Who would have ever thought they really were proper good friends? I didn’t, but ex-teammate Jenson Button most certainly helped Lewis Hamilton guarantee his first win for Mercedes today. Button meanwhile, who had one of his best weekends of 2013 this year, finished seventh. Unpack that one if you want. Awkward.
It was a good race this Hungarian Grand Prix, tense right the way to the final corner as sheer bloody-mindedness alone kept Kimi Raikkonen’s Lotus ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Webber followed him home, ahead of Alonso and the lairy Romain Grosjean. Hamilton and Raikkonen now have 124pts and 134pts respectively, but Vettel has 172pts going into the mid-season break.
Shame. Before all the exploding tyre stuff and the consequent shift in strategies from Pirelli, we reckoned that Mercedes and Hamilton had, in the W04, a car that could challenge for the championship. But then Germany happened and the car seemed back to where it had been before Silverstone: quicksilver on a Saturday, cement on a Sunday.
Not today. Fast and clean away from pole Lewis had the match of Sebastian Vettel all the way through to the first round of stops (lap nine for Lewis, 11 for Vettel). And that’s when Vettel exited behind Jenson Button’s late-stopping McLaren on mediums. And stayed there for 13 laps while Lewis wound on something like a 15 second advantage.
And there the race was won. Mercedes’ tactics were worthy of Red Bull, working the advantage with stops always a couple of laps earlier than Vettel putting them in a commanding position, whether Red Bull three-stopped or not. Raikkonen’s two-stop second place for Lotus reflected the E21′s speed, but also it (and its drivers’) unpredictability. Grosjean was back in wild-boy form, racing off the adrenalin of a good qualifying and not much else. Ferrari, remember them? Fifth for Alonso and eighth for Massa a poetic end to the first half of the season from a team we all thought had it in the bag a few races in, but have just lost their way, their motivation and their drive. It’s a bit sad really. The same thing happened last year.
So yeah, don’t mind admitting we are as pleased as punch about Lewis’ win. It was brave old decision he took around this time last year and one he was prepared to stand behind while he wrote of this season in advance. But he hasn’t needed to. His car has always been fast and now his car is a winner also. Had it held together at Silverstone and not been obliged to take an engineering detour in Germany then who knows? As it is, as the teams head to the beach, we must really focus on the team that finished second and third today and lead both championships comfortably.
We all have a month now to contemplate this Red Bull thing. The teams — and we appear to be talking ‘newbies’ Lotus and Mercedes rather than grandees Ferrari and McLaren — have to decide whether they can be bothered to maintain the momentum required to challenge Sebastian Vettel in 2013 or just get on with their 2014 car on the (off) chance Adrian Newey and his team, Christian Horner, Renault and Vettel himself slip up. Barring a miracle, this year is lost now, title number four in four years is Vettel’s to collect, pretty soon after the break.
Did the extreme heat in Hungary — you could BBQ a decent piece of beef on the 51 degree track surface — play in to Mercedes hands or have they finally got their heads around the tyre issues? And Lotus? Really, is Romain Grosjean — again bumping in to everyone everywhere on every lap — worth persevering with? And is (and I’m reaching for my hard hat here) it worth standing in Kimi’s way if he wants to go to Red Bull? I mean, today was the sharpest we’ve seen him for a while. As for Ferrari and McLaren, well their issues go much deeper, to the long term strategic and way beyond the tactical. How did they ever get so blown away by Red Bull?
Us? Well we have to decide whether or not wins like Lewis’ today are enough, whether we are getting what we want from F1, or whether it’s all getting a bit 2000-2004? A bit… Schumacher/Ferrari? Are you happy that the excellence and thoroughness of Newey and Co is allowed a platform like this? That ultimately F1 is about assembling the best possible combination of chassis and aero bits and engine and driver and strategist and everything else — technical and human — and if that means one driver/team dominates then that’s just how it has to be?
Or do you find a little bit of a challenge to maintain your concentration and hide your frustration; I mean, what is stopping the other teams getting their acts together?
We’ll be posting mid-term reports on all the teams from the middle of this week onwards, but please don’t let that stop you from telling us what you think.