This year’s edition of the Hungarian Grand Prix didn’t provide the excitement and unpredictability seen from the two previous races in the Hungaroring. On a slow track that is far from conducive to overtaking, the race turned out to have minimal action. Exactly how cookie-cutter was the race? We had a typical Mercedes one-two finish with Lewis Hamilton winning and now taking the championship lead over Nico Rosberg. Continue reading “2016 Hungarian GP Race Review”
With rain pelting down at the Silverstone Circuit right around the time of Martin Brundle’s pre-race grid walk, it was easy to think that this year’s British Grand Prix was bound to be one of the season’s most dramatic races. However, despite the rain stopping minutes before the start, a perilously wet track warranted that the race be started behind the safety car. Okay, sure, there was lots of standing water around the track, especially at the apex of Turn 1—so starting behind the safety car was a smart choice lest a car or two lose control and cause an almighty shunt.
The problem was, I think the safety car stayed out for too long and we easily lost five full racing laps of the 52-lap race. I would have loved to see the race start after only a lap or two, really. In effect, drivers in the midfield made a bee line to the pits during the restart to switch from full-wet tires to intermediates. I remember hearing Martin Brundle on commentary questioning the purpose of the full-wets when drivers aren’t even allowed to go racing until a dry line around the circuit is made. Furthermore, I don’t recall any driver claiming zero visibility once the race was brought under way, highly likely because the rain had already stopped. As a spectator, I just found it quite frustrating to wait for the track to dry until getting the real action started. I’d say just let them race on a wet track, on full wet weather tires, provided there are no drivers complaining about visibility. Anyway, enough of my little rant and on to the results.
On his backyard, polesitter Lewis Hamilton practically took control of the race from the safety car on Lap 6 and weathered the storm until the checkered flag, victorious at Silverstone for the third year in a row. The reigning World Champion has cut his championship deficit to teammate Nico Rosberg down to just one point after Rosberg was handed a post-race 10-second time penalty for a breach of the radio message rules. Rosberg and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen accompanied Hamilton to the podium as second and third-place finishers respectively but that order was switched in the final official results.
Similar to what was evident in Monaco a few races ago, Hamilton is clearly a better driver on a wet track than Rosberg. The championship leader started from second and never got to keep up with his rival’s pace. Hamilton gunned it from the restart all the way to the end, while Rosberg struggled with slow pace and was eventually overtaken by the charging Verstappen with a sneaky move around the outside of Becketts corner and into Chapel curve.
It was clear how brave and confident the 18-year-old Red Bull driver was on the tricky conditions. Ever since his promotion from the junior Toro Rosso squad, Verstappen has displayed solid defensive skills that truly complement his feisty attacking. During the latter half of the race, Rosberg found pace on the drying track and on slick medium-compound tires. Just like in Montreal last month, Verstappen defended skillfully against Rosberg in the dominant Mercedes. Although the German eventually got through after several attempts, the Red Bull driver sure made him labor for it.
With time ticking and the number of laps to the finish wound down, Hamilton continued to enjoy a healthy lead but Rosberg seemed to slowly reduce the gap, lap after lap. That’s when Rosberg encountered a gearbox problem, his car stuck on 7th gear. Immediately, his engineer advised him to make a quick adjustment, which proved to be a stopgap solution at least to bring the car home. Mercedes’ advice to their driver seemed to have been a spur-of-the-moment occurrence and this was fair enough since the problem was potentially terminal and the car could have suffered retirement. However, Rosberg was further advised to avoid 7th gear and it was this radio message that was deemed illegal by the stewards, hence the driver being handed a 10-second time penalty after the race. With the time added, Rosberg simply dropped to third but what could have been a four-point championship lead over Hamilton became only a single point gap approaching the halfway-point of the season. Following similar issues in Baku, I’m hoping there will soon be amendments to the radio communication rules, given that there’s quite a number of negative opinions regarding them.
