2015 Hungarian GP report


A season’s-worth of incident in one frantic, uplifting, passionate race. What lay behind it? The desire of racing, the sheer competitive appetite that drives it, on raw display; particularly poignant after an impossibly emotive Jules Bianchi tribute minutes before the start.

Then the rare and exciting opportunity granted to several non-Mercedes drivers, the possible rewards tantalisingly real; this was not a time for playing it safe. Daniel Ricciardo drove a race of which Gilles Villeneuve would have been proud – looking for a time like he might snatch a thrilling victory from Ferrari’s jaws, until the wind he’d thrown caution to blew against him. He articulated the emotions behind his ‘take no prisoners’ approach: “Let’s say I put my heart into everything today. I think that’s the way Jules would have wanted it… it’s been a long time, a long season for me, so I feel that I gained some strength today and I owe this one to me. I drove inspired today. That’s how Jules did it. He made some pretty impressive lunges.”

Minutes before the start, the drivers and Bianchi’s family joined in a circle around an array of their helmets, including that of Jules. Daniel, particularly close to Bianchi, walked to his Red Bull and looked to the sky as he climbed into it. He did so again as he stood on the third step of the podium, with Sebastian Vettel in the middle having equalled Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41 Grand Prix victories, Daniil Kvyat on the second step. In between times there had been nine incidents that the stewards would see fit to investigate, while carbon fibre and gravel littered the track.

The wisdom of having the drivers partake in the Bianchi ceremony immediately prior to the race, everyone fighting back the tears, was questionable. But it contributed to an impassioned vibration of the race itself that was almost tangible, drivers’ further emboldened by what was on offer once the Mercs had been beaten off the line, just as they had been at Silverstone.

Just as it’s a sport of passion, so it’s about technicalities too. What’s with the Mercedes starts? “They sound like they are not giving the clutch enough engagement,” observed one engineer from a rival team, “and it’s bogging down.” Then there are the stories that Ferrari has developed an ingenious trick clutch mechanism. The reality may be more prosaic.

From Mercedes’ reading, Rosberg’s start from the dirty side was quite normal, given the available grip there and was certainly better than Ricciardo’s directly behind. Hamilton’s meanwhile was compromised by a clutch probably heated beyond its optimum because of the race’s initial start, aborted in response to Felipe Massa lining up his Williams well short of its grid spot.

Anyway, four abreast into turn one for the first time, red and silver. Game on. Time to be tough. Vettel ran his right-hand tyres right up to the slow-starting Hamilton’s endplates and wasn’t letting off, totally uncompromising and resolute – and ahead as they turned in, with Hamilton further mugged by Rosberg and Räikkönen, Kimi refusing to back out of his tyre-rubbing dice with Rosberg on the exit, placing the Ferrari so there wasn’t even room for a breath of wind between them, forcing Nico to give him room and prevailing down to turn two to put the Ferraris 1-2.

Two corners in and Ferrari appeared to be in position to control this race – through Kimi – using the guy in second to keep the Mercs off the back of the leader, the way Williams didn’t do at Silverstone. But actually it didn’t turn out that way. In fact there were lots of ways it looked like it was going to turn out but didn’t; every time you tried to call this race, it took a turn in a different direction.


The Hungaroring on a day hot even by the standards of a Budapest summer exaggerated the difference between the medium and soft compounds. A track temperature of 52-54-deg C took the medium much further above its operating band than the soft, which was around 2s faster, or even more on some cars. This played its part in structuring the grid, as did the circuit layout, its short straights and long corners taking much of the sting out of a power disadvantage. Good downforce counts for proportionately more than at most tracks, power proportionately less, hence Mercedes’ normal advantage was reduced.

That said, Hamilton counts for a lot of Hungaroring lap time on his own. His pole time was 0.5s faster than team mate Rosberg, 0.7s swifter than the third-fastest Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. “I just love this place,” he said. “It feels a bit like an old go-karting circuit that we used to race on many years ago when we had super special soft tyres that were super grippy. With the temperatures it gives us a lot of grip here.”

