8 things you might have missed
Behind the scenes at the Hungarian GP
The geographical proximity which has historically kept the Austrian and Hungarian races apart on the calendar made them an obvious pairing in this spectator-free 2020 season. But while the two circuits are separated by only 400 km of motorway, they’re poles apart as racing venues. The sinuous Hungaroring had teams packing on all the downforce they could muster, focusing on speed through the tight corners of a circuit that resembles a scaled-up go-kart track. It was expected to be a different sort of race to the two that had preceded it, and that proved to be an accurate assessment. Here are a few things you may have missed…
Following pack down on Sunday evening in Spielberg, the team made the five-hour road trip to Budapest on Monday. While the testing and sub-group protocols stayed the same, Hungary presented the teams with a very different operating environment. The bucolic isolation of Spielberg allowed everyone freedom to roam in their time off; working in the big city did not. The team was allowed in the hotel, at the Hungaroring, and to travel between the two. The city itself was strictly off limits.
Most of the crew were not particularly discommoded by being confined to the hotel’s restaurant, lounge and gym. The second half of a back-to-back – or the third leg of a triple in this instance – doesn’t leave a great deal of time for socialising. Assembling the garage, then stripping and rebuilding the cars means long days at the circuit. There isn’t a curfew at the start of the week, so counterintuitively, it can be a busier few days than the race weekend itself. Cue lots of yawning in the pitlane!
After the medium-downforce Red Bull Ring, neither driver was particularly happy with how the car felt on Friday morning. Both struggled to find a working balance with the maximum downforce package. Despite the drivers’ unhappiness with the car, FP1 was a pretty decent session in that we completed plenty of laps which provided a glut of data to examine over lunch. There were some good set-up changes instituted for FP2 – but with the session largely rained-off those couldn’t be tested. The session was quite a frustrating 90 minutes.
The rain that wasn't...
The worst sort of rain in F1 is the shower that refuses to fall. The car was definitely more competitive on Saturday and that was reflected in qualifying where both drivers made it through to Q3 without alarm. At that point, the forecast suggested very strong likelihood of rain towards the end of Q3, and thus we decided to use the one remaining set of new Soft tyres for each driver at the start of the session. It was a gamble, as the circuit would traditionally get faster the longer it stayed dry. After the first runs, Lando and Carlos were fifth and sixth and the team willed the rain to fall the moment they got back to the garage – if not a little earlier. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t play along, which saw both drivers drop a couple of positions.
Spinning the wheels
One of the hardest things for an F1 driver to master is judging clutch control at the race start. On the damp track in Hungary, Lando gave it too much gas, spun the wheels and watched the rest of the field barrel past him. He’d been surprised on the formation lap how much drier the circuit had become since his installation laps-to-grid 30 minutes earlier – and, of course, the team aren’t allowed to pass on any guidance during the formation lap based on what they can see in the data. Given the difficulty of passing in Hungary, that ruined his afternoon. He summed it up pretty succinctly after the race: “It went wrong on the one circuit you really don’t want it going wrong.” Rather than going off to brood, he pulled on a hi-vis vest and pitched in with pack down after the race.
A race of two halves
Carlos made a decent start, losing a place at Turn One but getting it back a couple of corners later. His race went downhill a few laps later at the first pit-stop. When the whole field floods into the pitlane at the same time, chaos reigns. In Carlos’ case, he was baulked by Nicholas Latifi – who was subsequently penalised for an unsafe release – and, when the stops all shook out, had lost places to Daniel Ricciardo and Alex Albon. He enjoyed a great second half of the race though, hunting down and eventually passing Charles Leclerc in the battle for the final point – which subsequently turned into two points.
The bigger picture
Three races in three weeks is hard work. And the pitwall was keen to look at the holistic performance over the sequence of races, rather than dwelling on a bad day at the office in Hungary. After the race, Andreas Seidl remarked that 40 points – now 41 – from the first three races was an excellent start, while team manager Paul James thanked the garage crew for their work in ensuring we have six finishes from six starts.
Keeping feet on the ground
The results in Austria had been excellent – but given the competitiveness of the upper midfield, it was unrealistic to expect that to continue. While the race was one of those where pretty much everything went wrong, consensus in the garage and back at the MTC after the race was that qualifying was probably the most accurate representation of where the team is right now: very much embroiled in a tight upper-midfield battle.