Ferrari Blunder Leaves Rivals Laughing as Verstappen Races to F1 Hungarian Grand Prix Victory

Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images
Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images

Max Verstappen enters Formula 1’s month-long summer recess with a commanding 80-point advantage after an emphatic victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix, as Ferrari falters, and Mercedes marches forwards.

Autoweek recaps the main talking points from Budapest:

Ferrari's Latest Blunder a Laughing Matter

“They were on the Hards,” queried a bemused Lewis Hamilton in the pre-podium cool-down room.

“Yeah,” chuckled winner Verstappen.

Even the one-time arch rivals were unified in their surprise – and almost mocking – of Ferrari’s strategy. This was another race at which Ferrari snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Ferrari turned second and third starting positions, combined with favorable track position much of the day into fourth and sixth place finishes by the checkered flag. Its title ambitions are over before the autumnal rounds have begun, and now it surely cannot even be assured of second amid the resurgence of Mercedes.

Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images
Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images

So what happened this time?

Leclerc ran the first two stints on Medium tires, grabbing the lead from Russell, but at his second stop Ferrari put him onto the Hard tires, which proved a disastrous decision amid warm-up struggles and a lack of performance. “This tire is ****,” exclaimed Leclerc, who hemorrhaged time, positions and eventually made another stop to take on Softs, relegating him to sixth.

“Obviously, a race like this is frustrating,” said Leclerc. “And need to get better as a whole. You know, it always feels like there's always something going on, whatever is, reliability, mistakes, whatever. But we need to be better putting a weekend together.”

Leclerc outlined that “the pace was very good today, on the Medium, on a tire that was strong, it was really good. But then on the hard obviously we lost all the pace. So we did one stop more than everybody losing 20 seconds plus the five or six laps on the hard where we were losing a second per lap. So this is a lot of race time.”

But Leclerc’s perspective was countered by team principal Mattia Binotto, who pointed to the overall performance of the F1-75 Ferarri racer.

“What we were lacking today was really speed and pace,” Binotto said. “I don’t think we could have won today. And the reason, I don’t know, because it was the first time in the first 13 races where we didn’t have the speed somehow to be there for the victory.”

Why the Hard tires?

“Based on our data and our analysis we knew that the hard was not as great as the medium, but they could have been faster after 11 laps into the stint and it was a 30-lap stint," Binotto said. "So, yes, they didn’t work as we were hoping in the race and we wouldn’t have pitted him for hards if we knew they would be that bad today. Overall they didn’t work, but why they didn’t work today is back in the explanation of why the car wasn’t fast today.”

Photo credit: Joe Portlock - Formula 1 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Joe Portlock - Formula 1 - Getty Images

Sainz, meanwhile, ran a similar Medium/Medium/Soft strategy to Hamilton but lacked the performance of the Mercedes driver—underlining Binotto’s belief that overall pace was to blame, not tire choice.

“It was a fight every lap,” said Sainz. “No balance in the car. I couldn’t push because I opened the front tire. I was just struggling quite a lot with the car, and I’m not surprised that I finished P4 because the feeling in the car was quite poor. For me, you compare my pace on softs with Lewis, it’s clear that there was, we went from being much quicker on Friday [in hotter conditions] to slower today.

"In the end, we were stopping early because we were running out of fronts, and in the end, yes maybe the pace wasn’t bad, but for 15 laps then we were degrading. Today we have to analyze why these temperatures affected us. On Friday, I was pushing flat out and no degradation, and today I couldn’t push and I was degrading like crazy at the front.”

Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images
Photo credit: NurPhoto - Getty Images

Verstappen Rallies From 10th

Verstappen entered race day in damage limitation mode after an error on his first qualifying lap was followed by a power unit issue on his second effort. That left him mired in 10th place on the grid—and hoping to salvage points. Instead, he claimed his 28th career victory and it is now a case of when not if he secures his second world title.

Verstappen picked up two places with a strong opening lap on Soft tires, swiftly worked his way past the Alpines and McLaren’s Lando Norris, before using the undercut at successive pit stops—at which he ran Mediums—to jump the Mercedes drivers and Carlos Sainz. From there, only Charles Leclerc stood in his way, and with Ferrari employing the bizarre decision to stick the net leader on Hard tires, Verstappen was able to ease his way by. Even a spin could not deny Verstappen.

Verstappen spun the RB18 a full 360 degrees through Turn 12 in an unusual incident that handed Leclerc the advantage. But such was Verstappen’s speed advantage that a few laps later he once more swept past the Ferrari driver.

“I was struggling a bit with the shifts and the clutch, and we had to change a few things around I had to not basically burn the clutch,” he said. “And that cost it a bit of performance and I think caught me out at that corner, but luckily could do a 360.”

At the rate the season is developing it is not unrealistic to believe Verstappen could be crowned as early as Japan in October.

Another Double Podium for Mercedes

Mercedes enters the summer break on something of a high.

Photo credit: Dan Istitene - Formula 1 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Dan Istitene - Formula 1 - Getty Images

While the team is amazingly still seeking its first win of 2022, a solid race in Hungary proved at the Hungaroring provided another positive outcome and a 2-3 finish for Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

Neither of the Mercedes drivers were able to outclass the excellent Verstappen, but through a combination of performance and strategy Hamilton was able to rise from seventh to second, while Russell was also excellent despite dropping from pole to third.

The pair managed to beat both Ferrari drivers and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in a ‘normal’ race (ie, without game-changing red flags, safety cars or inclement weather), an outcome which would have been unthinkable at the low ebbs earlier in the season. Mercedes is now only 30 points behind Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship.

