When it rains, he reigns. A wet-track pole position set up Lewis Hamilton for this against-form win
Reports from the German and Hungarian GPS
Lewis Hamilton’s wet weather prowess did it again. Fortune smiled on Mercedes when Q3 rain required extreme wet Pirellis and facilitated Lewis’s sixth Budapest pole. Valtteri Bottas secured a Mercedes front-row lockout and presented Ferrari with a riddle which they couldn’t solve on Sunday. For a second successive race, Lewis grabbed 25 points that Sebastian Vettel had the car to take.
The session distilled into a straight Q3 shoot-out on full wets in heavy rain. No surprise when Lewis Hamilton lapped in 1m35.658s right at the death for his sixth Hungaroring pole, just as Valtteri Bottas (1m35.918s) looked set to nail him for the second successive year in Budapest.
Kimi Räikkönen, meantime, reckoned the red cars felt better in the wet than he could remember and had the pace to have taken pole had he not encountered Romain Grosjean on his last lap. Vettel’s face spoke volumes as he contemplated P4, 0.03s slower than Kimi and behind the two Mercs.
Carlos Sainz, another wet ace, was delighted to put his Renault fifth. In the dry Renault had been fractionally bested by Haas but with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean only ninth and 10th in the wet, this was a timely performance from Carlos. Team-mate Nico Hülkenberg was a surprise Q2 casualty: a fuel bowser problem leaving him in the pits when he should have been on track.
Toro Rosso were on cloud nine too, as Pierre Gasly qualified sixth and Brendon Hartley – a first Q3 – lined up eighth.
And the Red Bulls? Alas, the same benign tyre usage that allowed Max Verstappen to do such a quick, long ultrasoft run on a scorching Friday afternoon, worked against him now and seventh was the best Max could do. Daniel Ricciardo, meanwhile had only squeaked through Q1 by a couple of tenths but couldn’t repeat the feat when rain returned for Q2. He missed the favourable conditions and would start only 12th.
With wets used in qualifying, everyone had freedom of starting compound. Both Mercedes drivers and Räikkonen had opted for ultras while Vettel’s Ferrari was on softs: strategic variation guaranteed even within the single-stop strategy predicted to be fastest. Sainz had also gone for softs with the remainder of the top 10 on ultras.
It was vital for Mercedes to convert their front row lock-out if they were to subdue predicted superior Ferrari race pace and they did that as the leaders got through Turn 1 without incident.
Further back Charles Leclerc, starting a lowly for him 16th, was pincered by the Force Indias and became a first-lap retirement and a disgruntled Max Verstappen joined him five laps later as he was told to switch off and pull over.
Up front Hamilton made good his escape while Bottas dropped back to best conserve his rubber and make Vettel’s task harder. Hamilton was 3.5s ahead after five laps while Gasly ran an excellent fifth, ahead of Magnussen, Sainz, Hartley, Hülkenberg, 37th birthday boy Fernando Alonso’s Mclaren, Grosjean and the recovering Ricciardo, who had taken a healthy thump from Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber at Turn 1 on the opening lap.
The first significant move came from Ferrari when they pitted Räikkönen early on lap 14 from fourth, four seconds behind Bottas. This forced Mercedes to respond to protect against the undercut, meaning 55 laps on a set of softs to the end if Valtteri was only going to make the one stop.
When Bottas pitted, second-placed Vettel was 8.7s behind Hamilton’s leading Merc but on a clear
“IT WAS VITAL FOR MERCEDES TO CONVERT THEIR FRONT ROW LOCK-OUT IF THEY WERE TO SUBDUE PREDICTED SUPERIOR FERRARI RACE PACE AND THEY DID THAT AS THE LEADERS GOT THROUGH TURN 1 WITHOUT INCIDENT
track for the first time. It was on the harder tyre of course and the gap stayed pretty consistent. Vettel would obviously run a longer opening stint and be on the faster ultras at the end.
Mercedes extended Hamilton’s opening stint for as long as his times were competitive and pitted him on lap 25 for fresh softs, He rejoined 13s behind Vettel with Bottas was a further 8s down and Räikkönen another three in arrears. Bottas wasn’t going as quickly on his fresh softs as Vettel was on his starting set, which suggested there was less degradation on the softs than might have been expected in the blistering heat.
Vettel wanted to reach around lap 40 to leave just 30 laps on ultras to chase Lewis. On lap 30 he had a fairly comfortable pit window over Bottas’s third-place Mercedes (23 seconds against the necessary 21), but then he hit traffic. The blue flags and back markers were not kind to him and on lap 37 the gap was down to 21.8s. Marginal.
Successive quick laps from Bottas meant this was going to be tighter than it should have been and when Vettel’s front left did not locate properly and he was stationary for 4.2secs, the Ferrari came out behind the No77 Mercedes.
Vettel was now 9s behind Hamilton, who was on the slower softs, with 30 of the 70 laps still to go. Seb needed to negotiate Bottas quickly, before the edge went off his ultras. He couldn’t.
As Bottas’ softs finally started to go away, Vettel accelerated alongside out of Turn 1 and chopped across into Turn 2. Bottas resisted for all his worth but couldn’t get the car stopped and damaged his nose against the left rear of the Ferrari. Räikkönen followed Vettel through and Bottas was left to try to fend off Ricciardo’s charging Red Bull. The Aussie finally made it by on the last lap, though Bottas had earned himself a 10s penalty for running into Dan.
Gasly took best-of-the-rest honours after a great race to sixth in the Toro Rosso, while the Mclarens benefited from a long opening stint on softs which jumped them ahead of the Renaults and Grosjean. Vandoorne stayed within a couple of seconds of his more illustrious team mate, but retired 20 laps from the end with no drive. Eighth was Alonso’s birthday present as Sainz and Grosjean completed the scorers.
Hamilton converted pole into the lead at the start (above) and never looked back. His cause was helped by Bottas delaying Vettel (below) after the latter emerged behind him following his stop