The 2020 F1 season got underway with two back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria. Mercedes reigned supreme over the two race weekends. The sport then made its way east, to the city of Budapest, home to Hungaroring, venue for the Hungarian GP which completed the first triple-header of the season.
Hungaroring, a high downforce, street-like circuit, has seen some memorable races in the past. This was one race that could close the gap between Mercedes and the chasing pack. Lewis Hamilton, a 7-time winner here, also called "the King of the Ring" hoped to reduce the 6 points deficit to the Championship Leader and his teammate Valtteri Bottas.
The Racing Point cars still ran the "controversial" brake ducts that Renault had protested against while Ferrari hoped for a better outing after the fiasco in the previous race.
Were Red Bull and Racing Point able to upset the mighty Mercs? Was Lewis able to become an 8-time race winner at Hungaroring and take the lead of the Championship or did Bottas have a say? Did Ferrari & Renault show signs of resurgence? Was McLaren able to maintain the momentum they had from the season openers?
All shall be revealed in this race recap!
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were the fastest in Free Practice 1. Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll were the only drivers within one second of their times. Renault got themselves up into the top 10 with Ricciardo in P6 and Ocon in P10 while Vettel and Leclerc set the 6th and the 7th fastest times respectively. It was a mixed session for Red Bull with Alex Albon down in P13 and Verstappen in P8. Both the cars struggled with balance issues and traffic on track. McLaren was in a similar situation with Norris in P9 and Sainz in P11. The Haas cars were P12 and P14 while Latifi outpaced his more experienced team-mate, George Russell to finish P15. Gasly didn't take part due to sensor issues on his car while Kubica replaced Raikkonen for this session. Williams was now on par with Alpha Tauri and Alfa Romeo.
Free Practice 2 was hit with inclement weather and few chose to drive in the wet. Gasly and Raikkonen used this session for acclimatization. Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheets for Ferrari with Bottas hot on his heels. Charles Leclerc, in the other Ferrari, could only manage the 10th fastest time while Carlos Sainz Jr. went P3 for McLaren. The Racing Point cars were in the top 6 again. Drivers experimented with intermediate sets but struggled due to poor track conditions. Many ran wide due to lack of grip and the session finished with thirteen setting times, the Renault and Williams duo, Albon, Magnussen and Hamilton unable to do so.
Free Practice 3 was a rain threatened session. The session was split into race and qualifying simulations by the teams. Bottas was fastest from Hamilton, Perez, Leclerc and Stroll who completed the top 5. Red Bull struggled with balance issues while Williams had a great run with Russell in P14. Racing Point seemed to be the real challenger going into qualifying. Ferrari was encouraged by their performance in the final practice session. Gasly reported engine trouble on his Alpha Tauri, warning signs for Honda. Haas and Alfa Romeo were the slowest of the lot, their chances for the weekend bleak.
Q1 got underway with a flurry of cars coming out of the pits as the rain clouds closed in. Soft tyres were the choice for all as a slight drizzle hit the track. Latifi, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Magnussen and Giovinazzi were in the elimination zone after the first run. Giovinazzi's lap-time was deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 4. The bottom 5 kept running through Q1 in their attempt to better their times. Track conditions improved as the clock ran down and the likes of Albon, Ocon, Gasly were under threat. Russell and Latifi jumped into the top 10! Meanwhile, Perez set the fastest time of Q1! Everyone drove out on a fresh set of soft tyres with less than 2 minutes on the clock. Verstappen was at risk in the final moments of Q1. The Dutchman improved to P8 while those in the drop zones failed to do better than the 15th placed Latifi. Magnussen, Kvyat, Grosjean, Giovinazzi and Raikkonen eliminated from Q1. It was a forgettable day for Alfa Romeo and Haas once again. Williams had both cars in Q2 after a gap of 4 years! Claire Williams was elated. The Racing Point cars were the fastest of the session with Hamilton hot on their heels. Sainz was under investigation for impeding Giovinazzi. Verstappen and Gasly complained about engine issues.
