As predicted, the two-stop strategy allowed Sebastien Vettel to take victory in his SF-15T on Sunday in Budapest during what was a crazy, mixed up race from start to finish.
The Ferrari driver was able to make use of a poor start from both Mercedes drivers – much like Williams did in Silverstone – from the second row along with teammate Kimi Raikkonen, emerging from turn one with the lead of the race. From then on in Vettel was able to manage the gap to his teammate and Mercedes, who at this point were focusing on Hamilton’s recovery after he went off the circuit on the opening lap and dropped to ninth place.
That excursion ended up losing Hamilton a net 20 seconds to Vettel, as he struggled to overtake in the first 7 laps. From there Ferrari knew they could control the pace, and wanted to go longer on their first set of Soft tyres to minimise their time on the Medium tyre, which they weren’t too keen on running.
Vettel did 23 laps on the Softs along with Raikkonen who went a lap longer, before switching to a new used set. It was at this point we saw Mercedes and Red Bull pit Rosberg and Ricciardo for Medium tyres for the second stint, meaning they had the option to switch to the Soft for the final stint of the race.
However when the Safety Car came out and it was time to pit, Mercedes were unsure that the Soft tyre would last the distance, despite covering it with reasonable lap times in the first stint on similar tyres. Ricciardo meanwhile saved a set of Softs, which meant he was in the best position at the restart in a situation similar to 12 months ago.
The straight line speed of his Red Bull hindered his ability to overtake on the straights however, meaning if he was going to make any moves, they would come from a long way back. Of course that happened, but not without contact with both Mercedes drivers, which briefly sent them both out of the points before they were able to recover some ground with just four laps to go.
Vettel meanwhile seemingly had nothing to worry about at this stage. Even though Kvyat lucked into second and was on the Soft tyre, he had a 10 second time penalty for speeding in the pitlane during the Safety Car pass through earlier, which meant he had to settle for second.
Fourth-placed man Max Verstappen was able to make use of the unscheduled McLaren stop in the middle stint to get ahead of them on track position, and with only Hulkenberg, Kvyat, and Bottas ahead of him he more or less lucked into the fourth place finish after the Force India’s front wing failed and making contact with Bottas at the restart – which the stewards deemed he did enough to avoid.
Teammate Carlos Sainz was running in a commendable ninth place, which would’ve been fifth at the end had he not incurred Power Unit problems. As it turned out that went to Fernando Alonso, who along with Jenson Button managed to make use of their pace on the Soft tyre relative to Lotus and Sauber at the start to gain positions just outside the top ten, before getting within after all the retirements and penalties given to those running in the midfield.
Williams were in no mans land throughout the race, although we didn’t expect them to be strong here anyway due to their lack of downforce. Both their drivers winded up outside the top ten, although they still provided us with some action battling with Sauber at the backend of the field over the scraps.
For Lotus they at least got Grosjean into the points in 7th, whilst Maldonado managed to rack up a hat-trick of penalties. Force India suffered a double retirement in what fast become a weekend to forget after the successful debut of their ‘B-Spec’ car in Silverstone.
And finally down at Manor Marussia, Roberto Merhi finished ahead of Will Stevens for the fourth time this season, after Stevens suffered some problems at the rear of his car which forced him to make a late pitstop and fall behind his teammate, after leading him for most of the race.