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?
1) This was arguably the most convincing of all Rosberg’s recent wins – and essentially it was won during qualifying. Rosberg’s recent form had pushed Hamilton into trying something different on set-up but that only seemed to increase Rosberg’s advantage.
2) This forced Hamilton into asking whether he could run to the end on his tyres. The calculation later showed that he would have lost the lead on around lap 46, nine from the end, on tyres around 2.5sec slower than Rosberg’s. Furthermore, they’d have been in real danger of falling off the cliff in terms of rear heat degradation, to an extent that may even have made him vulnerable to Kimi Räikkönen’s third-place Ferrari.
3) Hamilton’s aforementioned set up change: he had chosen to discard the usual heave-spring/damper across the front suspension for an older spec version that he felt might have given him the balance and response he sought for the slow turns of the final sector. The change just increased the gap between them and Rosberg’s sixth consecutive pole wasn’t even close, achieved by the margin of 0.377sec. Most of that came in the final sector, the sequence of short, sharp direction changes that used to be Hamilton’s personal territory. Not this weekend. Nico had the edge throughout as Lewis repeatedly locked his front tyres trying to shave the margins at a time when Rosberg was calm, confident, composed.
4) In Q1 and Q2 Rosberg was only doing enough to get through to Q3. Once there he gave a full display of what he’d been keeping in hand throughout. His first Q3 run was a good banker lap, his second close to perfection, his pace running Hamilton literally ragged. It was a beautiful lap and he was understandably elated: “I haven’t done a lap like that very often in my career. That was pretty cool.”
5) Rosberg seems to have been less affected by Pirelli’s increase of the minimum tyre pressures post-Spa, especially on slow corners. His driving style through such turns is less dependent upon aggressively grippy response from the front-end upon turn in. The way Mercedes has had to respond to that change post-Singapore in terms of its set up has perhaps hurt Hamilton. Certainly, he believes so. Others – even within the team – are less sure about that. The re-think on set-up after the disaster of Singapore has been fundamental. Rosberg has been leaving no stone unturned in understanding the full implications of those changes…
6) The Merc’s front suspension is hydraulically linked side-to-side and this is very effective at keeping the inner wheel planted on the ground, which is normally a good thing. But sometimes, the momentary lifting of the inner wheel, transferring all of the cornering load to the outer tyre, causes the outer tyre to load up more quickly – giving you sharper initial response. This was what Hamilton was trying to achieve by reverting to the previous spec heave spring/damper across the suspension. But instead, before he even got that far into the corners, that lesser loaded inner wheel was prematurely locking up under Hamilton’s heavy braking. His practice sessions were punctuated by lock-ups and even a spin. Having not been allowed to ‘go freelance’ on strategy, he’d done it on set-up instead – and it had worked against him.
7) Disastrously, Vettel failed to make it through Q1 after the team misjudged how much improvement over his prime-tyred lap he’d need to make to ensure qualification to Q2. Essentially they misjudged how much faster Felipe Nasr’s Sauber was going to go on its final lap. So Seb aborted his option-tyred lap four corners in, leaving him 16th.
8) The Red Bull was dynamite through the twists of sector three and was only slower through there than Rosberg. But down the long straights of the rest of the lap the Renault engine/high drag combination was breathless. The upgraded engine in the car at Brazil had been replaced by the standard motor here.
9) Although the Williams were comfortably fastest at the end of the long straights, they were not getting their front ends into the turns anything like as well as last year, unable to generate the front tyre temperature in time. This was putting them at the wrong part of the track as the power went down, and thence further time loss through power sliding.
10) Rosberg got away better than Hamilton and a crucial piece of his weekend slotted perfectly into place as he surged through the fast left-hand sweep on a perfect trajectory, no need to defend. Hamilton’s slow getaway forced him to chop across Perez’s fast-accelerating Force India, Sergio forced to lift momentarily – enough to cost him momentum to Räikkönen’s Ferrari, Kimi prevailing as they turned in, third and fourth.
Lewis Hamilton vs Nico Rosberg in 2015
11) After Bottas hit Button’s car during the stops the Brit was lucky to get away with just slight rear wing endplate damage. However, the delay lost him the DRS zone off the back of Vettel he’d been relying on to suck him along faster than the Honda would otherwise allow. This in turn meant he’d be using more fuel, requiring him to lift and coast for extended periods.
