Formula 1’s latest title battle heads to Hungary, but not with the man that top F1 bookmakers thought would be leading the Championship. Once again, the grid and the markets were turned upside down as a thrilling, rain hit German Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton produced one of the drives of his career to rise from 14th (following a hydraulic failure in qualifying) to first, taking an extraordinary win.
To add to that, Sebastian Vettel crashed out, having started from pole, to turn what looked set to be a calamity for Hamilton into one of his best weeks of the Championship and perhaps the most important so far for Mercedes.
Vettel (15/8 to Win the Hungarian GP with Ladbrokes) had been cursing in front until rain hit the track with 25 to go. The downpour only affected part of the track but turned what had been a damage limitation exercise into a potential shot at the win for Hamilton, who was sitting fourth at the time.
There was chaos and confusion for the whole field, Mercedes included, and Vettel was the major victim as he slid on the exit of the stadium hairpin and couldn’t prevent his car from hitting the wall and thus ending the race.
The front runners kept their original tyre choice, but Hamilton was now quickly gaining and was threatening to take at least one place before the last set of stops - Behind Mercedes made a gamble on the rain not spreading across the track, and they were proven right with that call, although there was an even later decision made not to bring Hamilton in for a late pit stop.
Hamilton (10/3 to Win the Hungarian GP with Karamba) cut across the grass to re-join the track and take the lead, having told his team Raikkonen was pitting in front of him – and although he broke the rules, stewards took into account mitigating factors in a chaotic part of the race and issued a reprimand.
The Hungarian is less of a power circuit than most of the European tracks we’ve raced on, with 16 turns and only one real power straight – that being the home straight, and then then it has just 690m at full gas. Many 180-degree corners and few overtaking zones make a strong qualifying and start absolutely crucial especially given that the first turn is a tight hairpin right that requires late braking and a clean exit and there’s a downhill run to Turn 3, a 180-degree left which is off camber.
Balance will also be very important on Turns 10, 11, 12 and 13, a series of medium-high speed left-right-left-right corners. The large amount of breaking involved also puts a large load on tyre wear, a factor which Europe’s heatwave has greatly exacerbated.
This ought to have the slight edge to Ferrari on previous evidence, with Vettel and Raikkonen having looked strong when their cars have been under intense duress from outside elements. With so little between them, luck has begun to play a big part in the outcome of races.
One could say that Vettel crashed out due to driver error but he was in control until the rain started falling – and on one side of the track too, meaning there was no tactical space for a pit stop - and the week before at Silverstone Hamilton clearly had the car to win but lost any chance of that on the third turn before making his way through.
The Ferrari has been faster off the grid still, however, and qualifying better – so at a track where position is so important the red men are just favoured. Kimi Raikkonen is unlikely to be in the conversation much but 16/1 for him at Ladbrokes is a huge each/way price in what can be the fastest car on the grid and he once again rewarded the strategy of backing him each/way last week.
All eyes have been on Mercedes and Ferrari but this circuit is the one that will have suited Red Bull the most all summer so far and they have to be seriously factored in here. The circuit layout brings both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo into the calculations and it’s no surprise that the pair are as short as 7 and 9/2 before practice at Paddy Power, which has led to a rather congested head of the F1 betting market.