The dust has now settled on the 30th Hungarian Grand Prix, its result sending a warning shot across the bow of Mercedes as they enter the F1 summer break. For many teams and their fans, it was a day of success, relief and frustration. It was also a day reflection and sadness as everyone remembered Jules Bianchi. So for many, the enforced summer break comes at what seems like an appropriate time. However the excitement and emotion of the day for me is still very much present, three days after the race.
Our journey to the Hungaroring got off to a great start when we bumped into former Sauber, Benetton and Jaguar driver Johnny Herbert at the airport. Like us he was on his way to Budapest for the race and we had a quick chat whilst queuing for our flight. His money was on a Lewis Hamilton victory and he expected Williams to struggle (after I had suggested they might threaten after their initial strong showing at the British Grand Prix). Obviously Johnny didn’t back the winner this time but he was right about Williams… they did struggle. Our brief chat completed, Johnny agreed to a quick photo which was cool. I was in proper fan mode as my beaming grin demonstrates. So it was a fine start to our F1 adventure. We later spotted Martin Brundle at the other end in Budapest airport but didn’t get an opportunity to chat. However it did confirm one thing, F1 fever was building!
At this stage I feel I have to admit that prior to last weekend, I had never been to a Grand Prix before. My reason for this is simple… I just never got around to it. With that weight lifted off my shoulders and my motorsport conscience now clear, I can tell you that on race day itself, the excitement really was building. There was a real sense of occasion at the Hungaroring, made that bit more special by the fact it was the 30th Grand Prix to be hosted at the track since its debut in 1986. Our tickets turned out to be rather good ones too as we had seats in the final grandstand at the end of the main straight, just before Turn 1. The Hungaroring is a notorious circuit for being difficult to overtake, with Turn 1 providing drivers the only real passing opportunity in the race. As a result Turn 1 has witnessed much drama and excitement in the past and on this occasion it did not disappoint.
While there was a great deal of excitement and passion on display, especially from a very vocal group of Finnish Kimi Raikkonen fans, it was a day filled with emotion after the passing of Jules Bianchi just ten days before the race. Watching the big screen opposite our seats, we looked on as the drivers and members of Bianchi’s family formed a circle for a minutes silence around his race helmet. It was a very emotional and poignant moment and a fitting tribute. We also witnessed a special moment when Alonso, one of the last drivers to leave the circle, hugged Bianchi’s brother. Alonso was the closest of all the drivers to Bianchi so the emotion of the moment was very clear to see.
Moving on to the race itself, it must have been difficult for the drivers to regain their focus which probably explains the false start when Filipe Massa was out of position on the grid. After the cars had made their way round the track and repositioned themselves once again, the race was finally on. From our seats it was hard to see back up the track to the start line so our view was a mixture of watching the big screen directly opposite, whilst keeping an eye on the right. As the lights went out we expected to see both Mercedes charge off the line but quickly realised, as the crowd around us roared, that there were in fact two red cars charging for Turn 1. Ferrari had beaten Mercedes to the first corner! The crowd went wild! Some how Hamilton and Rosberg had messed up their race starts, again! It was epic stuff!
The cars roared past, tyres squealing and smoking as the drivers fought for the best line into the corner. Vettel had taken the lead, Rosberg was just behind in second with Raikkonen along side him and Hamilton fourth. And with that they were gone, zooming off behind the trees to the far side of the circuit. Behind the trees Raikkonen had managed to squeeze out Rosberg to take second place with Hamilton struggling as Bottas in the Williams put him under pressure. Moments later Vettel and Raikkonen flew past us again with Rosberg trailing them. But where was Hamilton? We quickly realised watching the replays on the big screen that he had gone off onto the gravel and dropped to tenth place! More cheers from the crowd followed. It was pretty clear our area was full of Ferrari fans with a few shouts of support for Hamilton just about audible.
As the laps went by, I noticed that the rush from the start of the race was still there. Even as the positions started to settle with Ferrari comfortably holding onto first and second place, there was a real buzz in the air. Perhaps it was the sense of an upset on the cards. For me it was just being there, watching the cars zoom past at speed. It was the whine from the engines and the gearboxes as the drivers rapidly downshifted into Turn 1 and then burying the throttle and upshifting with the same rapidity. And it was the smell of the brake dust that started to permeate the air. I thought to myself “I’m really enjoying this”. All the cars had a very deep sound to their V6 engines as they made their way through the corner at low revs. Off all the cars though, the McLaren Honda sounded very very rough, the kind of sound that makes you wonder if theres something wrong with the car. Despite the McLaren sounding like it had a hole in its exhaust, the rest of the cars sounded even better than on TV. While many have criticised the sound of the V6 unit saying its not the same as the old V8s, I personally thought they sounded pretty good.
