A cliffhanger at the Hungaroring

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were in a different league on race day. Their domination over the rest of the field was supreme — finishing a minute ahead of the Ferraris at the end was beyond anything that the Red camp would have expected.

Lewis Hamilton on the podium of Hungarian Grand Prix, along with Red Bull's Max Verstappen (left) and Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari.   -  AP Photo

This was the fourth enthralling Grand Prix we’ve had in a row and was a brilliant way to send everyone off into the summer break! The Hungarian Grand Prix has historically been a bit of a mixed bag — we sometimes get some very entertaining races, but we also get some snooze-fests — and I’m delighted that we had a good one this year.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton were in a different league on race day. Their domination over the rest of the field was supreme — finishing a minute ahead of the Ferraris at the end was beyond anything that the Red camp would have expected.

Max’s pole lap was sublime. He left nothing on the table and it was a beautiful example of controlled aggression. Valtteri got close in Qualifying of course but his race unravelled when he locked up and went deep at the first corner before losing out to Lewis and Charles (and damaging his front wing) in the next two corners. Lewis seemed a bit off colour during Qualifying but he was back on form next day.

Read: Hamilton pips Verstappen to win Hungarian Grand Prix

It would be wrong to criticise Red Bull for not pitting a second time. I actually believe that their race got a bit compromised in the first stint when Max started to complain about his tyres and they had to bring him in early. They were between a rock and a hard place at that point because if they didn’t pit, Mercedes would have undercut them and taken the lead. So, they chose to bring Max in for new boots. That, however left Max with 45 laps to do in the second stint and ultimately that was about five laps too long for him to run at a sustainable pace.

Mercedes were in a position to gamble on that second stop working out for them because they had a good gap to Leclerc in third. It would have been a huge risk for Red Bull to bring Max in for a second stop before Mercedes and give up track position to Lewis. As the leader of the race, at a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult, that’s really a call that I don’t think anyone would make.

Of course, the strategy can only work if there’s a driver who can make it work and Mercedes had just the man for the job. Lewis did what he does best — relentless pace to pile on the pressure and hunt down his target. Max had no defence in the end but he should be happy with the job he did. Another podium and more points on the board to extend his lead over the Ferrari drivers wraps up an excellent first-half of the season.

Ferrari just didn’t have enough down-force and a strong enough front end this race weekend to fight against Red Bull or Mercedes. That was expected before the weekend but to be a minute down at the end of the race is an even bigger gap than they would have hoped for. They had the front wing angle wound up all the way but it just wasn’t enough for the twists and turns of the middle sector at the Hungaroring.

Ferrari just didn't have enough down-force and a strong enough front end this race weekend to fight against Red Bull or Mercedes.   -  AP

 

As we head into the summer break I thought it’s worth taking stock of where people are at after the first 12 races. Mercedes have clearly been the strongest overall team but Red Bull and Verstappen in particular have emerged to be their biggest challengers. Ferrari have the edge with the power units and that makes them more competitive at tracks with long straights like Baku and Bahrain.

Also read: Lauda would've been proud of Mercedes' Hungary success, says Hamilton

Behind the top 3, the midfield battle has been very exciting. McLaren have been the most improved team and both drivers have been delivering superbly. To have nearly twice as many points as the team in fifth is a strong performance for the Woking squad. Toro Rosso and Alfa have been inconsistent but there have been flashes of brilliance. Racing Point have only brought their updates to the last two races so I’ll be interested to see how much progress they make from Spa onwards. Renault and Williams will be the most disappointed teams after the first-half of the season. The former haven’t really made a step forward from last season and seeing their power unit customers at McLaren sit on twice as many points must sting. Williams had their most competitive showing in Qualifying at Budapest although the lack of long straights meant that they didn’t pay a big penalty for their draggier car. It would be really good to see if they can find a solution to make the car competitive at Spa and Monza.

The silly season is now in full swing with plenty of rumours swirling around the paddock. Mercedes, Red Bull, Renault, Haas, Alfa, Toro Rosso and Williams all seemingly have seats that aren’t yet settled for 2020. This means that it’s not going to be a particularly relaxed summer holiday for the some of the drivers, their managers and the team bosses.

To be honest, if I wanted to play “fantasy silly season”, I think it would be fun to have Vettel and Max at Red Bull, Ocon and Lewis at Mercedes and Alonso back at Ferrari alongside Leclerc.

Now THAT would be box office entertainment every day of the week!