January 6, 2023

10 things we learned from the F1’s 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

As we revel in what is continuing to shape up as a classic year for Formula 1, Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix marked a new peak for the season so far.

Complete with a wet start, a red flag, tyre gambles, fights through the field and a tense battle for victory, we couldn’t have asked for much more from F1 in Hungary.

It was somewhat fitting that the man at the top of that peak drives for a team called Alpine. Esteban Ocon’s shock victory at the Hungaroring gave F1 the feel-good result it needed after a turbulent couple of weeks, capitalising on carnage at Turn 1 and a bizarre one-man standing start before holding his nerve at the front.

Here are 10 things we learned from the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix.

1. Ocon’s victory is a lesson in hard work paying off

Esteban Ocon, Alpine F1, 1st position, celebrates on the podium

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Ocon. After a strong start to 2021 prompted Alpine to hand him a three-year contract, his form took a dip and reached its nadir in Austria where he was eliminated in Q1 two weeks in a row.

Unfairly, it led to questions about Ocon’s motivation, and whether Alpine had made a mistake giving him such a long contract so early in the season. Was he really the man to lead its revival and progression?

Those questions were answered emphatically on Sunday. While a number of factors played into Ocon’s favour – the Turn 1 crash; Lewis Hamilton’s tyre call; Fernando Alonso’s stunning defence – he did everything he had to do. He held his nerve for 65 laps at the front to keep the faster Sebastian Vettel at bay.

PRIME: The “heart-breaking” call that led to Ocon’s Hungarian GP triumph

It’s a feel-good win for F1, and proof that Ocon should be discussed in the same breath as the likes of Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and George Russell when hyping up the ‘next generation’.

But it also goes a long way to debunk the myth of F1 being a place where only ‘billionaire boys’ can succeed, to paraphrase Hamilton. Ocon comes from a very humble background, with his family making significant sacrifices to keep him racing. He’s twice seen the team he raced for collapse in F1, and spent a year on the sidelines.

Through all the adversity, Ocon kept the faith. In Hungary on Sunday, it paid off handsomely as he became F1’s 111th grand prix winner.

2. Vettel’s cruel DSQ should not diminish his excellent drive

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, 2nd position, with his trophy

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, 2nd position, with his trophy

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Regular readers of the 10 things column will know that I happily served myself a big helping of humble pie after Vettel’s podium in Baku, having said just two races earlier that Aston Martin’s season was looking like a write-off.

Well, it’s time for another serving, because on Sunday Vettel produced arguably his best drive of the past two seasons, dodging drama at the start before hounding Ocon for victory.

Vettel’s frustration was clear after he took the chequered flag, complaining on the radio that he had been faster but simply could not follow around the tight and technical Hungaroring layout.

In the end, Vettel’s car was found to be short of the one litre of fuel required for an FIA sample, resulting in his disqualification. While Aston Martin has notified the FIA of its intention to appeal the ruling, it is nevertheless a disappointing outcome for the team, especially after Alpine’s big day in the fight for fifth.

Insight: Why Vettel’s fuel sample failure happened and what comes next

All the same, it should not diminish the performance that Vettel put in. He has faced plenty of criticism in recent years for not keeping cool in high-pressure moments, yet through the tricky conditions, he remained composed and delivered the kind of drive ‘old Seb’ would have been proud of.

3. Mercedes faced a lose/lose situation before the one-car standing start

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

There are plenty of moments from the Hungarian Grand Prix that will go down as niche F1 trivia in years to come. But nothing quite topped the bizarre one-car standing start following the red flag.

The stoppage to clear debris following the Turn 1 carnage gave time for the track to dry, but none of the teams thought it was quite ready for slicks, evidenced by the entire field’s decision to leave the pits on intermediates.

But as drivers made their way around the track behind the safety car, most quickly reported that it was time for slicks, prompting 14 of the 15 remaining runners to dive in to make the switch to dry tyres.

Mercedes kept Hamilton out, leaving him to line up on pole on the grid all alone, but soon realised its error. He pitted one lap later, dropping him to last and ending hopes of what would surely have been quite a straightforward victory.

The team couldn’t really win though. It didn’t feel it was quite time for slicks, and had it pitted Hamilton, the train of cars passing in the pitlane would have dropped him back to sixth anyway. Sixth may be better than 14th, but it was still a lose-lose situation for Mercedes.

