How Verstappen went from zero to hero at the Hungarian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton took his second victory of the season and the 86th of his career at the Hungaroring, but Max Verstappen managed to stop a second consecutive Mercedes one-two.

However, it was nearly a very different story…

Here’s a look at the main talking points from the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Verstappen nearly missed the race

Twenty-five seconds stood between Max Verstappen making the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix and going for an early bath. On a greasy track, he locked his brakes on entry to Turn 12 on his lap to the grid and ended up in the barriers, damaging his front wing and front left suspension.

What followed was some of the most remarkable team work you will see at a race track, as Red Bull’s mechanics changed the track rod and the push rod on the car’s front left corner in just 20 minutes. That sort of job would usually take 90 minutes, but Verstappen’s mechanics managed to complete the job in less than a third of that … and just with 25 seconds to spare.

“I think Max went off three times on that lap to the grid,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said after the race. “The third one looked pretty terminal so we could immediately see the track rod and the push rod was broken, the big question was had it done the wishbone as well? If it had done the wishbone that would have been game over.

“We decided to drive the car to the grid and do our best to repair the car on the grid. The mechanics did an unbelievable job. What would usually take an hour and a half they did in 20 minutes and with about 25 seconds to go.

“Full credit to them today because without them that result wouldn’t have been possible.”

Speaking about the accident, Verstappen said he thought his race was over before it had even started.

“So basically, I locked up, came off the brakes and tried to brake again, locked again and went straight on,” he said. “I was already struggling for grip and I basically locked up and I couldn’t get out of it and went straight into the wall.

“I thought the race was over but I was able to reverse the car out of the wall and then you never give up, so I took the car to the grid to see what could happen. Clearly you could see the mechanics did an amazing job, so I was already happy to start the race.

“I think the track rod and the pull rod were broken, so they are the easier things to quickly change but they did an amazing job at doing that. Then I was sitting in the car and I could see the mechanics screaming at each other ’10 seconds!’ ‘Five seconds!’ to put the wheel on and the final piece of tape on the suspension.

“Then I put my thumbs up and they said ‘Yeah, yeah, away we go’. I was checking the wheel and it felt alright and then during the race nothing weird happened so it was fully fixed.”

From there, Verstappen managed to make up five positions at the start and embark on a solid two-stop strategy that saw him keep Valtteri Bottas at bay in the closing stages.

“I was just trying to focus on my own pace,” he said of the last 20 laps. “I can’t suddenly go half a second faster so I was just trying to manage the tyres.

“It was all looking quite good, of course but then at the end there was a bit of traffic and as soon as you get within like three seconds you get the disturbed and especially when you are on older tyres that’s not very nice. The last three laps were quite tricky but we managed to hang on so of course very happy with that.

“But the mechanics did an amazing job to fix the car at the start. I don’t know how they did it but yeah, incredible. So to pay them back with second place I’m very pleased with that.”

Mercedes’ dominance continues

It wasn’t another one-two victory for Mercedes, but it could have been.

Such was the performance of the all-black W11 in Budapest that Lewis Hamilton had time to bolt on a fresh set of tyres at the end just to chase the fastest lap. Such decisions aren’t taken lightly given the numerous things that can go wrong in a pit stop, but by that time he was cruising with a lead of over 23 seconds and it almost seemed like a no-brainer to gain the extra point on offer for clocking the fastest lap.

And all this at a circuit that was supposed to suit the Red Bull. That was the narrative going into the weekend, but it was clear fairly early on that the team had problems. Looking at qualifying, Mercedes’ gap to Racing Point on the second row wasn’t really surprising, but the absence of a Red Bull filling it was. Verstappen was the outlier, qualifying down in seventh, while Alex Albon’s ongoing struggles left him 13th.

In the race, the performance of the Red Bull was more in line with expectations and enough to ensure Verstappen kept Bottas behind him in the closing stages. But had Bottas not messed up his start (more on that later) it wouldn’t have been close between the two, and had he been as efficient as Verstappen at cutting through lapped cars in the final stint as he chased down the Red Bull, we may have got the grandstand finish for second place the pace of the Mercedes deserved.

Going to Silverstone, the chances are Mercedes will only extend its dominance over the rest of the field on a circuit filled with the kind of high-speed corners where Red Bull has struggled.

Bottas errors creeping in

If Valtteri Bottas is going to mount a genuine title campaign this year, he can’t afford any more mistakes like the one he made on the grid on Sunday. Starting from second place, he reacted to the rev lights on his steering wheel going out instead of the start lights.

The resulting drop to sixth place by the first corner eliminated his chances of fighting Hamilton for victory and meant he had no one to blame but himself for missing out on second place to Verstappen. The lost three points might not seem like much at this stage (he is now five shy of Hamilton in the drivers’ standings), but in a fight against a competitor like Hamilton you need to maximise every opportunity.

“At the start, I was looking at the start lights, there were the five lights on, so I was just waiting for them to go off, but just before the lights went off something turned on or off and that was all that was needed for me to react, as I thought the lights went off.

“Anyway, I could only half see the start lights because of the halo, in the position I was, so it was an odd situation, that’s all I can explain now. I’m sure we’re going to review all the onboards and what exactly happen and make sure nothing changes in the dash in the future at just the crucial moment, because we don’t want any distractions like that in a sensitive moment.”

Why it wasn’t a jump start

Bottas was lucky to get away without a jump start penalty, but race director Michael Masi explained the movement was within the tolerances allowed by the regulations.

“The means by which a false start is determined is clearly determined in the sporting regs and has been the same process for a number of years, which is the transponder fitted to the car is the judgement mechanism, and there’s a sensor in the road in the track as well.

“There’s a tolerance within that, as we saw in Japan last year [with Sebastian Vettel] that is the determining factor. There was nothing further. We spoke to the timekeepers immediately and they reviewed all the data, and that was the end of the matter.”

Magnussen holds on to Haas’ first point

Kevin Magnussen was one of the standout performers of the race and was as running as high up the order as third at one point. Haas had benefited from a wonderful strategy call ahead of the race, pitting Magnussen and Romain Grosjean at the end of the formation lap to switch to dry tyres.

Every other driver would do the same over the following four laps and when it was all done, the Haas pair were running third and fourth. That pre-race strategy call wasn’t without controversy, however, with Haas called to the stewards for using the radio to communicate with Magnussen and Grosjean.F1’s rules state drivers must drive “alone and unaided” on the formation lap – by breaking this rule, Magnussen and Grosjean got time penalties. For Magnussen, that meant a drop from ninth to tenth. A bit of a kick in the teeth to lose 50 percent of the team’s points, but Haas did not deserve to walk away from the race empty handed and at the very least leaves Budapest with its first championship point of the season.

Magnussen’s joy was plain to hear in his post-race radio message to the pit-wall.

“Can you believe it!? Woooohooohooo! Agghhh, I’ve never been so happy about P9.””Hahaha, good stuff man. Thanks guys. We can do it, we can do it.”

Speaking to race engineer Gary Gannon, the man who had guided him through the race from the pit-wall, he said: “You did amazing, you did everything I needed. I wanna kiss you man!”

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