“Today there was the potential for the win, you saw George on pole, if we’d both been up there we could have worked better together, supported each other strategy wise,” said Hamilton. “I think if we’re able to take this pace into the second half of the season for sure we can fight these guys. This is the first time we’ve been able to fight and battle Ferrari, that’s huge for us; Red Bull is still ahead, because the fact Max started 10th, spun and still won, says enough about their car. But we have made huge steps and huge progress.”

“It’s an amazing job by the team: pole position, double podium, we’re definitely making progress,” said Russell. “We’ll reset, refocus, and try and fight for some victories.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was lifted by the result but suggested it was also a slightly bittersweet day for the team.

“Lewis' fight today was unbelievable, Budapest continues to be a success story for him,” he said. “He came out of nowhere and was quicker than everyone else. I think we lost the race with him yesterday with the DRS failing (during qualifying). Otherwise, we would have been able to fight at the front for the victory today.”

It surely won’t be too long before Mercedes returns to the top step of the podium on merit.

Photo credit: Joe Portlock - Formula 1 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Joe Portlock - Formula 1 - Getty Images

Alpine-McLaren Battle Worth Watching

The fight for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship is hardly one to get the pulses racing, but for both Alpine and McLaren it is an important position.

Both hold long-term ambitions of contending for titles and the new regulations have provided an opportunity to eventually achieve that goal. At the mid-point of 2022 it feels a familiar tale, with the teams competing for the lower points positions, and able to pick up a big haul in the event of the front-runners faltering.

Alpine holds a slender four-point advantage, after the two teams both left Hungary with six added to their tally: Lando Norris seventh for McLaren, with Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon eighth and ninth for Alpine.

“[Fourth] in itself is a great achievement and gives us a real focus to push on and attack the remainder of the year when we head to Belgium next month,” said Alpine team principal Otmar Szafnauer.

Alonso outlined that “in the last four races we introduced a lot of new parts in the car, they all made us a little bit more competitive, and I think we just need to keep scoring points with both cars like today and hopefully that’s our strength compared to McLaren for the constructors’."

Scoring with both cars has been an advantage for Alpine, with its drivers on 58-41 (Ocon-Alonso), while at McLaren Norris has racked up 76 to Ricciardo’s 19. It was another grim afternoon for Ricciardo after a promising start due to struggles on the Hard tire (not the only one) after a collision with Lance Stroll. Ricciardo will need to step up after the summer break in order to enhance McLaren’s prospects of beating Alpine.

Photo credit: Rudy Carezzevoli - Formula 1 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Rudy Carezzevoli - Formula 1 - Getty Images

Hard Tires, FIA Official's Call Hurt Haas

Haas is in a significantly rosier position this summer break compared to last but its final round before the recess was underwhelming.

Both Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher made up three positions off the line to suggest a points challenge was feasible, but Magnussen’s race was undone by minor front wing damage, similar to in Canada. He was ordered to pit for repairs, leaving him out of sync with rivals, and on Hard tires he struggled for performance, an aspect that also caused Schumacher’s race to unravel once he stopped.

“In our opinion it was a mistake by the FIA to call us out on,” rued Haas team principal Guenther Steiner on the damage. “The front wing was clearly safe to continue so we lost half a lap, and that means our race was over, because obviously to get the tires to work was difficult once we ended up in all the blue flags.”

Magnussen explained that he “couldn’t avoid” contact with a McLaren at the start and he was “surprised to get the black and orange flag,” mandating a stop.

Nonetheless, Magnussen was able to reach the finish to gain valuable data in the upgraded VF-22, or the ‘white Ferrari’, as it has been dubbed by onlookers, following its introduction this weekend.

“It was positive from the perspective that we could put the car on track and immediately measure what we were hoping for,” said Magnussen. “It’s just going to be a lot of work to get the lap time out of it and that’s going to come over the next few races—it’s new potential to be unlocked.”

Schumacher is expected to receive the upgrades at the first post-summer round in Belgium, August 26-28.

F1 Hungarian Grand Prix

Results

  1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 70 Laps

  2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, +7.834 seconds

  3. George Russell, Mercedes, +12.337

  4. Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, +14.579

  5. Sergio Perez, Red Bull, +15.688

  6. Charles Leclerc, Ferrai, +16.047

  7. Lando Norris, McLaren, +1:18.300

  8. Fernando Alonso, Alpine, +1 lap

  9. Esteban Ocon, Alpine, +1 lap

  10. Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, +1 lap

  11. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, +1 lap

  12. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, +1 lap

  13. Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo, +1 lap

  14. Mick Schumacher, Haas, +1 lap

  15. Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, +1 lap

  16. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, +1 lap

  17. Alex Albon, Williams, +1 lap

  18. Nicholas Latifi, Williams, +1 lap

  19. Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, +2 laps

  20. Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo +5 laps

Updated Drivers' Standings

  1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, 258

  2. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 178

  3. Sergio Perez, Red Bull, 173

  4. George Russell, Mercedes, 158

  5. Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, 156

  6. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 146

  7. Lando Norris, McLaren, 76

  8. Esteban Ocon, Alpine, 58

  9. Valtteri Bottas, Alfa Romeo, 46

  10. Fernando Alonso, Alpine, 41

  11. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, 22

  12. Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, 19

  13. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, 16

  14. Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, 16

  15. Mick Schumacher, Haas, 12

  16. Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, 11

  17. Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo, 5

  18. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, 4

  19. Alex Albon, Williams, 3

  20. Nicholas Latifi, Williams, 0

  21. Nico Hulkenberg, Aston Martin, 0

Updated Constructors' Standings

  1. Red Bull, 431

  2. Ferrari, 334

  3. Mercedes, 304

  4. Alpine, 99

  5. McLaren, 95

  6. Alfa Romeo, 51

  7. Haas, 34

  8. AlphaTauri, 27

  9. Aston Martin 20

  10. Williams 3