Renault and Racing Point are at each other’s throats on the track and off, as an unresolved technicality sees a complaint filed by the French team bringing the focus to a relatively innocuous item. The issue is simple if brought to black and white terms: brake ducts on the Racing Point cars, says Renault, are not “listed parts” because in they’re not made by Racing Point for Racing Point, but are a direct copy of the ones used on the Mercedes team vehicles. Although the current regulations allow for some crossover, such as engine supply or suspension, Renault feels the design of the ducts fitted to the bright pink machines is effectively lifted from the German team’s own design and supplier.
“We actually believe that they have received drawings, they have received parts which they’ve used to build their car this year,” explained Renault Executive Director Marcin Budkowski. “And we believe this is not right. If this is not the case then we will see. We will see the investigation of the FIA and we will see what the stewards think about it. If the FIA finds these brake ducts are designed from another team, then I expect they will check the rest of the car.”
Unsurprisingly, Racing Point’s Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer disagrees, believing a proper inspection will show that the ducts are unique to the team. “There are things that the camera can’t see, especially the internal surfaces of a brake duct for example, which we completely designed and developed ourselves,” he said. “When you compare the two parts, by the FIA, then we will absolutely know the brake ducts are unique, our Intellectual Property and designed by us.”
Although it’s a hefty issue, another story broke during the week that overshadowed this tussle. Rumors, and strong ones, circulated that Sebastian Vettel, off-contract and without a team at the year’s end, had actually been offered a seat at Racing Point, with the potential to have Sergio Perez ousted. As the team is owned by the father of Canadian driver Lance Stroll, it’s highly improbable that Stroll would move on, leaving Sergio as the driver to look elsewhere.
However, both he and Stroll have contracts, yet Stroll himself has confirmed he is not yet locked in for a drive with the team in 2021. “I don’t really know what’s happening in the future with that. I’m really just focused on this year and this weekend in particular, then it’s up to management to decide what’s best for the team,” said Stroll.
Free Practice saw wet and dry conditions for all at the Hungaroring, with cool but dry running for FP1 before a deluge in FP2. Just 13 of the 20 drivers went out and most did a one-lap run. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly didn’t place the car on track in FP1 due to a power issue, and in his time on track in FP2 described an odor as “smells like a barbeque at the back of the car.” The team was unable to identify anything burning. Vettel finally had some good news as he hit the top of the timing board in FP2 whilst Lewis Hamilton sounded ominous with: “We got everything done that we needed to in the first session.”
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was still smarting after his on-track tussle with Lance Stroll late in the second race at the Red Bull Ring and requested clarification of the rules in regards to how Stroll should have driven, but with Friday’s focus on practice, felt happy with his car. “It felt nice this morning, obviously tomorrow we’ll see whatever the conditions. I think both wet or dry we’re pretty confident, we’ll make it happen, and yeah, put on a good one.”
Q1 and light rain swept the circuit, with some teams holding their drivers back for a minute or two. All 20 cars eventually made their way out and it was the Silver Arrows in their new black livery that set an early pace. Alexander Albon complained of handling issues with his Red Bull, and the Racing Point pairing of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll impressed with the speed in Q1. Nicholas Lafifi found pace in Q1, with P7 at one stage but fell through to Q2 for 15th by 0.05, whilst Kimi Raikkonen would also fail to make his way through to Q2 for 20th. His teammate Antonio Giovinazzi would be a tenth quicker and would finish P19. The Haas team would bookend Daniil Kvyat for 16th (Kevin Magnussen) and 18th (Romain Grosjean).
Ricciardo just made Q2 but that’s as far as he got. However, eyebrows were raised as both of the Williams cars also made Q2. It was George Russell that had the good run, a full 6/10ths quicker than Latifi in Q1 and as high as P5 in that first qualifying. His final run would see him in P12. News came at the end of Q1 that a stewards inquisition into an incident between Giovinazzi and Carlos Sainz would be taken with an alleged block by Sainz. he would be cleared however McLaren would be warned for not alerting Sainz of Giovinazzi’s progress.
Sainz would make a very marginal improvement on his Q1 time and would finish in P9 at the end of Q3, just ahead of Pierre Gasly. Gasly had reported engine issues in Q2 and wasn’t able to get out for Q3, the time from Q2 was good enough for P10. Albon’s progress went backward and his complaints that his car wasn’t handling was proven with a final position of P13, ahead of Renault’s Esteban Ocon.
Q1 and it was a masterclass from Mercedes. As the track warmed up, Hamilton took a breath and launched forward from Q1, improved into Q2, and would take pole for the 90th time in his career. he was consistently quicker than Bottas who took P2 by just on a tenth. For all of the clouds hanging over Racing Point, it didn’t affect the focus as both cars would take P3 and P4. Stroll was 2/10s quicker than Perez but a full 8/10ths off the pace of Bottas. Ferrari saw happier times as Vettel and Leclerc finally found some consistency. Red Bull’s Verstappen could count himself unlucky to qualify in P7 as his time was under a tenth slower than Vettel’s. Lando Norris closed out the top ten with P8.
That pole position has Hamilton in the box seat to equal a very impressive record: Michael Schumacher’s long-standing haul of eight wins at one track. “It’s quite a long race and we don’t know what this weather’s going to do for us tomorrow, but for sure I’ll have my head down and be focusing as hard as I can to try and bring a 1-2 home for the team.” said the current world champion.
