By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It’s expected to have a thriller in a Formula One grand prix race 1-2 times a year. This year we’ve seen multiple thrillers, but the Hungarian Grand Prix takes the cake.
Everyone around the world had a glass case of emotions when witnessing the race unfold. The best way to symbolize Sunday’s wacky race that even included one car on the dummy grid is Thalia and Melpomene.
You had your joy and comedic moments (Thalia), but also sad and tragic implications (Melpomene). Each of the 70 laps ran Sunday afternoon felt like a play, but more entertaining and organic.
In my case, “Thalia” represents Alpine Renault and their driver Esteban Ocon winning his maiden F1 race. Two years after being left out in the cold without a ride on the 20-car grid.
Ocon had an amazing drive and impressed how he was able to constantly outpace Sebastian Vettel. I was in the mindset that experience versus relative inexperience would favor Vettel, who had his best drive in a long time.
It didn’t turn out that way as Ocon’s Alpine held off the four-time world champion and ended a 25-year drought of a French driver winning for a French constructor in F1 when Ligier’s Olivier Panis won an attrition plagued Monaco Grand Prix.
To be honest, I’ve questioned Ocon as a competitor during his Force India days which was anything but glorious. Especially, when you consider the incidents with then-teammate Sergio Perez ruined the team’s progress. It was so bad, they were forbidden to race each other.
Sunday showcased Ocon isn’t too shabby of a racer and it was an all-around superb team effort from Alpine. His crew were phenomenal with their lone stop compared to Aston Martin looking like Jeff Gordon’s pit crew throughout the 2010s.
In some cases is what kept Vettel from beating Ocon. At the same time, the Frenchman was more consistent on race speed. When Vettel was gaining a bit of ground, Ocon responded tremendously that he was untouchable.
However, another man that Ocon should and did thank was his teammate and fifth-place finisher Fernando Alonso. Easily, his greatest F1 drive since in nearly a decade after an amazing duel between him and Lewis Hamilton.
Yeah, Hamilton complained about Alonso’s defense but come on, but what you’d expect from him? Especially, when fans dislike him for the opening lap fiasco with Max Verstappen at Silverstone.
Yeah, Alonso hasn’t had the greatest reputation with toxic relationship with teams (Indy 500 efforts included) affect everyone. But for once, put both sentiments aside and appreciate how a battle for fourth was damn fun.
There’s one phrase I really hate saying in other motorsports disciplines and that’s “clean air reigned supreme.”
Kind of did which I’ll look myself to the mirror all day for such opinion, but unlike NASCAR’s much criticized rules package where such phrase is valid, F1 still put on a great product. You still saw battles and race passes but more importantly, it was authentic.
The cars did struggle with dirty air, but keep in mind that temperatures were drastically different on race day. Of course, the cars and tires weren’t going to adapt quite well.
As evident with Lewis Hamilton during the first half of the race when he pitted a lap after everyone else did on Lap 4. To drive the last sentence home, he was the guy alone on the dummy grid. Once he made his stop, Hamilton couldn’t do anything to work his way through the field.
When Hamilton finally pitted, “Hammer Time” kicked into high gear and worked his way up to Alonso, leading up to that showdown. In the end, Sir Lewis won the war in the closing laps and ultimately crossed the line in third.
With Vettel getting disqualified via fuel sampling issues, he was promoted to second and ahead of Verstappen by eight points. Another unforgettable effort from the seven-time champion on what now is THE turning point of this F1 campaign.
Which leads me to my “Melpomene” of the weekend. That dubious honor goes to Red Bull Racing, who had an appalling race once again that wasn’t their fault.
In the eyes of Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, Valtteri Bottas killed their aspirations of victory. I can’t blame them on this one. While the Hamilton-Verstappen ordeal is mostly a racing incident, this one I can’t defend a Mercedes driver.
Weather parlayed the situation, but Bottas literally “punterino’d” Lando Norris, who had an amazing start on the wets. Consequently, the accident eliminated Perez and negatively affected Verstappen’s race.
First of all, I’m not buying the whole Bottas did it to help Hamilton crap. It may look that way, but I will say that was utterly tragic for Red Bull. Slowly but surely, it’s looking like Scuderia Ferrari’s championship downturn from 2017-18 when nothing went right.
The “Vettel Luck” suddenly went to Verstappen like the Monstars stealing talent from the NBA players in Space Jam. Rather than talent abilities being obsolete, Verstappen can’t find luck at all as he was hit by Norris.
Red Bull are now trailing in both drivers’ and constructors’ title battles after looking like it was going to be tough for Mercedes to beat them on race pace. At the moment, luck and fortune is deciding the two titles which is part of grand prix racing. That’s gut punching.
Both Red Bull drivers had nothing to do with the ordeal and yet faced catastrophic outcomes due to Bottas’ poor opener. Bottas did apologize and issued a statement, which I condemned. He impacted the entire grand prix that resulted in him, Perez, Norris, Lance Stroll and Charles Leclerc out of the race.
The latter of the two was a result of Stroll trying to avoid hitting Ocon, which obviously didn’t work out to well for him, Leclerc and Norris’ teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
In all honesty, Bottas created an exciting outcome but also ruined other drivers and teams afternoons. Certainly did ZERO wonders for Bottas’ future at Mercedes which is another reason why I don’t buy that petty theory I alluded to earlier.
I still stand that Bottas’ time with them will end and they’ll usher George Russell, who finally got a top-10 as a Williams Racing driver, in 2022. Time will ultimately tell, but what a day for he and Nicholas Latifi by the way. Double points.
Anyways, Bottas’ destruction resulted him getting a five-grid spot penalty in the next race at Spa-Francorchamps. Justified penalty if you ask me, but I’d imagine the Red Bull camp wanted the FIA to give Bottas a race ban like Romain Grosjean got for his Turn 1 “heroics” at ironically in Spa nine years ago.
All I’ll say is Horner and Marko should stop dwelling on Mercedes’ quote-on-quote antics the past two races. Go into the summer break with a fresh mind and simply prove they’re the team to beat on pure pace again. Dwelling gets you nowhere in F1 or anything in life for that matter.
Sadly, due to the circumstances we’ve now seen lately, they must survive the opening lap to even establish their worth.
At the end of the day, it was a tale of two stories for two constructors that had a dramatic day in Budapest. Alpine had their finest moment while Red Bull had their greatest downturn. All in one race but let’s face the music. Had it not been for Stroll trying to avoid hitting Ocon, we’d be talking about a even totally different race.
Above everything else, we got 12 rounds to go in what’s been a hellacious championship campaign. Who’s to say we’ll see something more compelling that’ll top this dramatic grand prix.