Rosberg had lost the balance of his car, constantly urging Tony Ross to check through the data to see if he could find why the car was stubbornly understeering – to no avail. He had spent all Friday with inconsistent balance – and that later turned out to be a ‘configuration error’ on the team’s side for which it later apologised. This fixed into Saturday, he was in flying form in that morning’s practice, but that balance had disappeared like a mirage into the afternoon and he was no longer a threat to Hamilton.

The soft tyre’s advantage over the medium meant that even Mercedes had to use up a set of options to be sure of clearing Q1 – though in hindsight Hamilton’s prime-tyred lap would have got him through. Rosberg’s would not have done. A red flag in Q2 (for Fernando Alonso’s stationary McLaren) meant both drivers wasted a further set of options. It meant that the first of their two Q3 runs were conducted on used tyres. Even Hamilton’s used tyre time would have been good for pole.

Some way behind the Mercs was a hard-fought battle for best of the rest between Ferrari and Red Bull. The latter had looked to have the edge right up until Q3 when Vettel just managed to pip Ricciardo for third. This was a good recovery from Seb who had been all at sea on set-up through Friday and had even spun the Ferrari a couple of times. Räikkönen suffered a front wing failure on Friday morning, and the mounting points were subsequently beefed up. Once Vettel had got his car sorted, Kimi was always trailing by a couple of tenths – and it was this way in Q3 where he went fifth quickest.

The track’s layout came to Red Bull’s aid but the RB11 has also been on a productive development path since Silverstone. The new Mercedes-like front wing introduced there has reportedly given much more fidelity in joining up the airflow from the endplates to the area ahead of the sidepods. However, this flow was changed again here because of another feature new to the car – a blown front axle. This was run in conjunction with the new wing only on Friday morning. Thereafter it was found that the old wing was actually working better in combination with the flow coming through the brake ducts and out of the centre of the wheels.

They were still slow at the end of the straights – 14th and 17th through the trap on the pit straight at 193mph, 6mph down on Williams – but were among the very quickest onto them. Ricciardo: “I found a good rhythm.” Kvyat, over 0.5s slower back in seventh: “I didn’t find a good rhythm.” Daniel, in fact, was the only driver not to use up a set of options in Q1.

The Williams was not seen to its best around here, its power advantage over Red Bull unable to compensate for its downforce shortfall. The high track temperatures were also felt to be hindering the FW37, taking the tyres past their peak. A new front wing with Mercedes-like vanes at the outer ends had been readied, but there’d been time only to make two. It was decided to put Valtteri Bottas on the new wing (on account of his championship position), with a spare. Massa retained the old one, around 0.1s slower according to team simulation. Bottas was delighted with his Q3 lap, which netted him sixth. Massa felt his to be messy and was 0.3s adrift.

Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso and Romain Grosjean’s Lotus rounded out the top 10.  The Toro Rossos were overheating their rear rubber and were running an understeer balance to compensate, costing significant lap time. Carlos Sainz lost all his references as his car’s balance changed with the track temperatures and was struggling in particular with braking feel. The 0.15s difference between Verstappen and him got Max into Q3 and left Carlos back in 12th.

Grosjean produced a fantastic lap to get the Lotus into Q3, a knife edge, high-pressure lap of over achievement. The E23 was oversteering spectacularly on the medium tyres but understeering on the softs. Team-mate Pastor Maldonado locked up at turn one on his vital Q2 lap and was back in 14th. The team was delayed getting out on Friday morning as Pirelli had declined to supply tyres until its bill was paid.

Force India missed all of the second practice as a precaution while it investigated the cause of the rear suspension failure that had ended with Sergio Pérez’s car upside down on Friday morning. The left-rear had turned suddenly inwards as he exited turn 11, spinning him into the barriers, removing a front wheel which trapped itself under the car and flipped it. Sergio was unharmed but many of the latest aero parts were damaged beyond repair. Nico Hulkenberg was 11th, just edged out of Q3 by Grosjean’s special lap, with Pérez a further two places back.

