2018 Hungarian Grand Prix

Hamilton extends championship lead after routine Hungarian GP victory

Lewis Hamilton extended his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship standings to 24 points over title rival Sebastian Vettel after completing a welcome routine victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

After the dramas of Silverstone and Hockenheim, where the Mercedes driver had to produce two of his greatest ever drives to slice his way through the field, Hamilton led from pole to flag to win from Vettel and the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.

Valtteri Bottas dropped from second to fifth with only a few laps remaining, losing a part of his front wing in an attempt to defend position from Vettel, the German fortunate to escape without damage himself.

Daniel Riccardo was an excellent fourth for Red Bull having started 12th on the grid ahead of Bottas and the equally impressive Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly. Kevin Magnussen, Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean rounded off the points scoring finishers.

“Guys, big, big thank you to everyone back at the factory. That was a tough race for us, tough weekend for us. We came out with some good points so I’m really proud of you,” said a jubilant Hamilton after crossing the line.

“What a beautiful day, what a great crowd we’ve had and really what an amazing job for the team,” added Hamilton after emerging from his car. “We came here knowing that the Ferraris would be real quick this weekend but to come out with these points, we’ll definitely take as a bonus for us. We deserved the holiday this time.”

The die was cast from the start, Hamilton holding his advantage into the first corner from Bottas as Vettel found his way around Raikkonen at Turn 2. The Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were also strong starters, up to 14th and 15th from the back of the grid – as was Ricciardo, the Aussie daredevil catapulting himself to 6th from 12th despite early contact with Marcus Ericsson.

Less fortunate was Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen, the Dutchman experiencing yet more misfortune after retiring with an MPU issue on lap 6.

“What a f*** joke all the f****** time with this s***, honestly!” It’s fair to say that Verstappen was less than happy with yet another retirement.

Raikkonen was the first of the big hitters to pit on lap 15, re-joining the field in sixth but losing out to Bottas’ Mercedes. Then came the vital move, race leader Hamilton pitting ten laps later than his teammate, a 2.7 second stop set him up perfectly for a routine race victory.

With Vettel staying out until lap 40 and being held up by traffic, a slow pitstop scuppered his changes, Bottas flying past the Ferrari down the main straight as the German exited the pit lane.

“Something was stuck at the rear,” said Vettel of his slow pit stop. “It was a tough race. We were a little bit out of position for the speed we had. We couldn’t go with Lewis today in terms of race pace but I had a good start, surprising on the harder tyre, which was good and I was in third.

“Then obviously we had a little bit of an issue at the pitstop and came out behind Valtteri. I realized right away that I couldn’t get him because his tyres were fresh. So I was sitting back and waiting and trying to line up everything for the last ten laps and it worked.”

It all sets up the championship nicely heading into a long break of almost a month when racing returns to the iconic Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium.

Come rain or shine – the accurate lottery of weather forecasting

It has been an unseasonably scorching summer in many countries across Europe and for Formula One’s weather forecasters, the job had been a relatively easy one regarding tyre gambles.

All that changed, however, during the past two grands prix as the hot weather finally cracked, leading to a late deluge of rain that threw the German Grand Prix into chaos and making for an interesting wet-weather qualifying session for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Not only does the changeable weather impact on the clothing choice of traveling F1 fans, it also makes the job of team strategists an extremely taxing one as they try to make a call when to gamble on intermediate or wet tyres or alternatively stay out on the slicks.

Teams are accurately able to judge when a bank of rain is approaching in the pits or on the pit wall to within a matter of minutes and relay that information to the driver over the radio and it’s all made possible by tapping into a local weather system via an internal F1 intranet. Meteo France used to be the official Formula One weather supplier but now that job falls to Ubimet, the Austrian forecaster who supplies weather data to race control and the 11 teams. It is so precise that it can predict everything a team needs to know about during a race, from wind strength and direction to the more vital information of when the first drops of rain will fall and where.

“It’s maybe a tonne of equipment that has to be carried around the world,” meteorologist Steffen Dietz is quoted on the official F1 website. “The big piece of equipment is the weather radar which we assemble on-site. We’ll locate it somewhere in the vicinity of the track, but high up if possible. At Spa it’s in a cow pasture, but somewhere like Interlagos we place it on the top of a skyscraper, 27 floors up. It needs to be portable.

“Via a web portal we provide the radar but also the station data, the different model forecasts, and a live ticker during the track sessions. For rainfall, our aim is to forecast to the minute when rain will arrive, when it will leave, how much rain will fall and so on.”

Of course, no system is fool proof, and even if it is accurate to within seconds, a car may have to negotiate a sudden burst of rain on normal compound tyres before completing the best part of a lap to pit for intermediates or wet tyres or risk staying out in the hope that the shower is just passing, and the track will quickly dry again.

As we saw at Hockenheim, a micro-climate at the circuit meant that there was a downpour of rain at certain parts of the circuit whilst it remained bone dry elsewhere. That’s when human intuition also comes into play, the proverbial wet finger into the air approach.

For some teams it worked out, those opting to stay on slicks and hope it was a passing shower worked out with drivers using all their skill to tip-toe around the circuit for the couple of laps when the rain was at its fiercest.

Others gambled and pitted for intermediates, only to find the tyres quickly degrading as the rain abated and having to stop again for dry slick tyres. Toro Rosso gambled even further, putting Pierre Gasly on full wet tyres.

It proved a gamble too far but wasn’t the daftest move in the world as the heavens opened only minutes after the race ended, making the race track and pitlane more like a river than tarmac.

Yet even the very best drivers in the world don’t always get it right when staying on the optimum tyre in damp conditions. Just ask Sebastian Vettel!

The job of the team tacticians will again be tested when racing resumed at the notoriously tricky Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Belgian Ardennes, which has a micro-climate like no other in the world. The weather often changes minute-by-minute with rain suddenly appearing in one sector whilst another remains bone dry.

This is where race engineers and drivers alike will be tested to the utmost and it’s something to look forward to as the F1 circus takes its well-earned mid-season break.

Top image: 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix. © Wolfgang Wilhelm.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.