Momentum was starting to shift back into the hands of the reigning World Champions after a fabulous 1-2 victory in Germany and it was in their best interest to grasp the biggest lead possible heading into the mid-season summer break.

But did Sunday reveal some small cracks forming in the team, particularly with Valtteri Bottas? Let’s revisit the ups and downs the Silver Arrows faced during their weekend in Budapest.


Friday

FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1 FREE PRACTICE SESSION 2
Pos. Driver Time Laps Pos. Driver Time Laps
5. Lewis Hamilton 1:18.036 28 5. Lewis Hamilton 1:17.587 43
6. Valtteri Bottas 1:18.470 20 6. Valtteri Bottas 1:17.868 46
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 W09 - 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix

Hamilton shaded teammate Bottas in both Friday sessions, but the Mercedes’ appeared off-the-pace at a track unsuited to the F1W09 chassis.

Conditions were warm and dry for Friday’s two practice sessions as a humid weekend was forecast for the weekend.

The Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas ended the opening 90-minute session in fifth and sixth place with best times of 1:18.036 and 1:18.470 respectively. Both drivers set their quickest times on middle-ranged Soft compound but were some way off the benchmark pace of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Both drivers finished in the exact same positions in FP2 where a threat of rain emerged as dark clouds loomed in the distance. The rain did, however, fail to reach the track in time during the 90-minute session.

Hamilton improved with a 1:17.587 and Bottas did likewise, closely behind with a 1:17.868. Their fastest times were once again set on the yellow-walled tyres.

“It’s not as dusty or bumpy as it was in years gone by, but Budapest always presents a real challenge to the car and driver [with] searing heat [this weekend] and an asphalt that is not easy on the tyres,” explained Technical Director James Allison.

“Although we managed to improve the car across the sessions, especially with Valtteri, there’s more to be done ahead of tomorrow if we want to come home from this weekend with a good result.

“So, we are busy working this evening to try to make sure that we can get the car in good shape for Qualifying on a track where it is notoriously difficult to overtake while making sure that we have decent long run pace on Sunday when it’s expected to be very hot indeed.”

“It has been a relatively normal day,” added Hamilton at the end of Friday’s proceedings. “As we expected, the Ferraris and the Red Bulls were quite quick and had a little bit more pace than us, so we’ve got some work to do tonight.

“This is a tricky circuit and the tyres are overheating, so looking after the rear tyres is the biggest issue. The temperatures today and the layout of the track – corner after corner after corner – made it really tricky for the tyres as there’s no time for them to cool down.”

“The car was difficult [for me] to drive and I struggled to get laps together, especially in FP1,” added Bottas.

“We managed to improve the set-up for FP2, but there’s still more work to do. This is a difficult circuit, you need to have a well-balanced car in order to get all the corners right and we need to get the car more stable. It is difficult to overtake here, so track position is very important and the less stops you can do is always going to be better. Red Bull and Ferrari are as quick as we expected; I think it’s going to be very close.”


Saturday

FREE PRACTICE SESSION 3 QUALIFYING
Pos. Driver Time Laps Pos. Driver Time Laps
2. Valtteri Bottas 1:16.229 17 1. Lewis Hamilton 1:35.658 26
4. Lewis Hamilton 1:16.749 17 2. Valtteri Bottas 1:35.918 25
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 W09 - 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix

Hamilton mastered the wet weather in qualifying to clinch a brilliant – and completely unexpected – pole position at the Hungaroring.

Like Friday, conditions were muggy for the third practice session as Bottas lead the team to second ahead of Hamilton in fourth.

Bottas lapped a best time of 1:16.229 sitting only six-hundredths of a second behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the final practice session before Qualifying. Hamilton, a little further back, ended the session with a 1:16.749 as both drivers set their best times on the grippy Ultrasoft compound.

But the weather turned for qualifying, with thunderstorms forming and rain beginning to fall ahead of Q1.

It was all about the crossover point from wet to dry tyres on a partially soaked track and it played out perfectly for the pair as both set a solid time at the right moment leaving Bottas and Hamilton P3 and P4 respectively, advancing to Q2.

The second session was the complete opposite. As the rain arrived, it was all about getting out on track first before the surface got too slippery to improve. Both drivers made it through with ease to take a chance at stealing pole at a crucial venue.

At the end of the twelve minutes, Bottas lined up on provisional pole with an impressive final lap of 1:35.918, but Lewis with much style, snatched pole position in the dying seconds with an incredible 1:35.658, just under three tenths faster than Bottas’ already striking lap time. The front-row lockout was Mercedes’ third for the season and their first since the French Grand Prix.

“It’s a great feeling to lock out the front row, particularly with the tough weekend we’ve been having,” voiced a delighted Hamilton on Saturday evening.

“In the dry, I thought I would be lucky to get third, fourth or maybe even fifth, as Ferrari have been quicker than us along with Red Bull this weekend. When the heavens opened, I knew we were in the game. The rain levelled the playing field and gave us that opportunity to make the difference.

“I’m really proud of my team, they did a great job today and brought their A game. This has been a good track for me for years, but for some reason, the last couple haven’t had that extra sauce that helps me get ahead. If it’s dry tomorrow, it’s all about positioning, as it’s so difficult to overtake here. It’s a long run down to Turn 1 so we have got to try and make sure there’s no space to get by.”

“On the one hand, today has been somewhat disappointing, as I wanted to get pole. On the other hand, I’m really happy for the team, a front-row lockout is the perfect result for us,” Bottas explained.

“It’s so tricky to get it right in the wet – it’s not easy to stay on track, let alone be on the limit as you try to squeeze everything out of the car. It’s so tough if you know you only have one lap, but today everything just came together. The team did an exceptional job with the timing and the tyre choices. As a team, we absolutely nailed it today.”


