Hamilton vs Verstappen resumes at tricky Hungarian Grand Prix: what to watch for in 2021 race
Will there be more contact between Hamilton and Verstappen in Hungary?
And then there were four: Sebastian Vettel has won his fourth Formula 1 World Championship and his name now sits alongside Alain Prost, Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher. As the young German crossed the line to win the Indian Grand Prix Christian Horner rightly said on the radio: “You join the greats”.
After putting his Red Bull on pole for the seventh time this season it seemed only a matter of time before he was crowned 2013 World Champion. However, he didn’t just drive for points, he sealed the deal in style with a dominant victory ahead of Nico Rosberg and Romain Grosjean. The victory also clinched the Constructors’ Championship in favour of Red Bull despite a DNF for Webber. Incidentally, as a sign of how dominant Vettel has been this year, his points alone would put Red Bull ahead of second-placed Mercedes at the moment…
Despite seeming so relaxed before and during the race Vettel’s emotions poured out afterwards with a small diversion away from the pit entry to the start/finish straight after his cooling-down lap. He had been instructed by his race engineer Guillaume ‘Rocky’ Rocquelin to start the usual race finish procedures, but he ignored said instruction and gave the fans something to cheer by doing donuts in front of the main grandstand. He was quickly out of his car and throwing his gloves into the mass of people, much to the delight of everyone there. He left the car where it was and ran back to parc fermé and the podium ceremony. Hopefully he won’t receive too harsh a punishment for not following procedure; it would be a sad day if he did. (Soon after writing this Vettel was given a reprimand and Red Bull a 25,000 euro fine – a thankfully lenient result).
“It was difficult for me to receive the boos [earlier in the season],” Vettel admitted after spraying the champagne, “but to finally get acceptance makes me proud to join people like Prost, Fangio and Michael.” The Indian crowd didn’t mutter anything close to a boo, thankfully, and their delight of seeing a world champion crowned was clear to all.
Vettel may well have been on pole position, having dominated all three practice sessions as well, but his race wasn’t straightforward. He had qualified on the softer, and much faster, of the two compounds, but from race simulations earlier in the weekend it was clear that it would only last a matter of laps. He’d have to make an early pit stop and risk being pitched into traffic. To make matters more complicated, Pirelli had told teams before the race that cars should limit themselves to 15 laps on the soft tyres and 35 on the mediums due to the degradation. The FIA thankfully didn’t make the advice law, but teams would face penalties if they ran a car that was dangerous.
The two Mercedes cars of Rosberg and Hamilton in second and third place on the grid were starting on the soft tyres as well and would also face a very early pit stop. Behind them was Mark Webber on the medium compound tyres and, if he didn’t lose too many positions at the start of the race, he would be a threat to Vettel. Simulations before the race suggested that starting on the medium tyre would be two seconds quicker so it was all to play for.
When the lights went out Vettel held onto his lead, followed by the two Mercedes, but Webber had a difficult first lap and dropped down the order. Felipe Massa made the most of his stickier soft tyres and had a brilliant first lap ending up ahead of both Mercedes and behind Vettel in second. The German, though, had a 2.4-second lead by the time he came onto the start/finish straight for the first time.
It wasn’t just Webber who had a difficult first lap because Alonso, who had started eighth on the medium compound, clipped the back of the Red Bull and had to pit for a new nose at the end of the second lap. His afternoon was spent trying to recover and he eventually finished 11th. Vettel also pitted at the end of the second lap, getting rid of his fast-degrading softs, and rejoined in 17th behind Max Chilton.
It was in the following laps that the outcome of the race would become clearer as Webber was now in the lead – after Massa, Rosberg and Hamilton had pitted – and could make the most of the ‘clean’ air. Vettel was more than a match, though, and after just 11 laps he was into third and posting fastest laps. Webber was only 14.5 seconds up the road and Vettel had a stop in hand. The first lap had done irreparable damage to Webber’s race.
