lap one, Hamilton emerged last and started an uphill struggle to get back to the points. His performance was what we have come to expect from him in such situations, and he ended up on the podium in third, also later promoted to second after Vettel’s aforementioned disqualification.
But here’s the thing, during his fight with Alonso, he came on the radio several times complaining about the Spaniard’s defense tactics, and at one point said, “at that speed, it’s so dangerous man”.
Well, Alonso did nothing wrong and was defending at the limit, trying to make his car as wide as possible. And as for Lewis, you can’t complain about Alonso being dangerous while you have taken a risky move, in a high-speed corner such as Copse, just one race ago.
In my previous article, I said that what happened between Hamilton and Verstappen was a racing incident as a result of hard racing, with the fault leaning more towards Lewis. I stand by my statement. Hamilton took a risk and it paid off despite the penalty. Alonso defended to the limit and was not even investigated for his actions.
I was hoping that by now, we would have moved on from the Max/Lewis incident at Silverstone without referring to it again, but what Lewis said of Alonso’s defense took us back there.
When you want to race hard, and that’s your right as long as you’re within the rules, you can’t complain when someone else does the same.
A worrying sign for Daniel Ricciardo with the huge gap between him and Lando Norris again in qualifying. His race was no good as well finishing out of the points. A bad day for McLaren as Norris fell victim to Bottas’ shunt.
Great driving by Mick Schumacher. Although the Hungaroring is notorious for little overtaking opportunities, he did a great job defending against faster cars.
Another great performance by Pierre Gasly for AlphaTauri compared to a lackluster performance by Sergio Perez in the sister team. Perez also seems unable to keep up with his teammate recently.
Despite his qualifying crash, Carlos Sainz came good for Ferrari in the race on a day when McLaren failed to score any points. His questioning of the team strategy and being correct about it, shows how well integrated he has become within his team.
Big congrats for Williams and their drivers on their double points finish. They had to wait long for it and especially George Russell, who has consistently outdriven his car, but they have finally achieved it. A timely boost.
Sebastian Vettel did well to bounce back from his disappointing Silverstone weekend. He out qualified his teammate and achieved second position. The slow pitstop may have costed him the win. His disqualification due to the fuel infringement matter was unfortunate, but the rules are the rules.
See you in Spa in three weeks!