Red Bull made excellent strategy calls as Verstappen won the Hungarian Grand Prix from 10th on the grid. But underlying it all was Verstappen’s pace advantage. As his rival Carlos Sainz observed, “If you don’t have the pace of the car, strategy can’t really help you much.”
Ferrari, for the only time this season, did not have the rhythm of the car. This difference between Verstappen and an out-of-form Ferrari – which had been dynamite in the hot conditions on Friday, with the biggest advantage over the field seen all season, but which fell far from its ideal point when the conditions became 20°C cooler on Saturday and Sunday – made Red Bull’s strategic task much easier.
As Verstappen’s pace and Red Bull’s strategic calls combined to put Ferrari in a corner, he ran out of viable answers. Putting Leclerc on the hards in his second stop was deemed a post-race mistake, but it was a Verstappen-forced decision. The only alternative was to immediately go to Verstappen and keep running – as Leclerc wanted to do – to at least get into the soft later. Or to adapt to the hard. Because with 31 laps to go, the soft was a no-no, lacking anything resembling the required range.
Sainz did a great job of making his second set of mediums last 31 laps – late enough to get him on the softs for the final 23 laps – but even then his softs were fading quickly by the end. As he said, the relative pace of the cars was the main reason for the Hungarian events. When all three cars are performing to their potential, the Red Bull and Ferrari are consistently equal on race day and about 0.5 seconds faster than Mercedes. Here the Red Bull was its usual 0.5sec faster than Mercedes, but the Ferrari was only as quick as the Merc (slightly faster on the mids, slower on the softs).
Ferrari dropped the ball in how they anticipated setting up in cooler conditions. Normally this would have been discovered during FP3 on Saturday, but this session was watered down. The bad surprises therefore only appeared in qualifying. Second and third on the grid don’t look disastrous on paper, but in reality they were overqualified by a car (George Russell’s Mercedes) which is typically 0.5 seconds slower and moreover, neither Red Bull n was there in Q3 to further punish Ferrari. . It was also entirely possible that, had it not been for Hamilton’s DRS failure in Q3, he too could have been in front of the red cars. It was 2-3 on paper for Ferrari, but only factors beyond their control prevented it from being 5-6. For a team that expected to qualify a comfortable 1-2 around a track layout perfectly suited to their car, this was an alarming result.
But in this performance context, Verstappen’s inevitable rise to the front was actually quite seamless and didn’t require him to unleash Red Bull’s best performance for an extended period. The devastating pace was only seen on the laps of the first two decisive undercuts – which were easy calls to make with no pressure from the back, the first taking him past Hamilton, the second ahead of Russell. This second stop also forced Ferrari’s hand on Leclerc.
The panel below compares exit towers – not strictly identical as not everyone goes for an undercut on their exit towers. But the difference in pace is huge, confirming Red Bull’s performance advantage.
In reality, Verstappen completed his first stint mostly stuck behind the Alpines. On the second lap, he was nursing an overheating clutch and was ordered to pull away from Sainz. During the third stint, he took the lead and only had to watch the gap to second. So it was only around the exit laps that the blistering pace really showed and that’s when positions were won and fatal pressure was applied to Ferrari. Had Ferrari had their usual pace, they would have been too far down the road for Verstappen’s undercuts to have taken him up front.
How the towers compare
Verstappen 1m 40.2 (tower 17 mediums)
Leclerc 1m 41.7 (tower 22 mediums)
Perez 1m 43.1 (tower 19 mediums)
hamilton 1m 43.1 (tower 20 mediums)
Russell 1m 43.4 (17 medium tower) But 2sec delay when stopping so a corrected 41.4
sainz 1m 44.3 (18 medium tower) But a delay of 1.7sec when stopped so 42.6 corrected
Verstappen 1m 39.4 (tower 39 medium)
Russell 1m 42.2 (lap 40 meds, slowed down by Pérez)
Perez 1m 42.5 (tower 42 medium)
hamilton 1m 42.7s (lap 52 softs)
sainz 1m 43.1 (tower 47 soft)
Leclerc 1m 45.3s (lap 40 hard)