McLaren missed the golden opportunity of respectability offered by the track’s layout, with different electrical failures at the crucial time for both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button. JB lost ers deployment at the beginning of his final Q1 lap, losing him 0.4s – and ensuring he didn’t graduate. Alonso came to a stop in Q2 before recording a time and was therefore not allowed to take any further part in the session – a disappointment for him given that he’d pushed it back to the pitlane.

Button’s problem was caused by an electrical problem on the back of the steering wheel, Alonso’s by a disconnection in the wiring loom. The practices had suggested they might even have been vying for a position in Q3. Into turns eight/nine they were among the very quickest – but the absolute slowest out of nine.

The Saubers were overheating the rubber quite badly and were outright slow as a result. “The balance is OK, it just has no grip,” surmised Felipe Nasr. Marcus Ericsson was the faster of the pair this weekend but neither of them ever looked like making it out of Q1. Overheating rears were making the Manors oversteering beasts and Will Stevens had no confidence in what it was about to do next, leaving him 0.5s behind team mate Roberto Merhi.


Sunday arrived windy and 15-deg C cooler than Friday/Saturday. Teams had expected the temperature drop and a 180-degree change in wind direction, but were surprised by its strength. The cars would now by heading into turn one with a strong headwind, ideal for assisting in passing manoeuvres, giving the cars scrabbling down the inside at the end of the first DRS zone some extra downforce and stability.

The cooler track temperatures helped those cars that had been overheating their rubber in qualifying but wasn’t expected to impact upon favoured strategies – which in the main were two-stops, bordering on three. The soft was so much faster than the medium that the fastest way to run the race was to minimise time on the latter. Besides which, the softs would have struggled to do the necessary stint length for a one-stop.

Looking after the left-rear tyre remained the key preoccupation in being able to achieve the necessary stint lengths. This entailed having a measure of understeer in the car – something that is a particular frustration around this track with its long medium speed corners. Understeer costs way more lap time here than on conventional tracks that tend to have shorter corners comprising a lower proportion of the lap.

Rosberg had made much of his understeer in qualifying, as if it had mysteriously manifest. He did later allow – once it was too late for his team mate’s side of the garage to respond – that he had simply been optimising his car for race day. The understeer was there not by accident, but by choice – in order to protect that left-rear, in the calculated hope that Hamilton’s more neutral balance, whilst much faster over a lap, would make him vulnerable to Rosberg on race day. It was a shrewd plan. Given the superiority of the Mercedes, he’d have known he could still qualify on the front row. It was as if he’d assessed his chances of out-qualifying Hamilton as less than those of out-thinking him.

It was beginning to seem like a very smart move as Hamilton made several reconnaissance laps, driving back through the pits then out again, and reported back: “The grip at the rear is shocking. I’m sliding round a lot. The front’s very strong, but there’s no rear grip.”

After the cars finally lined up on the dummy grid, the drivers all climbed out and made their way to the front, their attention switched from chassis balance and bite points to greeting the Bianchi family and taking part in the tribute to Jules. Felipe Massa was at the very centre of the Bianchi family at Budapest and one wonders if his difficult race was rooted in his emotional state.

“I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “Maybe.” But his difficulty with his grid spot was nothing to do with that. “I couldn’t see the yellow line that shows the grid slot. I couldn’t see it on the next start either.” For some reason, his head position and that of the mirror combined to block the sightline. He would get a 5s penalty to be taken at a pit stop.

With everyone sent around one more time the race would now be over 69 laps rather than 70 and Hamilton’s hot clutch would ensure he’d be gobbled up at the start by the Ferraris. He got that sinking feeling as the initial rate of acceleration was poor – and sure enough big in his left-hand peripheral vision came a big chunk of scarlet as Vettel sliced by, the Ferrari’s right-hand tyre sidewalls almost touching the Merc’s front wing endplate.

