Hungary didn’t produce the most interesting race of the season, but it did give us some storylines to talk about ahead of the mid-summer shutdown.
Lewis Hamilton emerges from this weekend as the championship leader, with just six points separating him from Nico Rosberg. At the start of the season I certainly thought Nico was on a roll that would be hard to stop. His form was the best I’ve seen yet; coming off the back of his wins in 2015 then continuing to lead by over 30 points by the Austrian Grand Prix.
But as Hamilton has gained more and had more luck come his way – finally taking his second win in Monaco after many years of unsuccessful attempts – the all-important wins have yielded the points he needs in order to reignite his championship challenge.
Rosberg will be keen to win at his home Grand Prix, that is if he gets any sort of support. Last time we came to Germany in 2014 the grandstands were empty for most of the weekend, something which could only be attributed to the rise in ticket prices that year in order to offset the increase in race-hosting fees.
Make no mistake, motorsport has a massive following in Germany. But when the price to watch their team in this year’s Euro league is cheaper than a grandstand ticket at Hockenheim, you can see why this year might not be that much different.
When you look back on where points are lost during a season by championship contenders, the biggest loss is usually in the races where they have finished outside of the podium or been knocked back as a result of a penalty.
Rosberg has had two of those already; Monaco and Silverstone. The latter was down to the updated radio rules whereby teams can’t coach drivers even if there is a potentially terminal issue with the car.
One of the standout points of the last couple of races has been drivers and team principles alike criticising the (not really new because they were introduced in 2014) updated rules, which effectively stop problems like brake issues and terminal failures from being fixed while out on track.
In the case of Rosberg and Jenson Button this weekend, the stewards took issue with the instruction relating to how the driver should handle the gear shifting. In the first instance it caused some confusion over what the actual penalty was for, so the stewards decided to make an amendment which forced drivers to pit if they wanted the team to relay specific instructions in order to rectify the problem.
Sounds reasonable when you consider that a car with a potential problem should take to the pits in order for it to be fixed. But when you look at Button’s case, whereby a simply switch of the dials on the Playstation controller steering wheel allowed him to emerge just five seconds off the man in 21st having made a pit stop, you wonder if a drive through which caused him to be lapped was really the right course of action.
Although he ended up retiring with an oil leak problem, McLaren had the pace to at least get Button back into a position where he could challenge for points. Instead he was confined to cruising around in what looked like another ‘test’ session for the team as it rushes to catch up to the 2016-spec engines.
I wouldn’t blame Button for coming away from last weekend, wondering if he wanted to spend his future in Formula 1 with all the speculation around what he is going to do next year. It’s what eventually drove Mark Webber to switch to WEC, where drivers can consult the race director, directly from their car if they wanted.
For me this is too complex for the average joe to understand. As a passionate fan I don’t want to have to explain the rules constantly throughout a race to a novice, only for them to ask me ‘why?’ two hours after the race started. I’ve only really thought the “Where can I improve?” or “What is my team mate doing?” messages are the ones the stewards should police, rather than handing out penalties for issues which are just too complex for the drivers to solve while potentially heading towards the scene of their own accident.
The upcoming F1 Commission meeting should have the title “Back to Basics” somewhere on the agenda, otherwise I fear this sport is going to get itself into a rather embarrassing situation.
At least the interests of the fans will be a topic as the teams are set to re-evaluate the rules regarding Safety Car starts. After the farce of the British Grand Prix, some sort of rethink was needed in order to not rob fans of the iconic five lights sequence – especially since it looked like Red Bull could’ve challenged Mercedes in the conditions.
Speaking of Red Bull, another topic of the race was Max Verstappen’s defensive driving. I didn’t really take any issue with it. Yes, it was on the limit of what constitutes as more than one change of direction, but more in the sense of how Michael Schumacher used to get away with his rather dubious methods of staying in front of his competitor.
Max has a good sense of where he needs to place his car, in order to maximise his defence on the exit of a corner. For most drivers it takes several laps before they can attempt any sort of attacking move, but by that stage Max already has it covered – likely taking inspiration from the laps he spent behind the Fin in the previous stint.
Savvy driving, although his team mate still finished ahead of him on the road for the first time since switching to the big boy team.
Some not-so-savvy driving meanwhile came from Jolyon Palmer. That pit crew race between the Renault and Force India mechanics was probably the best moment of the race for me. Both under pressure, but it was the excellent men at Enstone who produced a stop good enough to get Palmer out ahead of Nico Hulkenberg.
But it was short lived when he spun on the exit of Turn 4, throwing away what could’ve been his first points finish in Formula 1. He can be forgiven of course, that car does look like a handful out there. But given his future isn’t secure with Esteban Ocon lingering in the background, this doesn’t do the 2014 GP2 champion any favours.
The troubled Renault team look to be on some sort of course now that Frederic Vasseur has taken up the role as team principle and Cyril Abiteboul has been sent back to Viry-Chatillon to focus on those operations.
At the time of writing, Ferrari have just announced that they will part ways with James Allison after spending a year and a half at Maranello. This is of course due to the complications in his personal life since his wife died earlier this year. But with his reduced involvement, it does explain the recent form of the team since the start of the season.
It is widely believed that Allison will return to Enstone if another team like Force India or McLaren doesn’t end up poaching him before. But the option to take a sabbatical is also there, as he sorts out his personal life.
I should imagine most of the teams will be shutting down early this year given the intense work schedule they’ve just had between June/July. Talks of the race dropping to 19 next year are on the cards, although realistically it looks like it could still be 20 races if Monza/Germany doesn’t happen or the planned Las Vegas Grand Prix takes shape.
Photo Credit: XPB Images