2014 Hungarian Grand Prix: Race Analysis

Summer Of Smiles For Danny Ric

Remarkable. Monday morning and I am only just recovering from what was an utterly enthralling race. The nature of the Hungaroring determines that overtaking is a real challenge, yet upon watching Daniel Ricciardo emphatically pass two World Champions in the closing stages, it is difficult to believe. The Hungarian Grand Prix had everything – an unlikely winner, a dramatic conclusion, inter-team controversies, mixed strategies and a spot of precipitation. The outcome saw Mercedes beaten on a level playing field for the first time this season, as Ricciardo was once again the thorn in their side, or the blot in their copybook, as he made the optimum strategy work to devastating effect and snatched victory in the final laps from who else but the man who never gives up, Fernando Alonso. With Mercedes finishing P3 and P4, there is just so much to analyse. We will be talking about the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix for many years to come.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Strategists were certainly in the thick of the action yesterday. What better place to start than the start of the race, and with about 30 minutes until lights out, the rain began to fall by the bucket load. Several installation laps later and drivers were still unsure of whether the intermediate or wet tyre would be the best option. Ultimately, the Hungaroring has a surface which drys quickly, hence the intermediate proved to be the unanimous choice.
It was in fact Marcus Ericsson who proved to be the biggest headache for strategists, as his nasty accident at turn three, (recorded at 20G) came at a crossroads in the race. Slicks were still around two laps away, but all but one of the teams opted for the dry tyres as the radar suggested that no rain would be forthcoming. However, McLaren’s memo must have been lost in the post, as they fitted another set of inters to Button and kept Magnussen on his old set of inters. In hindsight, it was a huge mistake as they were caught radar-watching instead of reacting to both the skies and their rivals. What made this error even more painful for McLaren was that at the restart, they were in P2 with Jenson and P4 with Kevin, as the top four from before the safety car period were past the pit entry when the accident occurred, meaning that they had lost time in completing the additional lap.
It is likely that Button would have finished in P5 – while there are a huge amount of variables, he was ahead of Felipe Massa at this point and the Brazilian finished P5 in a race where the relative pace of the Williams and McLaren duo’s was very similar. An opportunity missed by McLaren, who may have to re-assess their processes when reacting to changing weather conditions in the future.
While McLaren had their strategic nightmare, Ricciardo, Alonso and Hamilton were three drivers who all conducted the perfect strategies, despite all finishing the race on different tyre options. The rain had meant that different strategies would work for different drivers depending on their positions in traffic. For example, Daniel Ricciardo’s three stop strategy worked perfectly as it allowed him the opportunity to build a lead in the third stint and have fresh tyres with which to attack Hamilton and Alonso in the closing stages. Upon taking the lead, Ferrari opted to maintain track position, (which is not a bad call when you have one of the best defensive drivers of the modern era in your car). This was a similar ideology employed by Hamilton’s side of the garage, yet was pre-determined when he made his second stop, by putting the slightly more durable medium compound tyre on the car. Ferrari’s strategy was more of a knee-jerk reaction to unfolding events, but all three strategies worked to an extent. Ricciardo’s obviously worked best, but had either Alonso or Hamilton turned to a similar pit-stop plan, they would not have been as successful. The top three all maximized the potential from their respective races.

“Not Slowing Down For Nico”

However, Hamilton’s race could have been very different, had he acted upon the team’s instructions. When Nico Rosberg cruised up to the back of Hamilton, the team decided to ask Lewis to allow Nico to pass on the basis that the German was on the faster tyre and had to make one more pit-stop. Lewis was not obliged to let his title rival through and with good reason – had he allowed his teammate the free pass, Rosberg would have finished second.
This can be proven using cold hard facts. When closing in on Lewis, Nico was posting consistent 1:27s, yet this fell to 1:28’s when he was stuck behind his teammate for the ten laps before he eventually pitted. In theory, Nico would have emerged nine seconds behind Lewis after his final stop and on fresh tyres, would have inevitably caught him and quite possibly made the overtake on not only Lewis but also Fernando. This may seem like a bold statement, but considering the fact that he was 3.5 seconds a lap faster than the dueling top three in the final laps, it becomes increasing believable.
By no means am I suggesting that Lewis was wrong to not follow the instructions – quite the opposite in fact. It was the Mercedes pit-wall who were in the wrong by interfering with their drivers on track. It is disappointing to see that a team who have allowed their drivers to race unconditionally all season, to break that trend with a pointless radio call which was going to be sent straight to the recycle bin by Lewis Hamilton, who could see beyond the fact that he had a one stop advantage at the time.