Vettel was totally resolute in these moments, showing no intention of compromise. Hamilton conceded, moving right in an attempt to dissuade the faster-starting Rosberg from coming by – but too late. As Nico went by on the right, so Räikkönen was following Vettel by on the left. The red cars rounded there on the outside, the silver ones slower on the inside. Räikkönen inserted his car between the exit kerb and Rosberg before Nico could quite get himself over there, giving Kimi the inside for the short downhill charge to turn two, Rosberg still alongside but locking up his rears and oversteering perilously to the outside – and Räikkönen was through.

Ferrari was running 1-2 and all bets were off. In the space of a few seconds this race had gone from a Mercedes walkover to one in which it was already difficult to envisage Ferrari losing. Regardless of respective pace, all Ferrari needed to do was use Räikkönen to keep the Mercs off Vettel’s back to allow Seb the gap needed to be invulnerable to whatever strategy Mercedes tried.

Ricciardo had been slow away, as Renault-engined cars tend to be, and he was instantly zapped by Bottas. Daniel hung on around the Williams’ outside as they reached the exit kerb, another driver intent on zero compromise. They clipped wheels and the Red Bull was tipped high in the air on one side, its heavy landing losing it momentum, putting Bottas securely in fifth, with team mate Kvyat scything past too, followed by Hulkenberg’s fast-starting Force India. Kvyat had flat-spotted his tyres badly in braking for turn one and was even discussing whether he should pit.

Through the downhill left-hand loop of turn two and out beneath the trees Vettel, Räikkönen, Rosberg, Hamilton, Bottas, Kvyat, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Pérez, Massa, Sainz, Alonso, Verstappen, Button, Maldonado, Grosjean, Merhi, Ericsson, Nasr and Stevens formed a scarlet-headed snake. Vettel aggressively used up the track limits as they exited the fast right of three onto the uphill run to the fast blind apex left of four.

Maldonado – the only man to start on the medium tyre – had made a demon start and scrabbled ahead of Lotus team-mate Grosjean in the mid pack through the first few turns but into four his gripless tyres gave him a big old rear-end twitch – allowing Grosjean to get level as they went through there, but Pastor held on the inside for the long, looping, bumpy turn five, accelerating out of there up to the chicane of six-seven.

Hamilton, distraught at falling back to fourth from pole, was intent on attacking immediately to begin putting things right. There was red mist emotion in the move he tried on Rosberg up to the chicane, trying for a gap on the outside that was never going to be there. As Nico took up his line, Lewis was forced onto the grass whilst braking, twitching the Merc off the track and across the gravel trap.

He was in 11th place as he rejoined. Initially he complained that Rosberg had made more than one defensive move, but upon reflection and having watched the footage, he accepted the fault was totally his. It would be just the first of many errors as his day snowballed into over-striving to correct earlier mishaps. “I did not have a good day at the office today,” he later reflected in apologetic tone.

Vettel led his team mate by 1.3s as they shrieked past the start/finish line for the first time. Surprisingly, Rosberg was not hard in their wake but falling back. That understeery balance he’d been reckoning on helping him minimise rear tyre stress in a battle at the head of the field with Hamilton was a liability now he’d lost out on track position to the Ferraris.

Räikkönen didn’t even need to back off to protect Vettel – as Rosberg was falling behind all on his own. There was more understeer than was needed – and it was particularly acute on the grippier soft tyre. But he was comfortably faster than Bottas and so under no threat from behind. So he just settled into a rhythm for now.

The Force India is much faster down the straights than the Red Bull and as Kvyat, with his bad vibrations, was slow onto the pit straight anyway, Hulkenberg was able to breeze by him for fifth. Ricciardo was now on his team-mate’s tail and being held up. He was eager to get on. “I’m faster. Daniil is struggling,” he told the team. Kvyat didn’t react charitably when it was suggested he should not hinder his team-mate. He pointed out that he was stuck behind Hulkenberg and was trying to pass him. When the team became insistent, his language deteriorated. But later, away from the adrenaline of battle he was more objective.