The fightback from Hamilton was great to watch, particularly when he entered the decisive battle against Alonso that probably cost him the race win. But to leave Hungary back in the lead of the drivers’ championship must be considered as a huge result, even with the caveat of Verstappen racing with “half a car” after being clobbered at Turn 1.

4. Alonso won Alpine the race with his masterful defence against Hamilton

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Fernando Alonso, Alpine A521, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

After Hamilton stopped for mediums and started lapping nearly four seconds quicker than the leaders, it looked like another fightback to victory was on the cards.

That was until Hamilton came up against old rival Alonso, who delivered a defensive masterclass that harked back to his F1 heyday, proving that he is right to the peak of his powers once again.

Vettel had been warned that Hamilton was set to catch him 10 laps from the end. Although Alonso had fresher tyres that the leading duo, it still seemed unlikely that he would be able to keep Hamilton back for very long.

It was at Turns 2-4 where Alonso really made the difference. A known trick at the Hungaroring is to use DRS exiting Turn 1, take the outside for Turn 2, keep your foot in and then you’ll have the cutback on the inside at Turn 3. Verstappen twice pulled this move on Mick Schumacher. 

But Alonso was able to place his Alpine car so perfectly at Turn 2 to prevent Hamilton from getting the line he needed. The Mercedes driver had a look a couple of times at the top of the hill into Turn 4, but knew a move on the outside was too risky.

The rate at which Hamilton caught Sainz and Vettel after passing Alonso proved just how critical that 10-lap dogfight was in stopping his charge to victory. Ocon was quick to credit his teammate’s assist, having celebrated with Alonso in parc ferme, and said for all of the fuss made about the Spaniard’s ability (or lack of) to be a team player, none of it was true.

Alonso came in clutch for Ocon and Alpine in Hungary, and gave us the kind of display that will be filling highlight reels for months to come.

5. Bottas’s Turn 1 mistake spoiled a decent run of form

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, climbs out of his car

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, climbs out of his car

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

With a decision on the second Mercedes seat looming in the summer break, Valtteri Bottas could have really done with signing off from the first half of the season on a high.

Instead, he made his biggest mistake of the season so far, spoiling what has been a decent run of form for the Finn, and only cranking up the pressure from the outside further.

Bottas started poorly before misjudging the braking point into Turn 1, causing him to career into the rear of Lando Norris’s McLaren. Both Red Bulls were also caught up in the incident, leaving team boss Christian Horner understandably frustrated after the race. Bottas was apologetic and took full responsibility for causing the crash, for which he has copped a five-place grid drop for Spa.

It is an error that comes at a time when Bottas appeared to be getting in a good groove, performing at a good level for the last month or so. He was well in the fight for pole in Hungary, and would have surely been a factor in the fight for victory had it stayed dry.

Instead, he missed a big opportunity to capitalise after a clumsy error. Toto Wolff has said it will not have any bearing on the driver decision for next year, but it will have done little to help settle Bottas in a tricky season to date.

6. Williams has taken the next big step in its revival

George Russell, Williams FW43B

George Russell, Williams FW43B

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

It wasn’t only Ocon whose success provided the feel-good vibes in Hungary as Williams finally ended its long, long wait for points.

The team’s worst qualifying of the season – a double Q1 knockout – ironically meant talk of those breakthrough points didn’t arise on Saturday as it has so frequently this year. But once Nicholas Latifi and Russell capitalised on the start drama and moved to the dizzy heights of P3 and P7 for the resumption, points always looked to be on the cards.

Latifi and Russell both drove excellent races, with P7 and P8 (after Vettel’s penalty) a fitting return after two years in the wilderness. It marked the first points since Robert Kubica’s inherited P10 at Germany 2019, and its best result since Brazil 2017.

Russell’s tears in the media pen summed up just how significant the result was for Williams. It has been through the dark times, but after slowly piecing itself back together, it finally took a big result that has been brewing for some time.

The 10-point haul means Williams sits seven clear of Alfa Romeo in the constructors’ championship now – a big gap to overcome before the season is up. Eighth in the constructors may not seem like a big deal, but for Williams, after three seasons as F1’s basement team, it would be huge.