The lights went green for Q2 and Mercedes, Racing Point and Renault drivers chose the medium set of tyres for their first timed laps. Gasly was the last one to set a banker lap on a set of soft tyres. Leclerc, Russell, Albon, Ocon and Latifi were in the drop zone with 8 minutes left on the clock. Red Bull suspected damage on the front wing of Albon's car while Gasly's engine woes continued. Gasly was informed by the team that the issue couldn't be fixed in-session, much to his chagrin. Racing Point had a tense time with Stroll, who got called to the weigh-bridge for a random check. They had to wheel him into the garage to refuel and replace his tyres with less than 4 minutes left. Gasly gave up on his final attempt in Q2 due to an engine failure. The Frenchman would get a new engine for the race on Sunday. Racing Point again chose the medium set of tyres for their final run in Q2, a bold decision indeed! Everyone else was on the soft tyres. Albon made a couple of errors on his flying lap and couldn't better his time. He eventually qualified 13th behind Russell in the Williams! A bad day at the office for the Thai sensation. Ricciardo, Russell, Albon, Ocon and Latifi were the drivers eliminated. Gasly scraped through in 10th but wouldn't take further part due to the issue. Ferrari was relieved to have both cars in Q3 for the first time this year. Advantage Mercedes and Racing Point - the quartet would start the race on the medium set of tyres ( from Q2 )!
Mercedes were a class apart in Q3 as they dialled up their engines. Lewis Hamilton set a new track record on his first run with Bottas three tenths behind. Perez exceeded track limits, his lap time deleted. Stroll was provisional P3 from Verstappen, Norris, Sainz, Vettel and Leclerc. The Ferraris were the first ones out to complete their final run (with 5 minutes left). Stroll followed shortly after. The trio improved and Ferraris locked out the third row on the grid, Stroll P3. Perez, on his legitimate run, set the 4th fastest time; Racing Point 3rd and 4th! Hamilton went faster on his final run, beating his lap record set a few minutes earlier, a tenth clear of his team-mate Bottas in P2. Verstappen, Norris and Sainz couldn't improve on their final runs and would start 7th, 8th and 9th respectively. Another day of dominance for the Mercedes powered cars! The works team was in a league of its own with their favourite customer, best of the rest! Ferrari was the 3rd fastest team on the grid ( in qualifying at least ) while Red Bull had work to do overnight, sorting out balance and engine issues. There was the possibility of rain on race day as well, an exciting prospect on Sunday!
The heavens opened on Sunday. It would be a wet start to the race. There was drama before the race even began! A skid at turn 12 ( on his exploration lap ) sent Verstappen into the barriers damaging his front wing and possibly, the front suspension. The Red Bull mechanics wheeled him into his grid slot and began a thorough inspection. Others ran back and forth to gather tools and spares for the car. The front wing and the steering rod were some of the components replaced. The mechanics completed a 90-minute job in 15, kudos!
Their troubles were compounded when the FIA initiated an investigation on the other car. The mechanics had allegedly used leaf blowers to dry the grid slot of Albon's car. FIA F1 Technical Delegate Jo Bauer was witness to the act. The verdict would be given post-race.
The formation lap got underway and barring Magnussen ( who was on wets ) everyone chose intermediate tyres.
Haas F1 decided to pit both their drivers ( for slicks ) at the end of the formation lap. They believed the track was ready for dry tyres.
The others lined up for the race start.
It was a poor start for Bottas. He seemed to have jumped the lights, stopping momentarily before using the launch control again. Fortunately, ( for him ) the sensor didn't report this infringement.
Hamilton led into turn 1 from Stroll. Verstappen went wheel-to-wheel with Vettel for P3 and got the position. Vettel and Leclerc were 4th and 5th, Bottas down to 6th! Perez, Sainz, Ricciardo and Latifi completed the top 10 at the end of lap 1.
Norris had a bad start and was down in P14. Raikkonen was P15 but got served a 5 second time penalty for being in the wrong grid slot for the race start.