He grudgingly pulled aside and Ricciardo set off in chase of Hulkenberg, slicing past the Force India in the DRS zone into turn one on the 10th lap – now only 1.6s behind Bottas and going quicker. The Red Bull was a much faster race car around the Hungaroring than the Williams and as Daniel chased it down Williams began thinking of pitting its man before he was undercut. They brought him in on lap 13 and fitted him with another set of options – but Ricciardo stayed out, lapping slightly quicker than Rosberg albeit 10s behind. Nico by this time was trailing Vettel by 8.5s, with Räikkönen still between them, continuing to edge away.

Bottas had no great pace upon rejoining and wouldn’t get to see Ricciardo for the rest of the day. In fact his next task was to try staying ahead of the other Red Bull of Kvyat. They were separated by 5s as they pitted on the same lap, but Red Bull’s stop was 1.2s faster than that of Williams – bringing Daniil within striking range. But the attack was postponed for now, as Red Bull had elected to switch to the slower medium tyre for the middle stint.

Hamilton had been making steady progress through the midfield. As Kvyat, Bottas and Hulkenberg pitted, he was up to fifth just 7s behind Ricciardo and lapping as fast as the Ferraris. He came in on the 19th lap, but even in this routine stop he made an error, stopping in second gear instead of first. This necessitated a shift to neutral, then first, triggering the anti-stall. Waiting for that to work its way through its loop meant he was stationary for over 4s.

It almost cost him a place to Bottas, Lewis having to get his elbows out on the Williams through turn one, wheels rubbing. His pace had got him ahead of the earlier stoppers and after he was followed in on subsequent laps by Rosberg, Vettel, Ricciardo and Räikkönen, he was in a solid fifth place, closing down fast on the prime-tyred Red Bull and only around 15s adrift of Rosberg and lapping much faster.

“We decided to switch to the prime for the second stint,” related Christian Horner of Ricciardo and Kvyat, “because we reckoned the only way we might progress from where we were was to have an aggressive late stint on the option when everyone else would be on the prime.” It was a decision that was to prove inspired – and might even have won them the race. But for now it made Ricciardo easy meat for Hamilton. Daniel defended well for a long time but Lewis was certain he was within his grasp.

Race results

1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 69 1h46m09.985s
2 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 69 15.748s
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 69 25.084s
4 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 69 44.251s
5 Fernando Alonso McLaren 69 49.079s
6 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 69 52.025s
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus 69 58.578s
8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 69 58.876s
9 Jenson Button McLaren 69 1m07.028s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 69 1m09.130s
11 Felipe Nasr Sauber 69 1m13.458s
12 Felipe Massa Williams 69 1m14.278s
13 Valtteri Bottas Williams 69 1m20.228s
14 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 69 1m25.142s
15 Roberto Merhi Marussia 67 2 Laps
16 Will Stevens Marussia 65 Ret
Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 60 Ret
Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 55 Ret
Sergio Perez Force India 53 Ret
Nico Hulkenberg Force India 41 Ret

Asking if he could use the additional ers boost one more time (permission is needed in order that it isn’t deployed when the battery doesn’t hold enough store, something that would damage it) Hamilton received an affirmative response. With the Mercedes hard on his tail, Daniel was giving it plenty out of the final corner on lap 28 and got all crossed up in a pretty-looking but time-consuming power slide. Hamilton was upon him, slipstreamed his way by and went around his outside through turn one. “Nico is just 15.7 seconds up the road Lewis. Let’s see what we can do.”

Rosberg had switched to the mediums at his stop, Hamilton had gone for another set of softs. Nico’s balance was less understeery on the less grippy tyres but he was little or no more competitive on them. Lapping around 1s faster than the Ferraris and up to 2s faster than harder-tyred Rosberg, Hamilton had the gap to his team mate down to 4s by the 37th lap. But thereafter it looks as though he’d spent the best of those tyres. As they each navigated through backmarkers, Rosberg began easing the gap back out.

