Here’s what to look out for in Formula 1’s 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix…
All eyes on the start
After what happened on the opening lap last time out at Silverstone, what happens at the start will be even more interesting to watch. Max Verstappen has been quick to shut down the media for their constant questions about the incident with Hamilton at the British Grand Prix as F1’s two titans are set to go head-to-head at the start again.
The tight and twisty nature of the Hungaroring makes the start crucial. Nicknamed ‘Monaco without the barriers’, track position is incredibly crucial and after qualifying third, Verstappen knows he has to make a mark at the start.
While Bottas sits between the two title rivals, Verstappen starting on the clean side of the grid with soft tyres which ought to give you a five to six-metre advantage off the line – according to Hamilton – the Dutchman can be a serious factor on Lap 1.
No doubt Mercedes will be wary of Verstappen so don’t be surprised if Hamilton deliberately ensures Bottas gets a tow down into Turn 1 to give him the buffer he needs to go on and claim a record ninth victory in Hungary.
The start will likely determine the outcome of the race so expect fireworks.
Red Bull’s soft tyre gamble
One interesting element to the race is Red Bull’s decision to start on the softer compound. Granted, it was forced upon it due to the midfield also opting for softs in Q2 but strategic variation tends to spice up the races should there be a lack of on-track action.
Not only will the soft tyre give the Red Bulls an advantage off the line, but Pirelli’s Mario Isola also reckons, at least on paper, the two-stop strategy is faster.
“The drivers starting on the medium tyre have more flexibility, which could bring them a benefit, but a two-stopper is slightly quicker than a one-stopper on paper, which means that the drivers who start on the soft have every possibility of doing something different – with a wide range of tactical options available,” Isola said after qualifying.
While the medium tyre is a better tyre to start on should Verstappen remain in touching distance of Hamilton, or is stuck behind Bottas, Red Bull can just pull an undercut and Mercedes force to cover it off, eradicating any potential strategic advantage.
We saw in 2019 when Mercedes converted Hamilton to a two-stopper to get past Verstappen on track and with temperatures expected to be in the mid-30s again, it could be the way to go.
Will Gasly hold onto ‘best of the rest’
Pierre Gasly continued his run of impressive qualifying performances as he beat Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc to fifth on the grid. The AlphaTauri driver has made Q3 at every race this year except the Spanish Grand Prix back in May.
Gasly conceded after qualifying that AlphaTauri’s race pace isn’t on a par with Ferrari or McLaren, but he remains confident of fending them should he make a good start.
“On long runs, we seem to struggle a little bit more,” Gasly said after qualifying. But on a track like Budapest, the track position is so important because it’s so hard to overtake, so I think the key for us will be to get a good start. And then from there try to hold onto that fifth position.”
Gasly has only finished inside the top six once in 2021 – his podium back in Azerbaijan. The Frenchman often out-performs in qualifying before settling into his correct position, often behind the leading quartet, Norris and Leclerc.
Leclerc is confident Ferrari will have the race pace over its rivals but as we’ve mentioned several times already, track position is king in Hungary.
A potential snoozefest
Well the Hungarian Grand Prix never tends to be a classic in terms of action, strategy could make it finely-poised at the front. Rain fell in the morning, washing away all of the rubber on track.
With less rubber on the track, there will be not as much grip and thus lead to more tyre degradation, potentially forcing teams into a two-stop strategy. Should Mercedes maintain its 1-2 in the first corner then it should be a comfortable afternoon for Hamilton – similar to 2018 where Bottas fended off the Ferraris for the opening half of the race.
Although, there’s potential for a repeat of 2019 should Red Bull have the race pace and boldness with strategy. Don’t expect a classic but there’s still potential for an interesting grand prix, especially with rain in the air.