Points was the next major landmark Williams had to reach as it continues its revival. Now, it will want to build on this, and give itself more to celebrate as momentum builds under its new ownership.

7. Red Bull needs to reset over the summer break…

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, and Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, collide at the start

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL35M, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B, and Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes W12, collide at the start

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

A return of just five points across Silverstone and Budapest has seen Red Bull lose the lead of both championships, leaving it in need of a reset heading into the summer break.

On outright pace, Verstappen should have a healthy lead over Hamilton in the drivers’ standings, barring the incidents in the last two races and the failure in Baku that denied him a surefire victory.

But title fights are rarely a case of ‘man with fastest car wins’. There will always be setbacks, requiring drivers to dig deep and recover. The Turn 1 incident was sheer bad luck for Verstappen, but has left him with a hole to dig out of in the second half of the season.

The confidence of having the fastest car might not be quite as strong as it once was, with Mercedes appearing to make a decent step with the Silverstone update. But this still feels like Red Bull’s title to lose.

If it can come back fighting at Spa and, importantly for Verstappen, Zandvoort, then the title will again be in its hands. Champions are formed by how they deal with adversity, meaning the response to the recent disappointment will be critical to Red Bull’s season.

8. …and leave the shambles of how it handled Silverstone behind

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

It’s not only on-track where Red Bull has been suffering lately.

The team waged a fairly aggressive war of words with Mercedes in the wake of Verstappen and Hamilton’s crash at Silverstone, doing little to defuse things even when Mercedes tried to calm the matter.

But it ended in fairly shambolic fashion after the FIA threw out the request to review the case when Red Bull offered no new evidence, but had instead created evidence from the accident in a bid to try and fight its case.

The stewards’ note of “allegations” made by Red Bull – which were did disclosed as the matter was put to bed – also indicates the belligerence shown by the team did not stop even when it came to a formal hearing.

PRIME: How Red Bull endured its second car crash in two weeks

Mercedes was emphatic in its response, saying it hoped the ruling would put an end to Red Bull’s efforts to “tarnish” Hamilton’s name. Sadly, the boos from the orange-clad fans after both qualifying and the race in Hungary show that the damage has already been done.

Yet Red Bull has also seen its own perception and role in this title fight change. Once the underdog that could give some fresh blood to the championship and perhaps end Mercedes’ domination – an attractive proposition to the neutral fan – it has come out of this whole affair very badly.

9. The FIA’s handling of the t-shirt procedure breach seemed needless

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, and Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02, on the grid

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, and Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri AT02, on the grid

Photo by: Jerry Andre / Motorsport Images

Vettel’s advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights throughout the Hungary race weekend was a great statement to make against the country’s discriminatory legislation.

But the decision to keep his “Same Love” rainbow t-shirt on during the national anthem saw Vettel receive a reprimand after the race, along with Bottas, Carlos Sainz Jr and Lance Stroll, who kept their We Race As One t-shirts on.

Michael Masi explained after the race that removing shirts for the national anthem had been discussed earlier in the year – probably leading to the emboldening and underlining of the instruction in the race notes – and that a reprimand was fitting given it was the lowest penalty besides a warning, “which really is not a penalty”.

While it was a procedural breach, the handling of the matter was poor, particularly given how visible Vettel had been all weekend with his statements. Surely the FIA could have pulled all four drivers aside and said, ‘chaps, by the way, can you take off the t-shirts next time?’

Vettel didn’t care though. “They can do whatever they want to me, I don’t care,” he said. “I would do it again.” All power to him for that.

10. F1’s summer break has never felt more necessary

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT02

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT02

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

The summer break is always a welcome period in F1, but this year, it feels more necessary than ever.

We didn’t get a summer break last year due to the delayed start to the season. It means there has been a run of 27 races in 52 weeks – so, fairly non-stop.

The break and shutdown will finally give the paddock a chance to decompress after a hectic start to the year. While we may be entering the break on a high after such a fun race in Hungary, the fact we’re still not even halfway through the year – round 11 of (possibly) 23 – shows the need for everyone to recuperate a bit in the next three weeks.

That said, there’ll still be news bubbling away during the shutdown. Besides the Mercedes driver call, decisions on the rest of the calendar are set to be made towards the end of August, giving us a clearer view of what the season will look at from Spa onwards.

For now though, time to rest…

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, waves to fans

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, waves to fans

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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