The moment of crisis – where Rosberg may have been asked to move aside for Hamilton, reversing the roles of last year’s controversy between them here – seemed to have passed for Nico. Not only was his position over Hamilton secure, but he’d be able to switch to the faster tyre for the final stint when Lewis would be obliged to be on the mediums. But the Ferraris looked well out of reach, almost half a minute up the road.

The red cars were without doubt faster than a Mercedes with an over-cautious set-up (like Rosberg’s) but in a straightforward race in which grid positions had been maintained off the startline, how would they have fared against Hamilton? On raw pace, they were between 0.9s-1s adrift. Had Rosberg had a more conventional set-up approach not so different from Hamilton’s and had his usual good race pace, there’s nothing to suggest that this would not have been just a normal Mercedes 1-2, well clear of the Ferraris. Rosberg’s extreme set-up choice and Hamilton’s overheated clutch had painted a totally different picture, one with lots of red in it.

With his gap to Hamilton stabilised, Rosberg was quite ready to forego the extra performance of a set of softs for the final stint. He preferred the balance on the mediums and once informed that Hamilton would be taking the mediums at the second stops, he said, “OK, I’ll go prime as well.” To him, it was the no-risk strategy, covering what Lewis was doing. The softs were not going to bring enough extra performance that he would catch the Ferraris, after all. But that’s not how the team saw it.

“The pit wall is not inclined to do that,” he was told. Translation: we want you on the options for the last stint. The Ferraris will be on the slower tyre and there could be a safety car which would wipe out our deficit to them. We want you in a position to be able to capitalise.

But it didn’t pan out either of those ways. What happened was that the front wing of Hulkenberg’s Force India collapsed with the car at close to terminal speed down the pit straight on the 42nd lap. Folding itself beneath the car and lifting the front wheels momentarily from the road, Hulk was headed for an imminent appointment with the turn one tyre barriers, only narrowly missing Bottas as the Williams turned in. Carbon fibre debris showered the following Kvyat and deposited itself across the width of the track.

A VSC (virtual safety car) was put in place, the gaps between the cars frozen, with the drivers obliged to meet target times through each timing loop, guided by information on their dashboards. It was close enough to the planned second stops that most cars pitted for their final set of tyres. The Ferraris were already past the pit entry road, but Rosberg, Hamilton and Ricciardo came in. The Ferraris were in next lap, but with the gaps frozen there was no disadvantage to that. But as the marshals struggled to clear the debris scattered over such a big area, so the VSC was replaced by an actual safety car so that it could lead the pack through the pitlane, leaving the marshals free to clean the affected area. This was bad news for Ferrari, wiping out its previous half minute margin over the rest. And it was worse than that: Räikkönen’s car had lost its ersK, making him potentially a sitting duck on the restart, with no means of feeding or deploying the battery and therefore minus its 160bhp.

The order behind the safety car was Vettel, Räikkönen, Rosberg, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Bottas (who had stayed out), Kvyat, Verstappen, Sainz, Button (who stayed out on his old primes), Alonso (who had surrendered position to Button in order to switch to options), Massa, Grosjean, Maldonado, Nasr, Pérez , Stevens and Merhi. The Ferraris and Hamilton had been obliged to switch to the mediums, the Red Bulls had exchanged their mediums for options (a fresh set for Ricciardo, saved through qualifying in Q1 on the mediums) and so were going to be potentially the fastest cars in this last stint. But what about Rosberg?

Despite what the team had suggested a few laps earlier, he had in fact been fitted with another set of primes. Why? Because when the virtual safety car was launched, Nico was just able to get into the pitlane. A set of softs were reckoned good for 25 laps. So with 27 laps still to go, the default pre-prepared tyres in the pods in preparation for a safety car at this time were the mediums – and with the short-notice pit arrival there was not time to exchange these for softs. In hindsight, it would have been better to have Rosberg do another lap, with the VSC protecting his gap, and prepare a set of the faster tyres. But that would have put his gap at risk had the VSC been replaced by the safety car on that lap.

