We are now in the Summer break of what will be the longest Grand Prix season to date. Two weeks ago we had the Hungarian Grand Prix near Budapest, held in mixed conditions and throwing up an interesting result, after a very interesting qualifying!
George Russell surprised everyone by snatching pole position – his first ever – in the improving Mercedes, although his more illustrious team mate Lewis Hamilton could only manage to qualify 7th. George pipped the two Ferraris, this season the usual fastest qualifiers, with Carlos Sainz ahead of Charles Leclerc this time. Lando Norris qualified an excellent 4th ahead of the two Alpines. Where were the Red Bulls? Max Verstappen only managed 10th place, and this was ahead of the struggling Perez who complained of being blocked on his fast lap. Max suffered some power issues on his fast lap.
So the grid was somewhat mixed up, and here was a great opportunity for Charles Leclerc to pull back some of his championship deficit to Max Verstappen. But it was not to be! Despite being initially fast, both Russell and the two Ferraris were eventually overtaken by the resurgent Verstappen, despite the Dutchman having a brief spin. In a tactical race, Ferrari again seemed to get things wrong, putting Leclerc onto the slow hard tyres at the wrong time. Leclerc’s and Ferrari’s championships are falling away due to continued tactical mistakes.
In the end Verstappen won the Hungarian Grand Prix – a great effort from his lowly grid position, and the steadily improving Mercedes cars of Hamilton and Russell finished second and third respectively. Sainz finished fourth, ahead of Perez and the unhappy Leclerc. Norris brought the difficult McLaren home into 7th place ahead of the two Alpines, with Seb Vettel dragging the Aston Martin up into the last points paying position.
As the circus enjoys its short summer break before next weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, it is time to reflect on the season so far. Ferrari obviously have a fast car, probably the fastest over a single lap, but on race pace the Red Bull perhaps shades it on most circuits, particularly in the hands of Max Verstappen, who now seems to be heading for his second Championship with an eighty point lead over Leclerc, who is just 5 points ahead of the consistent Perez. In the Constructors Championship, Red Bull are nearly 100 points ahead of Ferrari who are being reeled in by Mercedes – these three teams are well ahead of the rest.
Ferrari are receiving a lot of criticism for ongoing strategy errors, and team boss Mattia Binotto is under pressure and may become the fall guy for what is being perceived as a disastrous use of a quick car. Certainly Charles Leclerc’s relationship with Binotto is under strain, as he continues to suffer from these strategic mistakes. Leclerc himself has made a couple of very costly mistakes which have cost him and Ferrari quite a few points. Carlos Sainz started the year very much in Leclerc’s shadow, but has steadily got more competitive, and ha catching his team mate up.
Red Bull have again built a very quick car, and Max Verstappen is using it well, and looks well set to win the Drivers Championship convincingly. By comparison, Perez appears to struggle on some tracks, although he is good at bringing the car home, and is contributing well to Red Bull’s point haul.
Mercedes are very much on the up now, after starting with a car that simply did not work. As the season as progressed, Mercedes have brought upgrades which have steadily improved the silver cars, and with two evenly matched drivers, they are now able to claim regular podium finishes, and could certainly be in line for a victory or two before the end of the season.
Elsewhere, McLaren are locked in a close battle with Alpine – both not as competitive as they would have liked. Norris is dominating his struggling team mate Daniel Ricciardo, whose future at McLaren, and indeed in F1, is very much in the air.
Aston Martin have struggled, and four times World Champion Sebastian Vettel has announced his retirement from F1 at the end of this season. In a move that surprised many, Fernando Alonso has signed for Aston Martin for 2023, his relationship with the Alpine team has become increasingly strained as the year has gone on. Who will replace him has yet to be decided.
Will there be an 11th team coming into F1 in the near future? Not if Toto Wolf has anything to do with it! Andretti Autosport would like to enter the championship in 2024, but Wolf (and others) are against the move, as they see the financial cake being divided into eleven pieces rather than ten. Andretti are waiting for a decision from the FIA – if they do come in, they will build the cars in the US and will probably have at least one American driver – which would be attractive to Liberty. Rumours continue to swirl around entries by both Porsche and Audi – although both would more likely take over an existing team than enter as a completely new set up.
Back from the holidays next weekend – at the high speed Spa circuit in the Ardennes in Belgium – always a spectacular race, and a circuit loved by most of the drivers. Last year it was spoiled by the rain, hopefully this time the race will actually get underway!