12) On the super-soft tyres, Hamilton simply had no answer to Rosberg and Lewis was hoping that the re-set of a switch to the primes would allow him an opportunity. Rosberg and Räikkönen each came in at the end of the tenth lap, Hamilton a lap later. He had to pass the yet-to-stop Vettel, and the couple of laps he spent trying to do this increased Rosberg’s advantage to just over seven seconds by the 15th lap.
13) Once clear of Vettel, Hamilton – in clear air and on the prime tyres – felt good in the car for the first time all weekend. He began to eat into Rosberg’s lead. Nico tried to respond, but this just initiated graining of his front tyres. Hamilton was suffering no such problems. This combination had strategic implications. The most efficient way for each of them to run the races was now different. Rosberg was clearly going to have to be brought in earlier than Hamilton to be rid of these tyres – but not too early that it left him too many laps to do in the final stint. The challenge for Hamilton now was to get close enough to Rosberg to try an on-track overtake before Nico was brought in.
14) The target lap for Rosberg’s stop to be rid of his graining fronts was 31. By lap 29 Hamilton had got the gap down to just 1.3sec but he wasn’t going to get close enough to try a pass – nor was Mercedes going to risk that. Nico duly came in on the 31st lap for a fresh set of primes. Hamilton’s existing tyres were still in great shape – as he illustrated by setting the race’s fastest lap so far at 1min 46.5sec. But Rosberg’s first flying lap on his new primes put that in perspective at 1min 45.4sec. He was 19sec behind Hamilton and gaining, so there was no question of Hamilton being able to get a pitstop’s worth of gap (around 22sec here).
15) The optimum theoretical strategy was for him to get another 10 laps out of this set, which would give him tyres 10 laps fresher than Rosberg’s for the final 14 laps – and even opened out the possibility of him going onto super-softs, though that wouldn’t have given the usual advantage, given how quickly they grained.
16) The Mercedes chief strategist is often effectively playing chess against himself in giving each driver the maximum opportunity of taking the win without compromising the other. And this was a classic example. Hamilton could have been brought in the lap after Rosberg, would have rejoined a couple of seconds behind and on the same tyres, with not enough performance advantage – if any – to be able to overtake. That’s probably how Rosberg would have preferred it had he been given the choice at this point and it would have been a safe Mercedes 1-2. But, because Hamilton had kept his tyres together better in this middle stint, his theoretical ideal was to continue to push, losing chunks of time for 10 laps to Rosberg’s newer tyres, and then get out on faster rubber. If he could keep that initial 19sec gap from shrinking below 13-14sec before he stopped, then he had a realistic chance of challenging for the win.
17) Hamilton would be coming out on tyres calculated at 0.8sec faster from about 9-10sec behind with 14 laps to go. But critically, the pace he needed to do to keep his lead at more than 13-14sec before he stopped was around 1min 46.3sec – and he just wasn’t quite quick enough to do that as Rosberg forced a very hot pace. This was essentially when Rosberg clinched the win his earlier troublesome middle stint had put in jeopardy.
18) It was during this phase that they were each being given instructions on engine modes. The backdrop to this was that Rosberg’s engine began the race with 2300 miles on it – very near the end of its rebuild life – while Hamilton’s had done only around 1000 miles. They were out of sync because of Rosberg’s Monza engine failure. In order to keep the available power through the race available to them equal, the limitations being applied to Rosberg because of his high mileage were also being imposed on Hamilton; again, the conflict between the team trying to provide equality and a driver looking to maximise his chances. When Hamilton questioned it, he was told if he didn’t turn to the requested mode, Rosberg would be given a more powerful one. Had their power modes been allowed to differ to reflect the different mileages of their engines, it may just have made the crucial difference in keeping Hamilton within target before he pitted. But that would still have required he make the overtake in the final stint.
19) Hamilton’s stop was two laps after Vettel’s, by which time that earlier 19sec lead over Rosberg was down to just under 10sec. Which meant he rejoined 12sec behind. The choice of tyre over such a short final stint on a light fuel load was actually quite closely matched – and so Hamilton and his engineer were given the choice. Hamilton had no opinion, despite repeatedly being pushed to make a call on it. Eventually ‘Bonno’ decided for him – primes it was.
20) Into his last stint on his newer tyres, Hamilton ate into Rosberg’s lead – but not by quite enough. He was in the high 1min 44s when Bonnington advised: “We need mid-low 1min 44s.” “I can’t do that Bonno,” he replied. And that summarised his day. Just not quite there. Rosberg was more than satisfied, having recorded three consecutive victories for the first time in his career, and with the psychological upper hand heading into winter. “I’m ecstatic,” he said.
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