Had Rosberg been on softs for the restart, right on the tail of two Ferraris – one of them sick – on tyres that were at least 1.5s slower than his, then this surely would have been a winnable race for him. Though he might have faced a stern challenge from the soft-shod Red Bull pair, Ricciardo in particular. When both were on the mediums in the middle stint, Ricciardo had averaged a couple of tenths faster than Rosberg, an advantage that would likely have been bigger on the softs, given how they increased Rosberg’s understeer. But crucially the Red Bulls would needed to have found a way by Hamilton before they could have got at Rosberg.

So yet another way the race looked like it was going to pan out didn’t. Merc’s enforced tyre choice for Rosberg had ensured that. Instead, what happened was:

The safety car came in at the end of lap 48. Hamilton was primed by his engineer Pete Bonnington: “We are racing for the win.” So was Vettel. And Rosberg. And Ricciardo. Just like last year it wasn’t possible to call it between any one of four cars going into the final stages. The Ferraris are traditionally slower to warm up the tyre than the Mercs and the Red Bulls were on tyres that instantly gave more grip than those on the Ferraris and Mercs… something had to give.

Drivers’ Championship

1 Lewis Hamilton 202
2 Nico Rosberg 181
3 Sebastian Vettel 160
4 Valtteri Bottas 77
5 Kimi Raikkonen 76
6 Felipe Massa 74
7 Daniel Ricciardo 51
8 Daniil Kvyat 45
9 Nico Hulkenberg 24
10 Romain Grosjean 23
11 Max Verstappen 22
12 Felipe Nasr 16
13 Sergio Perez 15
14 Pastor Maldonado 12
15 Fernando Alonso 11
16 Carlos Sainz 9
17 Jenson Button 6
18 Marcus Ericsson 6
19 Roberto Merhi 0
20 Will Stevens 0

As the safety car peeled away Vettel made a break for it, the ers-less Räikkönen surprisingly unchallenged by Rosberg. It was the extra grip of Ricciardo’s new options that made the biggest difference as he got around the final turn visibly faster than Hamilton ahead of him and was tight into the Merc’s slipstream as the pack shot down the pit straight, tracking it like a heat-seeking missile.

Räikkönen’s lack of power told towards the end of the straight, Rosberg scorching past even before the braking zone while just behind them Ricciardo lined himself up to go around the outside of Hamilton. With all that soft-tyre grip, Ricciardo was super-fast into the corner but resolutely on line. Hamilton fought it, braked as late as he could, turned in from the inside – and found he didn’t have the grip from cold prime tyres to prevent him from understeering into the side of the Red Bull.

It pushed Ricciardo way out onto the run-off, with damaged bodywork and floor, but he rejoined still scrapping Hamilton who had damaged his front wing. This allowed Bottas to join their dice as they rounded turn two, where Hamilton was forced to slow – allowing Ricciardo past. Lewis had just blown a very real chance of winning this race despite that disastrous first lap. “I’m so sorry guys,” he’d later say over the radio.

As Bottas was forced to lift to avoid hitting the back of Hamilton as they exited turn three, so it allowed Kvyat to get alongside the Williams, grinding ahead up the hill and into turn four, with Verstappen now swarming all over the back of them too! Kvyat tried to go around the struggling Hamilton’s outside through turn four but got bundled onto the run-off area and into turn four it was briefly three-abreast: Kvyat, Hamilton, Bottas with Kvyat coming out on top. As Bottas took up his line across the bows of Verstappen, the Toro Rosso’s front wing endplate cut Bottas’ rear tyre. So now two cars – Hamilton’s and Bottas’ – were headed for the pits, for new wing and tyres respectively.

