It may have been what their head of motorsport, Toto Wolff, called a “crappy day at the office” for Mercedes but, for the fans, his team’s travails in getting their cars off the line quickly have turned the last two races into absolute crackers.
1. Mercedes woe has silver lining for the sport
At Silverstone they recovered from their mugging by Williams, but with the rain also mixing things up it turned into the race of the season. Or at least it did until the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday, which took that honour by a country mile. Mercedes were again beaten off the line, this time by the Ferraris of the race-winner, Sebastian Vettel, and also Kimi Raikkonen, to give the grand prix the perfect opening. What followed was almost too much to keep track of. Countless ballsy overtakes, not least by Lewis Hamilton on Felipe Massa round the outside of turn one, a move that partially redeemed the errors he admitted had cost him a higher finish. Penalties, clashes, controversy and action throughout the field. The sometimes unjust criticism Formula One has endured in the early part of the season for lacklustre action has been thoroughly dismissed by back-to-back thrill-fests. If all it takes to instigate the fun is for Merc to have a poor start fans will be eager to see how they cope when the new starting regulations are applied at the next round in Spa.
2. Ferrari are at full throttle
What a turnaround for the Scuderia. On Friday they had suffered badly in practice with balance and understeer problems. The team principal, Maurizio Arrivabene, said: “On Friday we were struggling a lot and at one stage James Allison [the technical director] said to me: ‘If I have to think about the worst day, today is the worst day in my career.’” In previous incarnations of the team, panic might have been the result. But Arrivabene has brought calm to the squad and they settled down, did their analysis and by Saturday had dialled in the solution. And how well it worked. Vettel was consistently between three- and five-tenths of a second per lap faster than Nico Rosberg and close to Lewis Hamilton’s fastest laps when the latter was running in clean air. They had looked to be going backwards into the clutches of a fast-improving Williams but in Hungary upped their game with aplomb. Arrivabene believes the speed was always there but that running behind other cars was masking the potential because his drivers were having to conserve their tyres in dirty air. “It makes a difference if you find yourself in clean air,” Vettel said. “When following the top two cars we either don’t see them for long, or in other races we are stuck behind so you can’t show the true pace.” Is it enough to challenge Mercedes? Not yet and the next two races, Spa and Monza, will suit the championship leaders. Should Ferrari be able to nip ahead again, though, more wins are on the cards. Raikkonen, however, might have some concerns post-race. His seat is yet to be confirmed for next year amid rumours that Williams’ Valtteri Bottas is to take over, and Vettel had around two-tenths on him per lap.
3. Fellowship of the ring is strong
As a tribute to Jules Bianchi F1 could not have asked for a better race. Not least after what had been an emotional week for the drivers, that so many were investing heart and soul in their sport was something the Frenchman would doubtless have appreciated. As Daniel Ricciardo said: “I drove inspired today.” But equally inspiring was the way the sport honoured Bianchi before the start. F1 can be loud and it can be vulgar. The financial side of the sport sometimes overshadows the racing and the politicking between teams and drivers, while understandable – they are in competition, after all – can be unedifying. The wrangling between the sport’s owners and the FIA is often even worse. Then there is Bernie Ecclestone, who attracts the ire of fans like an Andy Warhol-shaped lightning rod. But fair play to him this weekend. He flew the Bianchi family in to Hungary on a private jet and when the drivers stood with them, arms clasped round one another in a circle on the grid for the minute’s silence, it was F1 stripped of the negatives. Drivers together as one, as human beings, simply honouring their colleague. F1 has a lot of faults but it handled this well. And Bernie? He stood alone, unobtrusively to one side, facing away from the cameras, just another human being paying his respects.
4. Daniel Ricciardo is smiling again
There is nothing quite as infectious as the Australian’s beaming grin and this weekend he found ample reason to treat us. He has been a little out of sorts this season, obviously unhappy with how uncompetitive the Renault engine powering his Red Bull has been but also because his chassis is not offering the same performance as last year. “I don’t think we really know what we need right now or where to find it,” he said after qualifying ninth in Montreal. “We are trying but we are not getting much in return.” Pressure for improved performances from his team-mate Daniil Kvyat, who took a career-best second in Hungary, will not have helped either but Ricciardo seems to have rediscovered real joy in racing these past few days. He started with a blinding spot of qualifying, splitting the two Ferraris in fourth, only three-hundredths of a second behind Vettel, and followed it with a corking race. He won at the Hungaroring last year passing Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in the final laps. He was revelling in being back in the mix at the circuit and at the end, on the quicker soft tyres, had a real shot at the win when he and Rosberg clashed at turn one. The new front wing he required scuppered his assault but it had been a joy to watch and “from the team’s side, it’s been our best weekend yet”, he noted, pearly whites gleaming.
5. McLaren need to deliver at Spa
The team’s woeful season is well-documented and it has not made pleasant reading or viewing for many. Well, bar those who find Ron Dennis to be the optimal attractor of electrical storm-based activity for their anger. But for general fans there is no pleasure to be had in such a great team struggling so. Getting both cars to the finish in the points for the first time this season and closing the gap to Sauber in ninth place (a sentence Ron would doubtless have believed unthinkable until recently) to five points will be seen as a positive but reading too much into that would be premature. The track flattered their car and the thrills and spills up front were what largely contributed to Alonso’s fifth and Jenson Button’s ninth. Which Button acknowledged.
“It was a step forward but we need another step forward if we want to repeat this,” he said. “It is great for us to get points but there was a lot going on. It was a crazy race.” What is key for the team is the next round at Spa. Both the racing director, Eric Boullier, and Honda’s chief officer of motorsport, Yasuhisa Arai, insisted the team’s goal was performance over reliability. They bring their upgraded engine to Belgium and it needs to deliver at least something. Not least because Alonso was bemoaning the current state of F1 over the weekend and hinting he might fancy a change. “With no testing, with these tyres, with these limitations, with the calendar for next year, there is the temptation for other categories,” he said.
This article was written by Giles Richards, for theguardian.com on Monday 27th July 2015 15.07 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010