2019 Hungarian Grand Prix preview: will Mercedes bounce back?by Jake Williams-Smith on 31st July 2019
Mercedes will be looking to rebound after a miserable German Grand Prix, but Max Verstappen is very much the man in form. Here is the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix preview team-by-team
Mercedes will be looking to fight back after its German disaster but can Max Verstappen produce yet another surprise? Photo: Motorsport Images
If it was to be the final German Grand Prix held at Hockenheim, then the spectacle it provided was the perfect way to bow out. Chaos from start to finish, it created the ultimate test for drivers and teams alike with the balancing act between daring and disaster separated by a knife edge. After Ferrari suffered a double dose of disappointment in qualifying, the goalmouth was left wide open for Mercedes, but it was Max Verstappen who would convert.
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It was an ambitious target Dr Helmut Marko set ahead of the season of five Red Bull victories in 2019, but here we are. One race remains before F1 goes on hiatus for the summer break and the Milton Keynes squad only has three more to go to fulfil the audacious target from the team’s motor sport advisor.
Max Verstappen’s current form is borderline frightening. The Dutchman hasn’t finished outside of the top five since the Belgian Grand Prix last season. It is a run that should be longer but for his Renault power unit failing during the 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix. Twelve months on and a redemption story could be on the cards.
His race in Germany, after the poor start and spin on medium tyres, was sublime and once out in front nobody could catch him. “Max kept his head in tricky conditions, he had great pace when he needed it and he made that win happen. It’s fantastic for Honda to see two engines and both teams on the podium,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said after the race.
Honda’s progress in 2019 has been steady but there is no question that the Japanese manufacturer has improved both reliability and power output. Red Bull is now a serious contender for race victories and may well have surpassed Ferrari on race pace. The Hungaroring could play into the strengths of the RB15.
Although the Honda trajectory is continuing upward in tandem with the scintillating form of Verstappen, it may have come too late in the season for a championship challenge. Surely?
Max Verstappen crosses the line to win the 2019 German Grand Prix Photo: Motorsport Images
Calamity and panic are two words not often associated with Mercedes-Benz, but either would be an accurate choice in summarising the team’s afternoon in Germany. After getting in position for another dominating performance, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas both threw away their chances of victory and the team looked a far cry from the usually well-oiled winning machine it has become in recent years.
The Silver Arrows brought a mountain of updates to its cars for the German Grand Prix and, despite the lowly result, the team says the aero upgrades worked. The engineers were left at a loss though as to why it couldn’t claim back time through the corners versus Ferrari, as has been the trend this year.
“The loadings tell us that the upgrade has worked but in terms of how we fully exploit that and what effect the surface had, we don’t know yet,” team boss Toto Wolff admitted. With the Budapest circuit relying heavily on efficient aerodynamic performance, it could be a similar story in Hungary.
The emergence of Red Bull as a threat will also create further intrigue. The Hungaroring isn’t the most power-sensitive circuit on the calendar and in the hands of the man of the moment, Max Verstappen, it could be the Bulls with the brunt come Sunday. The preliminary forecast of thunderstorms on Saturday may well be a saving grace for Mercedes, as it was last season.
An uncharacteristic mistake by Lewis Hamilton was the start of a downward spiral for Mercedes in Germany Photo: Motorsport Images
Sebastian Vettel’s consistent and level-headed drive to second place masked Ferrari’s shortcomings in Germany. The Scuderia should have led the field away in one-two formation rather than both drivers being forced to fight their way through after yet another calamity from the team.
Vettel’s drive was memorable, and his experience shone through but during the first two-thirds of the race, his pace was unspectacular as Kimi Räikkönen drove away from him in the Alfa Romeo. The Ferrari only truly came alive as the circuit dried out.
The Italian outfit looked set for pole position at the Hungaroring last season too until the rain came down and there will be a few uncomfortable faces once more with rain projected to fall on Saturday.
Mattia Binotto will be hoping the form shown at Hockenheim in practice holds up and added the team would be bringing further aero updates to the SF90.
“Budapest is a track where cooling is usually an important factor and where cars run in maximum downforce configuration,” he said. “It will be important to see if this race provides further confirmation that our car has improved on various types on track.
“We will be able to count on the various elements we introduced recently, as well as some aerodynamic updates. Of course, we are focusing on resolving our recent reliability problems to ensure they do not occur again.”
Ferrari had been looking favourites for pole position last year until the rain fell in Hungary Photo: Motorsport Images
You would have been hard-pressed to find a happier man in Germany than Daniil Kvyat last Sunday. The Russian had become a father the day before his third-place finish and the Toro Rosso driver showed that he is fully deserving of his F1 lifeline. “It was such an amazing day and I’m so happy,” he said. “Thank you to everyone in the team, it was just an incredible day. I was readier than ever to fight for this kind of position. This year I feel more mature, my head is cooler, and I’m readier to fight on top, so I think I proved that today to myself and everyone around here.” Team-mate Alexander Albon's strong showing in sixth place will also serve as a boost to the team.
Racing-Force-Stroll-Point-India’s updates in Germany looked to have taken it a step forward in the order. Lance Stroll’s fourth place might be what is remembered from the weekend, but both he and team-mate Sergio Pérez showed improved pace in qualifying, with the Canadian finally breaking his Q1 curse and making it through to the second session. The first wave of updates to the car, including the tighter-packaged rear of the car, may well have added the stability both drivers have been eager for.
Carlos Sainz in the immediate aftermath of the German Grand Prix was disappointed with fifth place before later admitting the result was a positive one for McLaren. The team has been the best of the rest behind the top three so far this season, with team principal Andreas Seidl eager to maintain the high standards McLaren displayed under intense pressure in Germany. “Although the summer break is just around the corner, we are focussed on keeping our trackside operations at the highest possible level, and we must keep pushing if we are to maintain our gap over the rest of the midfield,” Seidl said.
Where to start with Haas? The American outfit seems little closer to identifying the root causes for its inconsistent pace. The experiment of Romain Grosjean’s Melbourne-spec car versus Kevin Magnussen’s car with all of the latest updates is yet to provide clear answers and in Germany, once again, the pair made contact in wheel-to-wheel battle. Team principal Guenther Steiner has already hinted that team orders may come into play from now on but is it too late for both drivers’ futures at the team after the headaches they have caused?
Haas team-mates come to blows...again Photo: Motorsport Images
A double DNF for Renault capped off a miserable German weekend. Daniel Ricciardo’s power unit expired and he was joined on the sidelines by Nico Hülkenberg, who added his name to the list of drivers to come unstuck at the now notorious drag strip. The French team lost further ground to McLaren in the constructors’ championship fight. The Hungaroring could continue to provide the Woking-based team with the advantage, with the circuit favouring aero over power, the area in which Sainz believes Renault is lacking compared to McLaren.
Alfa Romeo’s demotion to 12th and 13th for Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi respectively in Germany was a disappointing note to end on for the team. The clutch software infringement dropped Alfa down to ninth in the team standings, ahead of Williams only after Räikkönen’s starring performance throughout the weekend.
Speaking of Williams, Robert Kubica was promoted to 10th place as a result of those penalties; he'd earlier profited from team-mate George Russell’s spin on Lap 50. Williams had brought updates to Hockenheim including a new floor and bargeboard pieces that look to have moved it closer to the pack, though the team was still 1.3sec off the nearest competitor in qualifying.