Did Kvyat make his pass on Hamilton by going off track? That was just one of many things the stewards were looking into.  Hamilton was given a drive-through for his assault of Ricciardo, Verstappen would get a drive-through for not having adhered to the minimum speed through a loop during the VSC, Räikkönen would have 5s added to his time for speeding in the pit lane, no action would be taken for the Verstappen/Bottas incident, Grosjean would get 5s added to his time for unsafe release – but it was Maldonado who’d kept the stewards busiest. He’d excelled himself: overtaking before the safety car line (10s penalty), causing a collision with Pérez at turn one (drive-through), speeding in the pit lane while taking his drive-through (drive-through)!

Ricciardo made short work of the struggling Räikkönen to go third and was now catching Rosberg hand over fist. That the softs were working way better than the mediums was evident from the lap times:

Vettel (primes) 1m 27.4s
Rosberg (primes) 1m 27.6s
Ricciardo (options) 1m 26.7s
Kvyat (options) 1m 26.8s

Hamilton meanwhile had rejoined behind the battling Sainz and Alonso (who had earlier made short work of the prime tyre Button). But Hamilton would be in again three laps later for his drive-through. He apologised once more. “Am I last?” he enquired. “You are 15th and only 20s away from getting some points,” came the reply. So he set to all over again.

Räikkönen pitted on the 52nd lap. Ferrari attempted to reboot his ers system. He returned to the fray but it was no better and the car was retired. Kvyat now began to close on Ricciardo who in turn was catching Rosberg and he in turn was just over 1s behind Vettel. A long way distant from this quartet was Verstappen. He had made his drive-through without losing position. His team-mate Sainz repelled Alonso for a couple of laps but the Toro Rosso’s engine was losing progressively more power. Button passed him, Grosjean passed them both – then Sainz was retired. McLaren now had two cars in the points, though Jenson was passed by the recovering Hamilton on the 63d lap.

Constructors’ Championship

1 Mercedes 383
2 Ferrari 236
3 Williams/Mercedes 151
4 Red Bull/Renault 96
5 Force India/Mercedes 39
6 Lotus/Mercedes 35
7 Toro Rosso/Renault 31
8 Sauber/Ferrari 22
9 McLaren/Honda 17
10 Marussia/Ferrari 0

A lap later and Ricciardo, frustrated that the Red Bull’s lack of straightline speed prevented him from passing Rosberg, threw one down the inside of turn one from a long way back. “I felt if I could get by Nico, I could probably get Seb as well,” he related. Only a victory would do. Smoke poured from the Red Bull’s front wheels but he was ahead – however briefly. As he inevitably ran wide and Rosberg took the normal line, so it put them on a collision course at the corner’s exit.

The Merc’s left-rear took a puncture from the Red Bull’s front wing. Vettel’s victory had surely just been assured and Rosberg’s chances of taking the lead of the world championship had disappeared as he made his way pitwards for a new tyre. Ricciardo was able to pit for a new front wing and get out again still third, though with Kvyat now second and out of reach.

Rosberg’s long slow drive back to the pits dropped him down to ninth as he rejoined, with Alonso now fifth ahead of Grosjean, Hamilton and Button. With two laps to go Hamilton was able to slide by Grosjean. Kvyat crossed the line 5s behind the victorious Vettel to take his first podium but 10s were added to his time for that pass on Hamilton. It made no difference to his official finishing position.

Ricciardo had no regrets about his fighting third. “I didn’t want to leave anything on the track today.” Verstappen’s fourth was reward for composure. Alonso’s fifth and Button’s ninth gave at least some cheer to the beleaguered McLaren team. Hamilton’s sixth was damage limitation, Grosjean’s seventh just ahead of Rosberg hard-fought. Ericsson’s Sauber took the final point.

Well, not quite the final one. That should be Vettel’s. “We have a common passion. Different guys sharing a great passion. Our love for racing is bigger than anything else. It’s been a tough week [with Tuesday’s funeral], then thinking about Jules again on the grid. It was certainly emotional and difficult to get back in a rhythm but then you put your visor down and there’s not much space for other things. We do what we love to do.”

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