Race day and things started badly for Red Bull. Max Verstappen nosed his car into the barriers before the race and eased his car back to the garage for a replacement. Minutes to spare and he made it to the grid. Then Alexander Albon, starting from 13th, was in danger of losing his finishing place as it was alleged the trackside team used the blowers to keep the engine cool as an aid to dry his damp starting grid spot. In a statement, the stewards said: “The Stewards reviewed video evidence and came to the conclusion that the competitor did not attempt to alter the grip of the track surface.”
Haas was also pinged, and this for radio calls to Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen before the race start. As the track was wet, the garage advised the pair, in contravention of article 27.1 where it advises that drivers must drive alone and unaided, to pit before the start of the race and swap to wet tires. Both were given a ten-second penalty.
Race start and Hamilton immediately gets away to a clear lead. Bottas may have jumped the start and gets on the brakes whilst both Stroll and Verstappen make impressive progress with the Red Bull into 3rd inside two laps. Hamilton quickly gets to a five-second lead and pits for better rubber on laps 6. Williams driver Nicholas Latifi pits for a tire swap but his is of necessity as one corner is deflating, withy replays showing a pit lane release ahead of Carlos Sainz had the front wing of Sainz’s tap the rear of Latifi. News breaks that Kimi Raikonnen has been handed a five-second penalty for being out of position at the race start.
Vettel has been caught in a slow pit stop and has slipped to 8th but Lando Norris has had an issue with traffic and is well towards the rear of the pack. Albon has made pace and gets caught in a tussle with Charles Leclerc. This has Vettel clearing traffic and catching up. Pierre Gasly hasn’t had a great weekend with power issues and would retire on lap 17. The team swapped out his failing engine on Saturday night only to have the replacement fail in smoky fashion.
Albon has been struggling with finding the right spot to pass Leclerc and finally gets through in a mid-pack engagement. Upfront, hamilton displays why he is the current world champion, sailing away to a lead that extends lap by lap. The weather radar had showed rain may return however it diverts and misses. Leclerc has pitted for hard rubber and hopes this can get him home and aim for the win. Both Haas cars, after lousy qualifying, are in the top ten with one-third of the race completed.
Lance Stroll has been driving his Racing Point hard and perhaps too hard. Bottas is closing and the young Canadian is telling his garage his rubber may be about to fall off. Vettel pits just before the halfway mark and goes for the longer-lasting hard tires. It pays off as the rain doesn’t make an appearance. Bottas pits shortly after in a blink first move to see if Racing Point’s Stroll will also come in. He doesn’t. Yet. Two laps later Stroll comes in and re-emerges behind Bottas. Hamilton’s lead is such that he comes in for mediums two laps later and is completely untroubled by the slow down for entry and exit.
Meanwhile back in the middle of the field, Perez and Magnussen have been going hammer and tongs, with Perez sliding through, finally. Sainz and Ricciardo are the two remaining drivers to pit a second time, with Sainz doing so on lap 41. This bumps the Ferrari of Vettel to 6th. Renault finally pulls Ricciardo in with just 25 laps to go. He’s in 9th. Bottas and Verstappen seem assured of 2nd and 3rd with only who will be on the lower step at race end the question to be answered. A curious call from Mercedes as Bottas gets the call for new rubber, there are twenty laps left. This sees the Dutchman looking good for 2nd. That new rubber though, sees Bottas quick and he’s got the fastest lap. Verstappen is just 20 seconds ahead and 18 to go. Stroll pits as well, he’s in and out to be ahead of Vettel. Fifteen to go and Hamilton is a massive 22 second ahead of the Red Bull.
Lap 58 and Vettel has been lapped. By Hamilton. The Mercedes dominance is back and how! Ricciardo’s new rubber is also paying off as he has 7th and Perez in his sights. Seven laps to go and Albon’s run is looking good, he’s closing in on Vettel for a mid-top ten finish battle. Leclerc’s race is looking shaky as he’s possibly out of the top eleven. And in a rub it in your face move, with four laps to go, Hamilton pits again. The lead when he comes out? Call it for six seconds.
Albon snares Vettel, Ricciardo’s hard charge has worn his front rubber, and Hamilton takes the quickest lap and the flag. Breaths are held as the final lap stoush between Bottas and Verstappen unfolds, and the Red Bull holds out the black Mercedes in an enthralling finish for a gap of just 0.7 of a second. Stroll comes in for 4th, a great finish for the beleaguered Racing Point team, Vettel finds 6th ahead of Perez, Ricciardo, Magnussen and Sainz. Gasly was the only retirement.
“What an incredible race,” exclaimed Hamilton. “Honestly, that was one of my favorites that I’ve raced, even though I was on my own for the majority, it’s a very different kind of challenge and I was pushing hard out there, particularly for the fastest lap at the end.” He also equaled Schumacher’s record of eight wins at the same circuit.
“I reacted to a light on my dash that went off, instead of the start lights, which then meant the car went into anti-stall and I had to do the start again,” added Bottas.
Teams and drivers get a break before the next race at Silverstone, for July 31 to August 2nd. It’s the home race for Hamilton who will comes to race 4 on 63 points, five ahead of Bottas.