With Ferrari looking very comfortable with their lead, Turn 1 produced some more drama as Maldonado collided with Perez, shoving the Force India aggressively over the kerb and in to a spin. For a brief moment it looked like Perez might be going upside down again but the car stayed the right way up this time. It wasn’t long however before there was more drama yet again at Turn 1. On lap 43, right in front of us, Hulkenberg’s front wing suddenly collapsed and disintegrated showering the track in carbon fibre. His car shot past in a cloud of tyre smoke as he desperately tried to stop it. We all knew it looked serious as the only thing waiting at the other end was the tyre wall. The whole stand gasped as the inevitable happened and the Le Mans winner slammed into the tyres. Everyone waited as the stewards rushed to the car. From our position we were just about able to make out Hulkenberg getting out of the car. He looked ok! A huge sense of relief!
As the stewards removed the stricken Force India, our attention turned to the Safety Car which hadn’t yet been deployed. Instead the Virtual Safety Car was in use. After what seemed like an age, the real Safety Car was finally sent out. With the cars now safely out of the way the track stewards rushed to clean the debris, cheered on by the crowd. The immediate expectation was that the Safety Car presented a superb opportunity for Mercedes to immediately close up on Ferrari. That indeed was the plan but it didn’t really work for Hamilton. He had a terrible restart which allowed Riccardo to get ahead into Turn 1. Hamilton ran wide and collided with the Australian, damaging his own car in the process. It just wasn’t happening for him. We also realised in the chaos of the restart that Raikkonen was passed by Rosberg with ease which suggested the Ferrari had a problem. This was confirmed when the Finn was forced to retire the car on lap 54. A frustrating end to the race after what looked like a guaranteed podium finish.
With so few laps remaining the pressure was now on Hamilton to try and recover and get into the points as it looked like Rosberg was going to hold onto second place. Hamilton was clearly pushing his car to the limit, smoking the tyres on what looked like every corner. At this late stage of the race one would have thought the drama was over. Not so! On lap 64, Turn 1 yet again lived up to its reputation as Riccardo braked late into the corner and ran wide, allowing Rosberg to jump ahead of him. However the manoeuvre lead to the Red Bull’s wing clipping the Mercedes rear tyre. Rosberg had a puncture! More drama! It was all happening and right in front of us as well. The chaos meant that Kvyat was now second with Riccardo third. A double Red Bull podium was now on the cards. Vettel of course was still in first place having driven a superb clean race. And so at the end of lap 69, Vettel crossed the line to claim his first ever Hungarian Grand Prix.
And with that, my first F1 experience was over. The Hungarian Grand Prix was a brilliant spectacle with some excellent racing and our seats couldn’t have been better. You could say we were almost spoiled by the amount of action that took place at Turn 1. It really was non-stop! It was a fantastic result for Vettel and Ferrari, causing a big upset and unseating Mercedes from their recent run of dominance. It was also the strongest finish for Red Bull so far this season with Kvyat getting his first ever podium finish. As for Hamilton and Rosberg it really was a race to forget. Yes they both finished in the points but not in the positions they had qualified in. Ferrari’s victory was also fitting tribute to Jules Bianchi who was destined to be a Ferrari driver. Vettel’s dedication to him as he drove his victory lap was very moving.
Also very fitting was the fifth place finish for Bianchi’s friend Fernando Alonso. After having his McLaren Honda fail in qualifying and then pushing it in vain back to the pits, the Spaniard deserved some luck. And luck was on his side as he took advantage of the race chaos. After an emotional day, he will be glad he got the McLaren home in one piece and into the points. And so we take a break in the F1 calendar. After the events of the past two weeks, all the teams and drivers will be thankful of the opportunity to reflect on the first half of the season and refocus on the remaining nine races. As for me, did I enjoy my first ever Grand Prix? Yes! Will I go again to the Hungarian Grand Prix? Yes! Now, roll on Spa in twenty two days time!