The Hungarian Grand Prix, held at the appropriately named Hungaroring near Budapest, has been a staple of the F1 scene since 1986, though the very first Grand Prix held in Hungary (prior to the formation of the F1 Championship) was back in 1936. The first race at the Hungaroring had the distinction of being the first F1 race held behind European’s ‘Iron Curtain’, and it has seen some classic races, though the track has its detractors. Sometimes dubbed ‘Monaco without walls’, the venue is noted for few overtaking opportunities, though a number of races have defied this notion. In 1989, well prior to the introduction of DRS, Nigel Mansell qualified 12th in his Ferrari and rose through the field (added by a couple of retirements but not that many) to claim a famous win. A dramatic and emotional race in 2015 (being the first race since the death of Jules Bianchi) saw Sebastian Vettel win (also for Ferrari), in a race that saw action throughout the field.
Meerkat Racing arrived here in good spirits. The car remained the slowest (according to the data), but I’d overcome the car’s deficiencies to score quite a few points, and I was hopeful of more at a track I enjoy. Of course, F1 2021 is not remotely like F1 2009, except for the track! Nonetheless the car felt good in practice, though I was well off the pace, and I made things harder on myself by deliberately using my most-worn engine parts for this high-downforce event (my argument being that with fast tracks coming up at Belgium and Italy, I needed to preserve the engines). This was coupled with a glance at the weather forecast; qualifying looked to be dry but the race itself looked likely to be wet. As a result I could only qualify way down in 16th, marking the first time since Monaco that I’d not reached Q3.
I chose a wet setup, and with the rain falling hard enough to require full wets for the start, this felt like a wise move, though I slipped down a few places with another slow start. From there it was a battle to get by the Alfa Romeo duo of Giovinazzi and Raikkonen – Kimi proved the more stubborn of the pair – but some bravery on the brakes into turn 1 helped me out. I found more pace as conditions eased and inters became the tyre of choice, but the key problem was that the weather was continuing to improve, and when it came time for slicks, I wondered if I’d made a mistake.
In a straight line my car was slow, and whilst I could keep the gap down through the middle sector, I could not get close enough to the car in front to make a move, even when DRS became available. Thus, to creep up the order and take any points, I needed to do something different to my competitors. Thus, having run on soft tyres for my first dry stint, I switched to mediums for the second, whilst those around me kept with the softs. I didn’t believe the softs would go to the end, but the mediums would, and in not making another stop I leapt ahead of several cars and into 9th place. Suddenly I was back in the points, but with the likes of Tsunoda and Vettel, on fresh softs, charging after me.
I had to defend for my life in those final laps, and in the end I was powerless to stop Vettel from getting by, but I held my nerve enough to take 10th, and score a hard-fought, well-earned point. With the race concluded, it was time to bin that particular set of engine parts, as they were well beyond their usefulness.
At the front, Bottas won yet again, beating Hamilton, with Sainz completing the top three. Verstappen retired and so did Lando Norris, and if not for that, I would not have gained the point I won. Bottas now had a margin of three victories over Hamilton, and without a tremendous turnaround in the second half of the season, the Finn would win the title.