Max Verstappen’s win at the Hungarian Formula 1 Grand Prix was arguably one of the best he and his Red Bull team have delivered. Because after the engine problem in qualifying, even the best strategy simulations assumed that Verstappen would only advance from tenth on the grid to fifth.
But in the end it was even enough for first place, which was partly due to the strengths of the team and the driver, but also partly to external factors that were beyond the team’s control. Here are the five key factors.
Rarely has Formula 1 seen an event where temperatures have fluctuated as much as they did over the weekend of the Hungarian Grand Prix. After 34 degrees Celsius on Friday, when Ferrari shone, a change in the weather on Sunday brought a cool 21 degrees Celsius including clouds and drizzle.
This reversal, combined with the rain washing away the surface and leaving a very green track, completely changed the performance of the cars and tyres.
The Ferrari, so strong in the heat on Friday, struggled to get its tires up to temperature on Sunday – and was thrown back as a result. Red Bull, on the other hand, were able to gain ground, mainly because they seemed to have so much pace on the soft and medium tires.
With the drivers quickly realizing that the hard tire was not easy to manage, Red Bull backtracked from their original plan of starting Verstappen on the hard tire and opted for the aggressive soft tyre, which ultimately proved to be the best solution.
On a hotter day he might have started on the hard tires and had to show staying power. Instead he had an early tire advantage and was able to attack straight away.
The Hungaroring has a reputation for being one of the most difficult circuits of the year, alongside Monaco, when it comes to overtaking. Indeed, that earlier characteristic was exactly what Red Bull’s strategy predictions were telling the team.
Expected to spend at least the first quarter of the race stuck in traffic and losing time on the leaders. But with said speed advantage on the softs, the 2022 rules also came into play as overtaking was much easier this time.
Instead of getting stuck behind the Alpine train, Verstappen was able to outpace both Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon on lap seven to catch up with Lewis Hamilton.
When the pair passed Lando Norris on lap twelve, just before the first pit stop phase, Verstappen was just behind the struggling Mercedes and Ferrari rivals, albeit struggling with clutch problems himself.
- Ferrari pace and strategy
The cool weather on Sunday meant that the Ferrari duo Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc struggled with their pace in the race. These difficulties benefited Verstappen – as did Ferrari’s strategic decisions.
Because Scuderia letting their riders start on the medium on a day when the hard tire wasn’t a good choice also meant the team had cornered themselves with their strategy – further hampering their performance.
The best solution for this scenario was to run the first two stints on the medium tires – all top teams only had two sets available – for as long as possible and then switch to the soft compound for a final stint.
However, believing on-track position was paramount in their title fight against Verstappen, Ferrari decided to put Leclerc on the hard tire after their Red Bull rival switched to medium for a second time. They wanted to prevent a possible undercut.
But with the hard tire so difficult to get up to temperature, Leclerc became easy prey and opened the door for Verstappen to take the lead.
Verstappen’s triumph in Hungary wasn’t just down to the weather, strategy and Red Bull’s pace on Sunday. His driving style was also of the highest quality.
In the past, many of his successes have come from amazing speed, aggressive maneuvers and risk-taking. But Hungary was the perfect example of a much more mature Verstappen, able to combine the aforementioned strengths with the ability to be patient.
Verstappen’s start was perhaps one of the most cautious we’ve seen from him, as he was boxed in at the first corner apparently unwilling to take too many risks.
As teammate Sergio Perez went around the outside, Verstappen was in danger of getting stuck behind Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen before the two lost momentum exiting Turn 1 and he passed them.
After that, despite the clutch problems, Verstappen stayed calm, waited until the problem was under control and remained calm when he made a mistake and spun after passing Leclerc for the first time.
When asked how this win compares to other major triumphs for Verstappen, team boss Christian Horner said: “He’s right at the front.”
Despite all the skill that came together in Hungary, the element of pure luck cannot be completely dismissed. As we know, Verstappen had to fight his way up from tenth on the grid due to an engine problem in qualifying.
Although the exact details of the incident have not been released, the team has confirmed that it was a defective component that could not be repaired at the track. For this reason, Red Bull decided to give Verstappen a new third power unit for Sunday’s race.
But as Horner said afterwards, it was probably a stroke of luck that the part that broke failed on the final lap in Q3. Because if it had only lasted two laps longer, the defect would have happened before the race.
“In retrospect, we are grateful that it broke in qualifying,” said the Red Bull team boss. “Another twelve kilometers and it would have happened on the way to the grid.”