On lap 14 Grosjean changed from softs to mediums and, despite starting down in 17th, managed to make them last until the end of the Grand Prix. His third-place finish was a remarkable display of tyre preservation. The one-stop strategy was quite a gamble considering how a similarly dangerous roll of the dice in qualifying had been so disastrous. “I wouldn’t have a bet a penny on it,” he said when asked whether he expected to make the podium.
His team-mate was not so fortunate. Räikkönen also went for a one-stop race, but having pitted on lap seven he was looking at a 53-lap stint on the mediums. It seemed almost possible with seven laps remaining, but he soon approached the infamous ‘cliff’ and down the order he tumbled from third position.
He didn’t go easily, though, and battled his team-mate perhaps a little too hard, forcing him off the track. An interesting decision, considering they both nearly fell foul of Massa behind them. In the end he had to pit on the second-last lap and ended the race in seventh. Getting fastest lap of the race thanks to the fresh set of mediums on a light fuel load will be scant consolation. A team member told me afterwards that it was his choice to try that strategy and that some of the words used by the pit wall when he tried to battle Grosjean were “quite choice”.
Back at the front the battle between Webber and Vettel was swinging ever more in the German’s favour, especially after he posted a string of fastest laps between lap 16 and 20. He was past Pérez’s McLaren – who, having started on the medium compound, was still to stop – and into second on lap 21. By now he was only 10.8 seconds behind Webber. The Aussie finally pitted on lap 29, when Vettel was only 6.5 seconds behind, and went for the soft compound. A string of fastest laps did little for his cause and he was back in on lap 33 for his final set of mediums. A lap earlier Vettel had also made his final stop of the race and when things settled down he held a 12.7-second advantage.
It was game, set and match shortly afterwards when Webber was told to pull over because of an alternator problem. Vettel’s closest rival was now Räikkönen and he was over 25 seconds down the road.
By now it was clear that none of the drivers would be punished for having all four wheels off the track. In qualifying they had been doing the same, but race director Charlie Whiting had let it slide because it wasn’t an advantage such was the lack of grip on the painted lines and Astroturf. Formula 1 drivers wouldn’t be out there if there wasn’t an advantage, though, and it seems strange to let them all get away with it throughout the race.
I digress… By lap 54 Vettel, with victory and the championship in sight, had started to post some very quick sector times trying to get the fastest lap of the race. More than ever it went down badly with Rocky as Vettel’s car was only just holding together – he was told to stop using the drinks bottle (which uses power) and they also switched the KERS off. “Don’t even think about it,” said Rocky as Vettel posted a purple first sector on lap 55, “we’ve got enough problems as it is”.
Vettel went ahead and posted the then fastest lap of the race anyway, which invited a cold message from Rocky when he finally crossed the line. “We’ll talk about it later,” he said about the fastest lap effort. “Raikkonen pitted for new tyres on the second last lap and he obliterated your lap…”
No doubt Vettel will have his ear bent by Rocky at some point in the near future, but for now all that mattered was that the car had held together and he was the 2013 World Champion. Rosberg was next to cross the line, nearly 30 seconds later, ahead of Grosjean, Massa, Pérez, Hamilton, Räikkönen, di Resta, Sutil and Ricciardo.
“It’s very difficult to understand,” he said about joining the likes of Prost, Fangio and Schumacher. “Put it this way,” he continued, clearly lost for words, “I was watching F1 when Fernando started to win races and now I am racing him. He’s one of my toughest opponents. To race people like him, to race people like Lewis, Mark, Nico… a lot of guys, Kimi, Jenson… Four titles is a big number. Fangio got five titles and everyone appreciated him as the best there was. Michael then came along and yes, he had a very dominant car, but he helped create that and he worked very hard. He also had some tough challenges from Mika [Häkkinen], Fernando and Kimi.
“When you speak to the true legends of the sport like Stirling Moss they have the guts to say ‘that guy was better than me’. He finished second in the world championship how many times? Four times! To join people like Prost, Fangio, Schumacher… I’m too young to understand it. Maybe when I am 60 I will, but then no one will care! It’s something that no one can ever take away from you, though.”
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