No clarity in the chaos - why the Hungarian GP didn't answer F1's big questions


Should Mercedes choose Russell or Bottas? Will Red Bull keep Perez? Is Hamilton or Verstappen on the front foot? The Hungarian GP failed to answer any of these pressing questions, writes Chris Medland

Turn one crash at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Despite the Hungaroring mayhem, we don't have a clearer picture of what happens next in F1


You’ve probably only just got your breath back after the Hungarian Grand Prix, but there’s quite a lot of wreckage to pick through after that race – both figuratively and literally.

It’s the sort of race that is perfect for Formula 1 in many ways. A shock winner taking their first victory, a new team on the top step, drama between title rivals, incidents and controversy, and some very bizarre moments that create images that’ll last forever.

One such image is that of Lewis Hamilton sat on his own on the starting grid while the five lights came on, and the rest of the field scrambled to switch to slick tyres in the pit lane. It could go down as one of the ‘pictures that precede unfortunate events’ given Hamilton’s stop at the end of the lap would drop him to the very back of the field, but then that does a disservice to the fightback that followed.

But it’s not Hamilton that there are question marks over. At least, he’s not the focus at this point of my ramblings anyway. It’s the seat alongside him that is up for grabs.

Valtteri Bottas triggered the Turn One carnage that accounted for Sergio Perez and Lando Norris, and basically ruined Max Verstappen’s race, and yet it’s a mistake that probably didn’t leave Toto Wolff seething. Circumstance would have it that Bottas’s error – and an error is exactly what it was despite conspiracy theorists attempts to say it was deliberate – actually helped Mercedes.

Valtteri Bottas sits on the tyre barrier after crashing out of the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Bottas’s error came with a upside for Mercedes

Grand Prix Photo

Red Bull would pick up just two points so the constructors’ championship picture has fully reversed, with Mercedes now leading by 12 points having trailed by 44 arriving at Silverstone, and Hamilton took the lead in the drivers’ standings too.

But it could have been very different. It was an error from Bottas and he could quite conceivably have pushed Norris into Hamilton and wiped out his team-mate from the lead, and then Mercedes’ reaction would be very different.

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So it’s an incident that probably has somehow both damaged and helped Bottas’ chances of keeping his seat, and it comes as Russell faced a similar scenario.

He dropped out in Q1 for the first time this season – a heck of a statistic given that car is regularly ninth quickest over a race distance – and had team-mate Nicholas Latifi close to him (within 0.1sec) for the first time in a long time.

You certainly can’t criticise Russell for not making the same gains Latifi did at Turn One given the chaos that unfolded, and it was admirable that he took to team radio to urge Williams to focus on scoring points with Latifi even if that meant sacrificing his own strategy.

“If you need to compromise my race to help Nicky, do it,” Russell said. “Prioritise Nicky.”

It was certainly a selfless call in the context of Williams’ race, but Russell is smart enough to know that it was also a message that will have registered at Mercedes, where maintaining the harmony Bottas provides is one of the key considerations when it comes to 2022.

Hungary didn’t show that Russell would offer a major improvement over Bottas.

But despite those positives, there’s still a very slight trend that Russell has yet to grab the big result when it’s on offer. It was Robert Kubica who scored the solitary point for Williams in 2019, chances slipped away from Russell in 2020 — most painfully at Imola — and again this year, where the same venue springs to mind.

For Latifi to then beat him to the bigger score in a race when Williams had a massive opportunity might just be a tiny nagging voice in Wolff’s head, because if nothing else Hungary didn’t provide certainty that Mercedes would get a major improvement in performance from Russell over Bottas.

I’m being ultra-critical with that take, but it’s clearly not a simple decision for Mercedes and every minute detail will be scrutinised. Similarly Red Bull will have been wanting to see what Sergio Perez had as a response to a poor couple of races, but it was robbed of that chance by the Turn One melee through no fault of his own.

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And we can extend the same outcome to Daniel Ricciardo, who had shown signs of improvement with McLaren at Silverstone but then struggled a little more at the Hungaroring, where his lack of confidence carrying speed into corners was pronounced. Ricciardo will have felt his luck was turning as he rounded Turn One with only Hamilton ahead of him and Charles Leclerc on his inside, only to find Lance Stroll had other ideas.

And then we get to the powder keg that is the fight between Hamilton and Verstappen. There was clear animosity in the build-up – understandably as they were never going to have suddenly found they agree on what happened at Silverstone – and qualifying only served to heighten that feeling after Mercedes’ slow out-laps at the end of Q3 that protected its front row starting positions.

Verstappen then got wiped out at the start and we never got to see how much of a gain Mercedes has made with its upgraded car, or how the two title contenders would race each other. On the latter point, it looked so close in the early stages with Hamilton behind Verstappen, who would have been forced to be particularly aggressive to have any hope of keeping the Mercedes at bay given the damage he was carrying.

But a simple undercut got Hamilton ahead and from there he was in a totally different race to Verstappen, who could only focus on nursing such a compromised car to ninth place while Hamilton set about delivering a thrilling fightback drive in the quickest car remaining in the race by far.

Maybe the lack of an incident between the pair and the mid-season break will prove to dampen the tension between the two, maybe not. But that’s exactly the point: for all its brilliant chaos, Hungary didn’t actually provide many answers at all heading into the break.