Kvyat pitted on lap 1 for a set of mediums. Bottas and Leclerc pitted on lap 3 for medium and soft tyres respectively. Albon overtook Latifi for P8 while Verstappen pressurized Stroll for P2. A slew of cars entered the pits ( on laps 4 and 5 ) for a switch to dry tyres. Vettel lost a lot of time in this melee. Sainz tangled with Latifi when his front wing clipped his left rear tyre at the pit exit. Latifi got spun around and suffered a puncture. It was an unsafe release by Williams and Latifi was awarded a time penalty of 5 seconds ( on lap 10 ). Magnussen and Grosjean jumped to P3 and P4 after the first round of pit stops! Leclerc, Kvyat, Gasly, Russell and Giovinazzi had chosen the soft tyres while the rest of the field the mediums.
Perez ran wide and lost 2 positions to Vettel and Albon on lap 5. Verstappen set the fastest time on lap 6. DRS got enabled a lap later and Stroll overtook Grosjean for P4. Bottas sparred with Leclerc ( lap 8 ) but was forced onto the wet section, his challenge fizzling out. Hamilton reclaimed the fastest lap from Verstappen. Bottas returned for round 2 and completed a clean pass on Leclerc on lap 10. He then overtook Grosjean on lap 12 for P5. Vettel made an error and ceded a place to Albon and Stroll pressurized Magnussen for P3. Hamilton extended his lead at the front.
There was a prediction of a light shower on the radar.
Albon started pressurizing Leclerc who was losing performance on the soft tyres. He attempted a couple of overtakes but was unsuccessful. This allowed Vettel to close in on the sparring duo. Meanwhile, Raikkonen passed Gasly for P14. Gasly limped into the pits on lap 16 and into retirement, his car emitting smoke. Stroll caught up to Magnussen and passed him on lap 16. Down the order, the battle for P7 raged on with Vettel joining the fray as well! Bottas demoted Magnussen to P5 on lap 17. Perez, Ricciardo and Sainz joined Albon & Vettel behind Leclerc. Albon was getting frustrated and requested for more engine power. It was job done on lap 18, the Haas duo up next. Vettel had to clear Leclerc who was struggling to prolong his stint.
Thankfully, Ferrari didn't stall his progress and the German overtook his team-mate with DRS on lap 19. Kvyat pitted for a set of hard tyres. Leclerc, now under pressure from Perez, defended his position and pitted on lap 21 for a new set of hard tyres. He rejoined in P15. Perez had clear air and started pulling away from Ricciardo and Sainz. Giovinazzi pitted for a set of medium tyres on lap 22. Light rain was predicted in 10 minutes. Hamilton was pushing and lapping backmarkers pretty quickly. Leclerc was one of them on lap 24.
Bottas was closing in on Stroll, Leclerc likewise with Norris. Sainz too maintained pressure on Ricciardo. Drivers complained about tyre wear and loss of grip but chose to continue ( with the threat of rain in the air ). Lap 29 saw two great battles unfold - Bottas vs Stroll and Leclerc vs Norris. Leclerc was wheel-to-wheel with Norris but unable to complete the move on the outside of turn 3. Albon overtook Grosjean on lap 30, the Frenchman coming under intense pressure from Vettel. Vettel, however, pitted at the end of the lap for a set of hard tyres and avoided the loss of time behind slower cars. He rejoined in P12, Raikkonen up to P11!
Perez demoted Grosjean to P8 on lap 31 and Leclerc was having a titanic battle with Norris. The McLaren protege was immovable. Leclerc finally passed him on the next lap. Meanwhile, Vettel set the fastest lap of the race and Ricciardo made a move on Grosjean for P8.
There was a slew of pitstops again. Bottas pitted on lap 34 for another set of medium tyres and Raikkonen pitted from P12 for a set of hard tyres and rejoined in 17th. Albon pitted on lap 36 ( from 6th ) for hard tyres and rejoined in 10th. Stroll pitted for a set of medium tyres but lost third place to Bottas. Bottas' undercut strategy paid off. Verstappen and Hamilton pitted as well
( on laps 37 & 38 respectively ). Status quo maintained.