As Mercedes continue to dominate and Red Bull enjoys a resurgence, Ferrari meanwhile had a pedestrian weekend. While Kimi Raikkonen merely consolidated his fifth-place start with a fifth-place finish, teammate Sebastian Vettel was again hampered by a gearbox problem during a practice session and suffered a five-place grid penalty. Vettel was unable to make the most out of qualifying and had to start in eleventh. Despite his confidence that he could make his way up the field, he could only manage a ninth-place finish. Vettel simply couldn’t find pace with his Ferrari and was one of many drivers who were caught spinning at the stubbornly wet Turn 1. Alex Yoong from Fox Sports Asia summed up Ferrari’s performance as “underwhelming” this weekend and I agree, thinking that the team seems to be fading. The threat from Red Bull towards the Italian squad is very palpable now, with only six points separating the two teams in the constructors’ standings.
Teams and drivers will take a breather this weekend after two consecutive grands prix before kicking off another two-week slate in Hungary and then Germany to round up a busy July. GP2 and GP3 will follow along on the tour so there’s sure to be lots more action.
Personally, I actually saw the Rosberg-Hamilton skirmish as a racing incident. I would disagree with Nico saying that Lewis was at fault but neither do I blame Nico for driving aggressively. I think Lewis would have done the same thing if the situation was reversed. In fact, Lewis has been quite notorious with running Nico off the track, much like in Suzuka and Austin last year and most recently in Montreal a few weeks ago. Remembering these incidents, I’d say I fully understand Nico’s intentions. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as successful as he would have hoped it would be.
What I saw here was Nico trying to do the same thing that Lewis gets away with except that on this attempt, Nico couldn’t get away with it, and it all ends in tears for the championship leader. Perhaps Nico should have actually turned into the corner before running Lewis wide? Either way, he cost himself a potential win and a potential second place, which would’ve at least marginally helped him in the long run for the championship.
It is a fact that Nico had a brake-by-wire issue, so obviously he’d have problems braking into the corner. From the on-board footage, he sure took his time trying to steer towards the apex but just as he was trying to do so, Lewis had already started turning. That’s when Lewis’s side clattered onto Nico’s front wing. Lewis said that Nico was at his blind spot, so he could only judge where Nico was going to be in that corner and certainly after what happened, Lewis did not expect his teammate’s car to be parked up right at the turn-in point.
Turn Two is an uphill right-hand corner—quite a difficult corner to overtake from the outside. I’d give Hamilton the benefit of the doubt here, so let’s say he really had no idea where Rosberg was as he steered in. If that’s the case, then I couldn’t fully blame him for turning into Rosberg’s car, contrary to the opinion of those in attendance in Spielberg. As mentioned on post-race coverage by Sky Sports, apparently, the commentators on the track PA system had convinced the viewers that Hamilton was at fault for the incident thus the race winner emerged to a shower of boos during the podium ceremony. The more I watch replays of the incident though, I do somehow start to understand how some peg Hamilton as the guilty party because (depending on how one sees it) it really looked like Hamilton turned into his teammate but in all fairness, his excuse sounded honest.
Rosberg continues to be adamant that he was of no fault in this incident while talking to his social media followers in a live video. However, the stewards’ imaginary penalty imposed on him (a 10-second time penalty and a reprimand for carrying on despite a broken front wing) communicated that the officials lay the blame solely on the German.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff was incensed by the accident, immediately calling it “brainless.” He went as far as to say that team orders might be a possible solution to contain his two drivers and avoid any more incidents down the season. One thing for sure is that double-DNFs similar to the Barcelona incident are absolutely unacceptable to the Mercedes squad. I don’t think any fan wishes team orders and looks like Hamilton himself discourages it.
One important point that Hamilton made there is that his team bosses should understand that in a gladiator battle between two championship contenders within the same team, things will never be smooth-sailing all throughout. Contact between two team cars can and will eventually happen. It sucks for the team mechanics, engineers, management personnel and whoever else within the Mercedes organization but Rosberg and Hamilton want to race out there on the track. It’s just unfortunate that sometimes there will be tangles—and rarely, crashes—between teammates competing for a world title.
Rosberg and Hamilton will continue to sort their problems out on the track and I just hope that team orders wouldn’t rear its ugly head in an intensifying title race between the two. Hamilton races aggressively and Rosberg chooses to match his teammate’s ruthlessness. The team has not discouraged them from racing each other but all is fair until one Silver Arrow tangles with another. I’d love to continue seeing an intense on-track fight between the two but if they cannot avoid crashing into each other, team orders or no team orders, we might see more bits of Mercedes W07 debris being spilled, all for the glory of being Formula One World Champion.
