Wednesday, August 3, 2011

F1 Hungary 2011

Vettel's qualifying form returned and netted poll position but for once that did not convert into a race win. Changeable weather on race day played into the hands of Button who has demonstrated his skills under those conditions in previous races. All-in-all, it was very entertaining race with a combination of wheel-to-wheel action and complex strategy.

Light rain forced everyone to start on the intermediate wet tires. Even so, the track conditions were treacherous and everyone struggled with a lack of grip and traction in the first few laps, with numerous drivers having incidents. Surprisingly, despite the high number of underwear-changing moments, the drivers all managed to recover and continue, in a very impressive display of car control. I was amazed that there was no obvious contact in the first lap given the difficult conditions.

Despite the tricky conditions, drivers eventually found the confidence to start attacking for positions. Hamilton and Vettel had a great fight for the lead until lap five when Hamilton finally got the better of Vettel. It was clear that Redbull was struggling and that they were not going to have it their own way this time.

The first shake up was the decision to switch to dry tires. In a surprising move, a few drivers switched to the soft prime tire while most went onto the faster super-soft option tire. The former strategy, if it worked, would eliminate one tire stop. The diverging strategies made the race completely unpredictable at that point. Ultimately, the prime tire was the right strategy which enabled Button to earn another win.

But before that happened, it started to rain again which caused the second shake up. A few drivers, Hamilton and Webber among them, switched back to the intermediate tires. This was a costly mistake as the rain stopped almost immediately, forcing those drivers back into the pits after only a couple of laps. It was this decision that cost Hamilton a chance for the win. The drive-through penalty for forcing di Resta off the road, relegated Hamilton to a third place finish, which was actually still respectable all things considered.

It was clear that McLaren made significant improvements to the car which were able to deliver back-to-back wins. Redbull were definitely struggling as the upgrades they brought to Hungary were reverted to the previous configuration. Since the work required getting the FIA to waive the "6 hour rest rule", which a team can only request a limited number of times per season, tells us it was a major mechanical upgrade. And it did not work. Not good. Not good at all.

Whether this marks a turn in the fortunes of Redbull, frankly, I doubt it. At this point only DNFs could affect the outcome of the championship: Vettel for the drivers'; both he and Webber for the constructors'. I just don't see that happening. But I hope I am wrong. ^_^

And finally, we had a Renault catch fire and explode in a most spectacular manner. What ever the team is doing around their fancy exhaust system, it has caused two fires this season, although the first did not produce such fireworks. If it happens again, I suspect the FIA will be taking a closer look.

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