July 30, 2017

F1 Update!: Hungary 2017

A sunny summer day, blue skies dotted here and there with the occasional white cotton-ball cloud, greeted the F1 Circus as the performers rolled their cars onto the grid.  For the experienced F1 fan, this boded ill, for there has never been a good race at the Hungaroring without rain being intimately involved.  Would the augurs portend another processional, or would the new, more aerodynamic, cars make a difference this year?  Would we have a Ferrari runaway, seeing how they sat one-two on the grid?  Or would we see the Mercedes grunt their way up from the second row and muscle their way to the front?  Or maybe the Red Bulls would sneak up out of the shadows like quiet assassins and take primacy of position?  And who knows, maybe it could rain?  THIS is your F1Update! for the 2017 Grand Prix of Hungary.


*LIGHTS OUT:  In something of a shocker, all six of the cars in the front three rows had fabulous starts.  Everybody got away smooth and quickly, giving us the sight of six cars dicing for the lead into Turn 1.  Seb Vettel made it through first, followed by his teammate Kimi Raikkonen.  The next four positions were muddled, but quickly sorted themselves out when Red Bull's Embryo Verstappen once again decided that he deserved whatever patch of track he wanted, whenever he wanted.  That the patch he most desired just happened to be where the radiator of teammate's Smiley Ricciardo car was located didn't much seem to concern him.  Smiley suffered a spraying leak which coated the left-rear tire with liquid, causing a spin.  Only something of a miracle kept other drivers from barreling into the stricken Red Bull, which came to rest in the center of the track, perpendicular to the direction of travel.  In his Safety Car, Berndt Maylander's dead eyes worked their way open with a peculiarly audible grinding sound.  His deathly visage thankfully obscured behind darkened helmet faceplate, Maylander brought his silver chariot out onto the circuit for five laps while the grim track workers cleaned up the mess left behind.

*RESTART AND ALL THE REST:  The restart went pretty much as all F1 restarts do: the leader gets the jump on the rest of the pack, then heads off and away.  Externally, all seemed poised for another Hungarian parade.  All was not right, though, in the lead Ferrari's cockpit.  Vettel had a steering issue that required him to have his steering wheel turned to the left to go straight... and as the race went on, it got worse.  This would be important later on.

*ONE STOPPER: For what seemed like the first time in forever, we had a race where the leader actually lost the lead during the pitstops.  When Vettel pitted on Lap 33, he ultimately wound up relinquishing the lead to... Embryo Verstappen.  This was a false lead, of course, for two reasons.  One, he still had to make his required stop, and two, he had been given a 10-second time penalty for his actions with Ricciardo's car.  On Lap 43, Verstappen pitted and rejoined in fifth place.  The lineup was Vettel, Raikkonen about 1.50 seconds behind, the Mercedes of Valterri Bottas in third about three seconds back from there, and Lewis Hamilton in fourth.  As the laps ticked down, it became clear that Bottas could not make up ground on the Ferraris, so on Lap 46 Mercedes told him to move aside and let Hamilton take a stab at it.  If he couldn't do anything, he'd relinquish the position back to Bottas.  Probably.

*PLOTS AND SCHEMES:  Up ahead of the Brit, Vettel's steering complaint was worsening by the lap.  In fact, things were so bad that the team told him to avoid touching the curbs... this on a track where it's routine to crash over the curbs at every turn.  He was clearly holding up his teammate, who was practically begging on the radio to be allowed to pass the German... who also led the championship race.  On another team, this may have been allowed to occur, but not Ferrari.  Instead, Raikkonen was left in second to act as blocker for Vettel.  Soon enough, Hamilton was under a second behind the Finn, who was about two seconds adrift of the leader.

*FIX THIS IMMEDIATELY:  Even as Hamilton eyed the back of Raikkonen's Ferrari, he was on the radio to his pit wall saying that it was difficult to get close to the red car due to the unsettled air coming off it.  This has long been a fault of F1 cars, and really should have been fixed by now.  Instead, we were left with perhaps the best driver in the world forced to sit back and hope for a mistake by the drivers ahead... all because of turbulence.

*THE END:  Ultimately Hamilton's charge failed.  His tires went off and he began dropping back, at which point Mercedes told him to relinquish the position back to Bottas.  The turmoil in his cockpit must have been immense... he'd be giving up three points to Vettel in the driver's championship, after all.  To further complicate matters, Verstappen had caught up to Bottas and was beginning to loom ominously in the silver car's mirrors.  On the final lap, Hamilton let his teammate past, intentionally going wide in a turn... and very nearly was caught by the Red Bull in the process.  Up ahead, Raikkonen's pleas to be allowed to get by his slower teammate fell on deaf ears, and he finished in second place.  Vettel thus won the race and reopened a lead in the world driver's championship.  Team orders are a legal thing in F1, but they can be hard to stomach at times.

*ONE LAST THING: The McLaren of Indy Alonso finished sixth on actual merit today, and he set fast lap in the process.  Once Singapore rolls around, I think we might have a shot at seeing a McLaren on the podium... probably not, but it's not as unimaginable as it was earlier in the year.

So there you have it.  Hungary done and dusted for another year.  The teams now go on mandatory holiday for two weeks; the factories are closed and team personnel are forbidden to do any work on the car of any sort.  Then there's another two weeks after that before we come to the next race.  So see you at the end of August for the race at Spa-Francopants!

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:40 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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