A MAN OF HIS WORD

HUN­GARY WAS THE LAST RACE PRIOR TO F1’S AN­NUAL SUMMER BREAK. WITH MERCEDES LORD­ING IT OVER FASTER TRACKS LIKE CANADA AND SIL­VER­STONE, FER­RARI HAD TO WIN ON THE TIGHT AND TWISTY HUNGARORING. BUT IT WASN’T STRAIGHT­FOR­WARD.

Driven - - Motorsport -

As you read this, F1’s an­nual mid-year hia­tus is over, while the sec­ond half of the sea­son is alive and well and liv­ing in the af­ter­math of the Bel­gian GP at SpaFran­cor­champs.

At the time of writ­ing, how­ever, we had no idea of how things would have panned out in Bel­gium, as al­most any­thing bar a McLaren Honda vic­tory could have been on the cards. End-of-summer heat, light rain, heavy rain, tor­ren­tial rain, mist, re­tire­ments, vi­o­lent ac­ci­dents (in par­tic­u­lar through Raidil­lon at the top of the hill, straight af­ter Eau Rouge) plus mas­sive pile-ups (as we’ve had many of, most mem­o­rably in 1998 when chaos and car­nage erupted on a soak­ing wet track, or again in 2012, straight af­ter the start, when Gros­jean trig­gered may­hem by tak­ing to the air and

shav­ing a tear-off from Alonso’s vi­sor, on a dry track, no­gal).

Any of this – or even all of it – could have been re­peated on 27 Au­gust 2017.

What we’ll be most in­ter­ested in, though, as the F1 cir­cus now rolls on to the Gran Premio d’Italia for the end of the Euro­pean leg op die Grand Prix sea­son, are the re­spec­tive fates that be­fell Lewis Hamil­ton and Se­bas­tian Vet­tel at Spa.

We’ll get to that in due course in the next is­sue of Driven.

But first, back to the last event of the sea­son’s open­ing half, in Hun­gary.

HUN­GAR­IAN GP

It was a crit­i­cal race for Fer­rari, to put it lightly. Up un­til Monaco, way back in May, Vet­tel and his SF70H Maranel­lian stal­lion had been the game’s dom­i­nant duo. They were vic­to­ri­ous in Aus­tralia, Bahrain and the Prin­ci­pal­ity it­self, yet – with a bit of luck – could have won in China, Rus­sia, and Spain as well, even though Cir­cuit de Catalunya has al­ways been a happy hunt­ing ground for Mercedes.

Af­ter Monaco, the tide seemed to turn in Hamil­ton’s favour. He won in Canada and was solidly on course to do so in

TO SOME, WIN­NING IS EVERY­THING. TO OTH­ERS, DO­ING THE RIGHT THING

IS MORE IM­POR­TANT.

Azer­bai­jan un­til– bizarrely– the head­rest of his Mercedes came loose.

In Aus­tria Lewis failed to find op­ti­mum set­tings, but a Bot­tas vic­tory seemed to sug­gest that the Merc F1 W07 Hy­brid could be the car to have for the sec­ond half of the sea­son, espe­cially when Hamil­ton dom­i­nated the Bri­tish GP week­end.

Sil­ver­stone wasn’t only a flag to flag vic­tory. It was a Fri­day morn­ing to Sun­day af­ter­noon de­mo­li­tion of the op­po­si­tion.

The W07 seemed to have found its stride, and how. A car that’s been called a “wild steed” and a “diva” by team in­sid­ers, was cat­a­pult­ing Hamil­ton straight back into ti­tle con­tention.

Fer­rari, there­fore, had to win in Bu­dapest, not only to stem the turn­ing tide and re-es­tab­lish the Scud­e­ria’s morale and equi­lib­rium, but also be­cause it is im­per­a­tive to max­imise when­ever a track suits your car, as the al­ter­na­tive might be a dou­ble whammy: eight fewer points than you should have scored in favourable cir­cum­stances plus eight points ex­tra for a pos­si­bly un­de­serv­ing op­po­si­tion equates to a 16 point swing.

That’s dras­tic.

AG­ILE SF70H

Fer­rari was un­der the cosh then, par­tic­u­larly since Red Bull’s Ric­cia­rdo dom­i­nated the time sheets on Fri­day, the team hav­ing fi­nally fig­ured out the cor­re­la­tion prob­lem be­tween wind tun­nel re­sults and track per­for­mance that’s been plagu­ing the RB13 since de­but.

Now, the tight and twisty Hungaroring is, like Monaco, tai­lor-made for Fer­rari’s ag­ile SF70H, not so much be­cause of quicker di­rec­tional changes courtesy of a shorter wheel­base, but be­cause it’s eas­ier to bal­ance the Fer­rari’s front and rear axles and work the Pirelli tyres to per­fec­tion, en­sur­ing lively front end bite plus a sta­ble rear with plenty of trac­tion, with­out dec­i­mat­ing the rub­ber.