Credits: Sky Sports
There were thrills and spills in Spielberg after the most tense race of the season so far, with Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg clashing together on the final lap of a heated Austrian Grand Prix. The two championship rivals dueled late in the race, with Rosberg in the lead having to navigate his way through lapped traffic and Hamilton hot on his tail, constantly applying pressure.
The last few laps were quite reminiscent of endurance sports car racing where the leaders pick their way past slower cars. Rosberg and Hamilton continued to be neck-and-neck approaching the final lap, where Rosberg made a slight mistake clipping the inside curb at Turn One. Hamilton made a tremendous exit out of the same corner and immediately slipstreamed his teammate climbing up the hill to Turn Two.
With Rosberg moving out of the racing line, defending the inside line, Hamilton took to the outside and was slightly ahead of his teammate right before the turn-in point. The problem was Rosberg was determined to defend hard by forcing Hamilton to the very edge of the track. Hamilton turned in while Rosberg was just about to begin steering into the corner and that’s when the two Silver Arrows collided, yet again after their first lap incident at Barcelona last May.
The contact damaged Rosberg’s front wing while only damaging Hamilton’s side pod. The two even almost collided again as Hamilton was trying to rejoin the track and Rosberg was adamant to not give an inch of space whatsoever. But the damage to the championship leader’s car was bad enough for him to surrender his lead to Hamilton and drop a further two places before the checkered flag, limping home with a broken front wing underneath his car.
Thus, it was Hamilton who was victorious in Austria, cutting down Rosberg’s championship lead to eleven points. Max Verstappen finished a sterling second on Red Bull’s home grand prix, holding off Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Even though Rosberg received a penalty for (at least according to the stewards) causing the collision with Hamilton, he still retained fourth position ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in the official classifications.
Verstappen didn’t steal the spotlight from this race but he drove well enough to make his Soft compound tires last for a long time while holding Raikkonen at bay. The Dutchman momentarily had the lead after the two Mercedes came in to pit for fresh tires late in the race but didn’t fight the two Silver Arrows too hard as he tried to consolidate a podium finish.
The standout driver of the race, however, was Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, finishing tenth and scoring his first career point, which also gives Manor their first point of the season. Wehrlein started to impress during Qualifying, where he placed twelfth and was only a few tenths of a second away from getting into Q3, even. Taking with him his experience of the track from DTM, Wehrlein had strong pace in the latter half of the race after being dead last on the safety car restart. In the midst of the Rosberg-Hamilton final lap incident, Wehrlein was actually challenging the Williams of Valtteri Bottas for ninth, while holding off Esteban Gutierrez in the Haas closely behind. Wehrlein was quick in a track he knew well and earned this impressive tenth place finish for his team.
Meanwhile, Jenson Button finished sixth after starting the race with his McLaren on third thanks to grid penalties to Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel. Button stormed to second on the start, maintaining a surprisingly strong early pace, keeping second place for the first seven laps. He also didn’t make it deliberately easy for the Ferraris and Red Bulls to pass him, proving that his Honda-powered McLaren was no pushover. This race was Button’s time to shine, similar to teammate Fernando Alonso’s performances in Hungary last year and Russia earlier this year.
One major disappointment of the race though was Force India. After starting the race on the front row alongside polesitter Hamilton, Nico Hulkenberg said on social media that he struggled massively with tire graining. The German never seemed to recover his pace to at least salvage a points-scoring finish, eventually having to retire before the race’s end. Tire management issues seem to be a recurring problem for Force India this year, as I believe they had similar problems at Bahrain and China earlier this season. Hulkenberg’s teammate Sergio Perez was on his way to an eighth place finish when he had a car failure and crashed out at Turn Three on the final lap. I hate to say it but after their recent string of success, this race brought Force India back down to earth.
I’m sure though, that they’re happy that the British Grand Prix already comes this weekend, giving them (and also Rosberg) a quick bounce-back opportunity.