Sunday

FORMULA 1 ROLEX MAGYAR NAGYDÍJ 2018 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (70 LAPS)
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG Petronas Team F1 W09 70 1:37:16.427
5. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes AMG Petronas Team F1 W09 70 + 1:00.000
Lewis Hamilton & Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 W09 - 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix

The Mercedes’ crucially converted their front-row starting positions to keep the chasing Ferraris at bay in the opening laps of the race.

With a free choice of starting tyres, due to the rain-affected Qualifying session, both drivers elected to start on the Ultrasoft compound. This crucially meant Mercedes chose not to run split strategies for their drivers which has so far been a common practice throughout 2018 as teams are able to flexibly defend and block runners and swap their drivers around on track if attacking ahead is needed.

A steady start off the line saw both drivers get away one and two as through the early laps, Hamilton started to open a gap to Bottas. The Finn had plenty of work to do behind him as he needed to hold off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who started on the Softs, running a split strategy to his teammate Kimi Räikkönen who started on the Ultrasoft rubber.

Bottas dived into the pits on Lap 15 for a fresh set of Soft tyres, reacting to the threat from Räikkönen who pitted a lap earlier to change to Softs from his worn Ultrasofts.

Hamilton was able to extend his opening stint after bridging a gap to his on-track rival, Vettel. The Brit set his sights on the pit lane to also change to the Soft compound on Lap 25. He emerged back on track in second behind Vettel who was yet to stop.

Fourteen laps later and Mercedes benefitted from Vettel’s botched pit stop with Hamilton reclaiming the lead and Bottas squeezing past the German as he exited the pit lane. The leading Ferrari boxed to ditch his used Softs for the purple-walled Uultrasofts, leaving Bottas once again fending off the German who was now furiously applying pressure on his fresher tyres.

Bottas defended intensely but paid a price as he was killing his tyres. It was only a matter of time before Vettel would go for the overtake.

Five laps from the chequered flag and Bottas became vulnerable to Vettel’s DRS, going side-by-side through Turn 1. Struggling for grip on the exit, Vettel darted to the outside to try and take Bottas around the left-hander of Turn 2. But Bottas made a costly error locking up and clipping the rear side-wall of Vettel’s tyre, consequently sustaining wing damage and falling to P4, handing Räikkönen the final podium position.

The charging Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo soon followed, chasing Bottas down the pit straight before lunging to the outside of the stricken Silver Arrow at Turn 1. Due to his damage, Bottas awkwardly understeered into the Australian, causing more damage to his front wing and breaking Ricciardo’s sidepod in the process.

Two laps later, Daniel was able to successfully pass Bottas to take fourth place, coordinating a switchback on the exit of Turn 1.

Out front, Hamilton crossed the finish line to score his 67th career win and his sixth in Hungary. Crucially, this improved his lead in the Drivers’ Championship over Vettel to 23 points. He heads into the summer break with ease as he now sits in a comfortable position claiming his second win on the trot.

“The last two weekends have been such a blessing with the rain, I’m so grateful,” an ecstatic Hamilton said post-race.

“The guys have worked so hard this year, they really deserve a good result. There’s still a lot of work to do because Ferrari are still slightly ahead of us, they had the pace this weekend, especially on this circuit. Today I had them covered, but had they been on pole, we would have struggled.

“So, we’ve got some improvements to make in our overall package to try and close the gap to them, but I’m really happy with the job everyone’s done so far, we just have to keep going. The goal is now to really pull together and become even stronger for the second half and that will be key to add to what we’ve built in this first half of the season.”

“It’s a shame that I ended up in P5,” added Bottas. “We wanted more today, and it would have been great to go into the summer break with a 1-2 finish. I was trying everything I could but the stint on the Soft tyres was just too long.”

“In theory, a one-stop strategy should have worked, but we had to stop earlier than we had planned to cover Kimi who pitted in the lap before me. Until about 15 or 20 laps before the end, our plan worked out well. We controlled the pace and there was no threat to my position. But then the rear tyres started to die.

“Towards the end of the race, I had an incident with Sebastian going into Turn 2 – he was on the outside, I still had my nose inside. He turned in early, there was nowhere to go for me. For me it was a racing incident – and so was the incident with Daniel. Again, I was on the inside, he was on the outside. Half of my front wing was missing at that time too [causing the understeer].

“We came to Hungary with damage limitation as our motto,” Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff concluded.

“It’s pretty good to be leaving [Hungary] after out-scoring our rivals, even if by just a few small points. The momentum swings one way then the next from weekend to weekend so we need to keep on taking it one race at a time if we want to come out on top.

“In the other car, Valtteri drove what I think was his best race in his time so far at Mercedes. I saw the contacts with Sebastian and Daniel as racing incidents: he was defending with everything he had left; the trouble was that he didn’t have a lot left at that stage.”

It’s the perfect time for Mercedes to take the lead in both championships. Heading into the summer break, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes can sleep better at night knowing they hold the all-important lead in the title race.

Momentum is a strong drug to hold in any sport, and the way Mercedes is heading is leaving many followers of Formula 1 reminiscing back to Singapore last season where it became Ferrari’s pain, Mercedes’ gain.

There’s still plenty of work to do in the factory for the Silver Arrows to prove they’ve got the fastest package on the grid. The last two weekends have involved, as Lewis praised, rain, and their rival – Ferrari – may still be the fastest team when the track is hot and dry.

All will play out when we return at the end of August as the drivers enjoy their much-deserved break after having raced a staggering six Grand Prix in just eight weekends.

Images via Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport and Sutton Images

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