Magnussen couldn't defend against Perez for P9 ( lap 40 ) and was falling into the hands of Leclerc. A switch to the hard tyres for Sainz on lap 41 put him out of the points scoring positions in P11. Yellow flags were deployed when Latifi had an offtrack excursion. He made it back to the pits and put on another set of fresh tyres.
The Haas cars were going backwards - Ricciardo overtook Magnussen ( lap 47 ) after his final pit stop while Grosjean lost two positions to Ocon and Norris in the space of two laps. Bottas switched to the hard tyres with another pit stop on lap 50, in the hope of "under-cutting" Verstappen. The Red Bull driver chose to continue on his worn set. Bottas had to reduce the 23-second deficit in the space of 20 laps for a P2 finish. There was another battle brewing, this time between would-be teammates, Leclerc and Sainz.
Bottas went about chasing Verstappen with a series of fastest laps and steadily reducing the gap. Stroll, meanwhile, pitted for a fresh set of boots on lap 53. Albon and Vettel were the next cars to be lapped by the leader Hamilton, only the top 4 remaining on the lead lap!
Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Stroll, Vettel, Albon, Perez, Ricciardo, Magnussen, Leclerc were the top 10 at the end of lap 58.
The battle for the final point intensified with Sainz challenging Leclerc on lap 60. The Ferrari driver held firm. He couldn't defend on the next lap though and ceded his place to the Spaniard. Mercedes asked Hamilton to pit on lap 63 but aborted it, the life of the soft tyres still being debated on the pit wall. He eventually did pit on lap 67 for a fresh set of soft tyres. Albon snatched back P5 from Vettel on the same lap. Bottas held onto the fastest lap with 3 laps remaining. He was within 2 seconds of Verstappen and catching him at a rate of knots. Hamilton reclaimed the point for the fastest lap ( on the penultimate and last laps )!
All eyes were on the battle for P2. Bottas was in DRS range of Verstappen on the final lap. Unfortunately, he was a lap too late.
Hamilton won the Hungarian GP for the 8th time! Verstappen had his Red Bull Mechanics to thank for his second place. Bottas came home in third. Stroll was P4, Albon P5 followed by Vettel, Perez, Ricciardo, Magnussen and Sainz.
Leclerc, Kvyat, Ocon, Norris, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Russell and Latifi failed to finish in the points. Gasly was the sole retirement.
Post-race, the Haas F1 team got summoned for alleged breach of regulations on the formation lap with regards to driver aids. Both drivers were served a 10 second time penalty. The team made the call to pit ( not the drivers ), hence the penalty.
Grosjean was relegated to P16 and Magnussen to P10. Sainz & Raikkonen promoted to P9 & P15 respectively.
Red Bull Racing and Albon weren't penalized for their alleged breach on the grid. The Stewards reviewed the video evidence and concluded that the team didn't attempt to alter the grip of the track surface.
Hamilton was a class apart this weekend. He had lapped every car up to P5, truly a drubbing. Bottas has relinquished his lead in the championship. Red Bull had a tough weekend but was able to salvage a P2 and a P5. Racing Point had another strong weekend. Vettel made the right calls and scored good points. His team-mate had another disappointing weekend, a poor strategy call to blame. McLaren hit a low after the highs of the opening races. Renault would be glad to see both cars finish a race and aim to score points with both cars. Williams did great on Saturday but faltered on Sunday. Alfa Romeo struggled on both days! It is disheartening to see a team struggle on tracks where they scored points a year earlier. Alpha Tauri would like to forget this weekend as quickly as possible.
Silverstone, another power track, is next on the calendar. The next triple-header is less than a fortnight away, so teams need to address issues to recover lost ground. Mercedes might still have the upper hand. Time will tell.
Hamilton, the King of the Ring, won at Hungaroring for the 8th time! More records beckon, the hunger never dies!!