Given that the SF70H never showed

snap over­steer like so many other cars in Hun­gary – the track boast­ing freshly laid tar­mac and there­fore a smoother sur­face this year– and given that the red cars could be set up with sharp pointy noses, the Fer­raris came alive in both drivers’ hands.

Räikkö­nen, in par­tic­u­lar, rev­elled in his steed’s char­ac­ter­is­tics but a small mis­take en­ter­ing the chi­cane on his fi­nal lap in quali robbed him of pole.

Lock­ing out the front row nev­er­the­less bode well for a Maranel­lian on­slaught on Sun­day and the drivers duly de­liv­ered, Kimi rid­ing shot­gun for Seb af­ter the lat­ter clouted a kerb and bent his steer­ing. The Finn’s will­ing­ness to play the sup­port­ing role un­doubt­edly helped him to a con­tract re­newal for 2018.

Be­hind the scar­let pair, the race went hay­wire for Red Bull when Ver­stap­pen took out team mate Ric­cia­rdo on the open­ing tour, in­cur­ring a ten-sec­ond penalty that let Hamil­ton through into fourth. Such was the

Brit’s pace that Merc ef­fected a po­si­tional swap with Bot­tas, on con­di­tion that Lewis re­versed the or­der if he failed to over­take the Fer­raris.

MAN OF HON­OUR

Hamil­ton was hard at it but Kimi held firm, pro­tect­ing Seb all the way to the flag, which im­me­di­ately shifted the fo­cus back to Lewis who was – with a lap to go – seven sec­onds clear of Bot­tas, with Sainz and Perez slot­ted in be­tween.

On top of that, Ver­stap­pen was hot on Valt­teri’s heels, fu­elling Red Bull’s hopes that their man might slip through as well, if and when Hamil­ton lifted to let Bot­tas back into third.

The ta­bles had thus been turned. Fer­rari’s fears of a dou­ble whammy prior to the race now loomed large in the Brit’s world of pos­si­bil­i­ties. He was run­ning third but could, in the blink of an eye, fin­ish fifth.

Lewis Hamil­ton was thus con­fronted by the big­ger test, not of his skills, but of his in­tegrity.

Would he back down on track?

Or, would he back away from his own con­science?

In an age when T.S. Eliot’s “things fall apart, the cen­tre can­not hold” has taken a grip on the world, and on a planet where “I, Me, Mine” reigns supreme – never more so, by the way, than in the ego­ma­ni­a­cal lit­tle uni­verse of mo­tor rac­ing – the Ham­mer stepped be­yond the nau­se­at­ingly self­ish in­stincts of his own fra­ter­nity and came through like a shin­ing bea­con of hon­our and in­tegrity.

He kept his word. He passed the test. He is a man of his word.

This writer, for one, salutes him. It is hard to imag­ine his ti­tle op­po­nent do­ing the same thing. Dur­ing the in­fa­mous Multi-21 in­ci­dent of the Malaysian GP in 2013, Vet­tel was, in fact, pre­sented with a chance to act hon­ourably, not by back­ing down and let­ting his team mate through, but just by keep­ing po­si­tion af­ter he was or­dered not to pass Mark Web­ber, to save both Red Bulls.

When Web­ber re­laxed, Vet­tel pounced. To some peo­ple, win­ning is every­thing. To oth­ers, do­ing the right thing is more im­por­tant.

Lewis Hamil­ton might miss out on this year’s F1 ti­tle by less than three points.

But he did the right thing. There is noth­ing amiss with his ethics.

Above De­spite a bent steer­ing arm, Se­bas­tian Vet­tel had the per­fect week­end in Hun­gary, snatch­ing pole and then win­ning the race.

Next Page Top Right Fol­low­ing some great re­cov­ery drives yield­ing a vic­tory and four podi­ums (as he was happy to show the pho­tog­ra­pher), Ric­cia­rdo is now called The Come­back Kid.

Next Page Bot­tom Right Vet­tel was over the moon af­ter his vic­tory in Hun­gary, so he cel­e­brated by jump­ing off his car.

Above and Right Bot­tas held up Hamil­ton (in the yel­low hel­met) be­fore let­ting the Brit through. Hamil­ton re­versed the or­der in the last cor­ner of the race, so that Bot­tas could cel­e­brate on the podium (right).

Top Right The podium was a red af­fair, with the Fer­rari drivers first and sec­ond – or was it a Fin­nish af­fair, with Räikkö­nen and Bot­tas sec­ond and third?

Mid­dle Right Ver­stap­pen blasts out of the pits af­ter a 10 sec­ond stop-and-go penalty for tak­ing his team mate out on the first lap.

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