The Hungarian Grand Prix was far from being a thriller in terms of on track action with hardly any overtaking after the first laps.
But it was a very interesting tactical race which leaves a lot of questions to answer, like could Lotus have won the race if they’d done things differently? Why did Button and the Red Bulls make three stops? And how close did Hamilton come to not winning?
On Sunday morning most of the strategists were saying it would be a wet race. The forecast had not changed for five days and rain would fall between 1pm and 2pm local time. But as the day went on the bad weather moved away from Budapest and it was hot and sunny with the chance of rain receding. In the end a giant storm came in around 7pm local time which only succeeded in delaying teams’ flights out of the airport, but didn’t affect their race.
Rain on Friday afternoon during practice had reduced the amount of data teams had on long run performance so once again it was a bit of a stab in the dark as to how to approach race strategy and tyre choice.
Three stops looked to be faster than two stops over a race distance, but the problem was that a three stopper would be behind the two stoppers after his last stop and would have to overtake.
The feeling was that Hamilton would drive away from the rest, using his apparent pace advantage of around 4/10ths of a second per lap. The soft tyre was considered to be up to half a second per lap faster than the medium, based on Friday practice but after 10 laps the lap times on the medium were expected to be stronger than the soft. But could all the teams make it through 70 laps competitively on just three sets of tyres?
Once again the picture turned out to be slightly different from expectations.
The opening 10 laps told the story; Lewis Hamilton had dominated qualifying but he wasn’t able to pull a gap on Grosjean’s Lotus. This was going to be a close fight.
Further back Raikkonen had let himself down in qualifying by not matching Grosjean’s pace and started fifth on the grid, which became sixth when Alonso passed him on the first lap. He lost around 4 seconds in that opening stint, sat behind the Ferrari. This didn’t cost him the race win, necessarily, but it meant that he wasn’t able to jump Vettel at the first stop, which he would have done otherwise. This would have set him up for a clearer track in his middle stint and then it would have been interesting to see how close he and Hamilton were after the final stop.
Grosjean in contrast, looked comfortable in second place. Lotus was of the view that the soft tyre was faster and they would do two stops with a soft/soft/medium strategy. They stuck to their plan.
Other teams were worried about getting through 70 laps on two stops and so favoured a soft/medium/medium strategy. This was a race tailor made for Lotus with its easy action on the tyres.
Lotus had two players in the game: Grosjean lost his chance of a win by taking too much out of the tyres at the start of the middle stint. This meant that at the end of the stint he didn’t have the pace to stay out longer and try to jump Hamilton at the second stops. By this stage Vettel had pitted on lap 38 and with a margin of just three seconds to play with on tyres which were spent, Lotus had no choice but to cover Vettel by stopping Grosjean.
Contrast this with Raikkonen’s execution of the strategy: He ran a 20 lap first stint and easily jumped Alonso at the first stop. This brought him out fifth, around 4.5 seconds behind Vettel, (where he would have been had he not lost a place to Alonso at the start). Facing a long middle stint on soft tyres (it was 25 laps in the end) he made no effort to close this gap, instead nursing his tyres for around 8-10 laps before then slowly reeling Vettel in before the German’s second stop on lap 38. At this point, in clear air he let rip; 1m 25.7 on lap 41, 1m 25.9 on lap 42. As Vettel and Grosjean got their medium tyres up to temperature, Raikkonen took almost two seconds a lap out of them. He would easily jump them at his second stop.
The strategy worked perfectly, the question now was whether he could get Hamilton too. The burst of speed had taken the edge off the tyres – he did a 1m 26.6 on lap 43. Meanwhile on lap 44 Hamilton on new mediums did a 1m 26.3. He’s just too quick, so Lotus pit Raikkonen to consolidate the gains over Vettel and Grosjean and then see what Raikkonen can do to Hamilton in the final stint with tyres that are five laps fresher.
He tries to pass, but cannot and has to settle for second place.
Had Grosjean matched Raikkonen’s technique of nursing the tyres for six or seven laps at the start of the second stint, sitting out of his dirty air and then attacked Hamilton at the end of the stint, he could have jumped him and won the race. Such is experience. I’m sure he’ll look at Raikkonen’s performance and learn from it.
Not a day to stop three times
Pre-race predictions about three stopping proved prophetic: it was faster on paper but required overtaking and despite the DRS system, overtaking at the Hungaroring proved elusive. Last season’s race was rain affected so we never really saw how little difference DRS would make on a track that has always been almost impossible to pass on.
Button did three stops, his tyre life not as good as Hamilton’s in the opening stint, his rear tyres going off more quickly. But what wrecked it was after his second stop, which was 19 laps into a stint on new mediums, he came out behind Bruno Senna, who had similar age medium tyres to the ones Button had taken off. He kept Button behind him until his stop on lap 42. However during this time, Button remained around 6 seconds behind Hamilton, the same margin as before Button’s second stop. But he had not had the opportunity to use the pace of the new medium tyre and this allowed Vettel to jump him at his second stop. Alonso then jumped him when Button made his third stop on lap 45.
He was the first front runner to pit at the first stop on lap 15, which was still within the two stop window and he reported that the second set of tyres was still fine when he made the early second stop. There wasn’t a possibility to undercut Grosjean at that stop as he was almost six seconds ahead of Button. It was just the wrong call to go for three stops, but clearly they felt that they couldn’t do the race in two, despite Hamilton holding on and doing just that in his McLaren.
Meanwhile Webber stopped three times because his differential had problems and this led to higher tyre wear, while Vettel switched to three stops near the end after losing time in the opening stint when he lost third place to Button, who was not on the same pace as Hamilton and Grosjean. Vettel went for a new set of softs for a final sprint to see if he could claim a podium, but he had to delay the stop in order to get enough of a gap over Alonso behind and this left him with not enough laps to catch Grosjean for third place.
HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX, TYRE CHOICES
Hamilton: SU MN (18) MN (40) 2 Stops
Räikkönen: SU SU (20) MU (45) 2
Grosjean: SU SU (19) MU (39) 2
Vettel: SU SU (17) MN (38) SU (58) 3
Alonso: SU MN (17) MN (43) 2
Button: SU MN (15) SU (34) MN (45) 3
Senna: SU MN (16) MN (42) 2
Webber: MN MN (20) SN (39) SU (55) 3
Massa: SU MN (18) MN (43) 2
Rosberg: SN MN (16) MN (40) 2
Hülkenberg: SU MN (15) MN (39) 2
Di Resta: SN MN (16) MN (38) 2
Maldonado: SU MN (15) MN (41) DT (52) 3
Perez: SN MN (21) MN (47) 2
Ricciardo: SN SN (14) SU (34) MN (47) 3
Vergne: SU SN (12) SU (30) MN (46) MN (64) 4
Kovalainen: SN MN (17) MN (36) SU (56) 3
Kobayashi: SU MN (8) SU (40) 2
Petrov: SN MN (18) MN (35) MN (51) 3
Pic: MN SN (20) MN (39) 2
Glock: MN SN (18) MN (40) 2
De La Rosa: MN MN (22) SN (41) 2
Kartikeyan: SN MN (18) SU (39) 2 NC
Schumacher: SN MN (1) DT (4) MN (32) 3 NC
S=Soft; M= Medium; U= Used; N = New; DT = Drive thru penalty
RACE HISTORY CHART
Kindly supplied by Williams F1 Team
Note Raikkonen’s pace in the middle stint relative to all the other cars in that phase of the race. Note also how his tyres start to drop off at the end of that stint and how close Grosjean and Vettel are after Raikkonen’s stop. Had he stayed out another lap he would have been behind them.