The Formula One season is a long grind, and this week the teams arrived at the Hungaroring for the final race before the summer break. Everyone hoped to capture some momentum to carry into the home stretch. Some unpredictable weather shuffled the leaders in every practice session, making it difficult to tell who would have the advantage on Sunday.
But when all else fails, you can bet on two things: Max Verstappen to prevail and Ferrari to leave everyone confused. Here’s how it went down.
Immediate reaction: WTF is Ferrari doing?
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a systematic failure as egregious as what Ferrari has had this year. While they’ve had a few GPs where they have shown what their potential really is, they continue to add lines to the long list of self-destructions. Meanwhile, we see Mercedes show why they have been at the top of the sport for the last decade plus, getting both drivers on the podium once again with Lewis Hamilton driving from 7th to 2nd.
Driver of the race: Max Verstappen
While I wouldn’t have called you crazy if you told me Max would drive from 10th to a win, it certainly was not expected. Lewis also deserves to be mentioned with a hell of a drive from 7th to 2nd, but in a mostly normal race I don’t think you can say enough about the drive that Max put on in Hungary.
Moment of the race: Leclerc pits for hards on lap 39
In a weekend where everyone was saying the hard tires likely wouldn’t work and then seeing Alpine try them on both cars early in the race, Ferrari made the astounding decision to pit Charles Leclerc on lap 39 to put them on. It’s almost as though Ferrari continues to make decisions based purely on whatever their programs and computers are saying with zero race feel or common sense.
Thoughts moving forward: Consistency is key
In the cases of Red Bull and Mercedes, it’s not SLOW but it’s certainly steady — something Ferrari knows nothing about. I hate that these write-ups as of late have been all about Ferrari and their failures, but it’s simply captivating to me. I don’t think I even have a comparison in motorsports to the Ferraris being arguably the best cars every week and yet managing to throw it away consistently. I’m excited to see what adjustments the teams make out of the summer break and will be rooting for Mercedes to continue to show up with better and better cars, making the podium unpredictable week to week.
I would describe the Hungarian Grand Prix as interesting, but not fun. There were some great battles for position, even involving three cars, at a track where it is somewhat difficult to pass. There was a lot of different tire strategy and many drivers led the race. Ultimately, it didn’t feel like the race was won so much as it was lost. Some teams’ inexplicable tire strategies cost us good racing at the end when it mattered most.
Driver of the race
A lot of drivers could fit here: Mercedes fought an initially bad car to finish with both drivers on the podium, Daniel Ricciardo made some big overtakes on the track before being undone by a penalty and a move to hard tires, and both Red Bull cars bounced back from issues in qualifying.
I’ll give it to Max Verstappen, specifically, because he experienced clutch issues during his drive from 10th to 1st and even spun after driving through a wet spot on the track. None of it was enough to deny him victory because he and Red Bull did what they always do: drive fast laps, make sound strategic decisions, and have very good pit stops. Simply put, they do not make mistakes and that is why the championships are all but over by August.
Moment of the race
The race changed dramatically when Ferrari elected to pit Charles Leclerc — who was running in first on medium tires, probably the best car in the field — for a set of hard tires. Yes, the hard tires that the TV broadcast said were awful prior to the start of the race. Haas, Ferrari’s customer team, tried hard tires on Kevin Magnussen’s car after he got called in for an early pit, to no success. Alpine put hard tires on both cars and was struggling. Ferrari chose those hard tires!
They got caught looking at Red Bull instead of running their own race. Leclerc’s pit was an attempt to maintain track position in response to Verstappen pitting, and the length of the race dictated that they needed hard tires instead of soft. But perhaps they forgot that track position is only as good as your ability to maintain it. Leclerc, despite blocking his ass off, was getting passed on the track by several cars while on the hard tires. They ended up making a third pit — costing valuable time — after I can only assume Leclerc cussed the hard tires out thoroughly because he had no grip. Asked about Ferrari’s tire strategy after the race, Mercedes team president Toto Wolff had an interesting observation that Ferrari may have actually cost themselves even earlier by not saving another set of medium tires for the end of the race, leaving only the hard and soft compounds to choose from.
Thoughts going forward
Red Bull and Verstappen have a comfortable lead in both standings. I said weeks ago that Mercedes could catch Ferrari and, although Ferrari still has a 30 point lead, I think Mercedes will overtake them in the points. They already have in terms of consistency. So what I will be looking for in the remaining races is, can Ferrari build some kind of momentum? Can they keep Leclerc ahead of Red Bull’s second car of Checo Pérez in the driver’s standings? Can they prove to their drivers — and to a lesser extent, the fans — that they are learning enough from their mistakes to be a contender in 2023? For Leclerc’s sake, I hope so. It’s hard to watch him get grilled about Ferrari’s questionable decisions after every race. He tries his best to be honest yet diplomatic, but one look at the replies to a Ferrari tweet proves everyone can see what’s going on.