Feeling The Full Force

It is difficult to think of means by which Force India’s day could have been any worse. A double retirement is one thing, but when one of the cars retires after making contact with his teammate and the other retires after a massive impact with the pit wall, it cannot get much worse.
Nico Hulkenberg was the first to exit stage right as he made contact with Sergio Perez at the final corner. Clumsy was the best way to describe that particular incident, as the German looked to take advantage of a door that was wide open – He tucked his nose inside of his teammate, committing to the overtake and Perez did not see it coming, turned in and the contact was an inevitability. “The track was drying out and I was quite close behind Checo when I made contact with him at the final corner,” Nico reflected. “The previous lap he had taken a much wider line so I tried to overtake on the inside, but he took a tighter line and I couldn’t back out of the move.” Disappointment for Hulkenberg who suffered his first retirement of the season and the first time he has not taken points away from a race since Abu Dhabi in 2013. Now Fernando Alonso is the only man to have scored points in every race this season.
Meanwhile, Sergio Perez somehow managed to top Marcus Ericsson in the biggest crash of the day stakes, as he slammed into the pit-wall in what appeared to be a ferocious impact, after loosing control of the car on the astro-turf on the exit of the final corner. Fortunately Perez was unscathed following the accident and a brief visit to the medical centre was all the attention that was required. However, financial attention will be required at Force India as this weekend’s repair bill will certainly prove unwelcome.

Vergne’s Day In The Spotlight

Jean Eric Vergne may not have won the race, but he played an instrumental part in the outcome, much like Jenson Button did in last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Jean-Eric emerged in P2 during his second stint and while Fernando was scampering away into the distance and Daniel Ricciardo was catching the train of cars from P2 to P6, Vergne was holding off Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel (until he spun out of contention) and Lewis Hamilton. The incredible straight line speed of the Toro Rosso, which has always been a part of the team’s design ideology, regardless of engine supplier, was evident and the Mercedes struggled to pass. Eventually, Rosberg had to run a compromised strategy in order to clear the Toro Rosso driver and while Lewis Hamilton did find a way past, it was through the unconventional route of the outside of turn four – in other words, it took a stroke of genius and plenty of courage to pass the Frenchman. His eventual P9 was thoroughly well deserved, from a performance which demonstrated the strength in depth of the Red Bull driver programme.

Conclusions

Driver of the Day
Fernando Alonso  
What can be said about the eternal ‘scrapper’ that hasn’t already. Fernando Alonso once again hauled a car which had no right to be on the podium, onto the podium. Considering that he was one of the unlucky four to be wrong-footed by the first safety car, it puts into context the magnitude of the drive to finish not only in P2 but ahead to Nico Rosberg. The final stint on the soft compound was utterly captivating – to complete almost half of the race distance on the option tyre and be just three laps short of taking victory in the final assessment is no mean feat. Alonso at his very best.

Race Result
1 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
2 Fernando Alonso Ferrari
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
4 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
5 Felipe Massa Williams
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
7 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams
9 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso
10 Jenson Button McLaren
11 Adrian Sutil Sauber
12 Kevin Magnussen McLaren
13 Pastor Maldonado Lotus
14 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
15 Jules Bianchi Marussia
16 Max Chilton Marussia
R Esteban Gutierrez Sauber
R Kamui Kobayashi Caterham
R Sergio Perez Force India
R Nico Hulkenberg Force India
R Romain Grosjean Lotus
R Marcus Ericsson Caterham        

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