• INSIGHT: Bonus Storylines from Budapest

A little extra insight into a rollercoaster weekend in Hungary

The importance of mental and physical strength

In the aftermath of a win in Germany that was as emotionally draining as it was brilliant, in Hungary Lewis was asked if he thought he could win again on a track expected to favour Ferrari, because "he was on a roll."

"We're not on a roll!" he shot straight back, explaining that 2018 was the most intense battle and that Mercedes is racing a faster Ferrari.

"Last year it was quite balanced but this year it's swinging in their favour," he added. "The pressure to extract absolutely everything is greater than ever if I want to be number one at the end of the year."

When a contrast was made between some Vettel errors and Lewis' generally mistake-free racing judgement, he was candid, admitting that his qualifying and race starts in 2018 could have been better.

"Nobody's perfect," he said, "Under the pressure I really want to position myself mentally and physically so that I'm the last to crack. That's really my mentality.

"You don't see us away from the track and that's the most demanding thing, keeping your mind in the game from March to November, aiming for 100% every weekend. I can honestly say I haven't been able to do that every time."

If there was anything wrong with his Hungaroring weekend, nobody could find it...

Levelling the playing field

Monaco is perhaps the only circuit at which qualifying is more important than at the Hungaroring.

"You know that," one seasoned observer once noted, "because Thierry Boutsen once managed to hold off Ayrton Senna for 30 laps" - with no disrespect to the Belgian double Grand Prix winner!

Track position is king and Ferrari's pace on Friday and Saturday morning indicated that Lewis and Valtteri would have their work cut out to put their cars on the front row, let alone take pole position.

But then the rain arrived - and in such conditions it would be a brave act to bet against Lewis. His sixth Hungarian GP pole was no formality but the Mercedes drivers knew that they were suddenly in the game.

It distilled down to a straight Q3 shoot-out on Pirelli's Extreme Wet tyre as the rain turned serious. A brilliant Lewis produced a 1m35.658s lap right at the death, just as it looked like Valtteri (1m35.918s) might better him for the second successive year in Budapest qualifying. Both laps were quicker than the Ferraris could manage, with Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel lining up third and fourth.

"The difference today was made by human factors, not the machines," smiled a delighted Toto, no doubt already contemplating the strategic options now unexpectedly open to him on Sunday.

It was the foundation stone for 50 points and two wins in seven days that were, in rugby parlance, 'against the head.'  

Finishing the job

While Lewis and Valtteri's great front-row laps on Saturday had put the team in a strong position, the job still needed finishing. With wets used in qualifying, everyone had freedom of starting compound and all eyes were on the sidewalls as the tyre blankets came off.

Both Mercedes drivers and Räikkönen had opted for UltraSofts while Vettel's Ferrari was on the yellow-walled Soft Pirellis. So, immediately, strategic variation even within a single-stop race strategy that was predicted to be fastest.

Ferrari had put Räikkönen on the UltraSoft in the hope that he might be able to split the Silver Arrows on the run to Turn 1, while putting Vettel on the Soft for added flexibility. Mercedes needed to convert that all-important front row lock-out and did just that as Vettel came around Räikkönen's outside at Turn 2 to run third.

Conventional wisdom suggested that Lewis would make good his escape at the front while Valtteri kept his distance to conserve his tyres and make Vettel's task all the harder, and that's the way the first part of the 70-lap race developed, Lewis opening out a 3.5s margin over the first five laps.

Ferrari made the first significant move when they pitted Räikkönen early on lap 14 from fourth place, 4s behind Valtteri. This forced the team to respond to protect against the undercut, meaning 55 laps on a set of Softs to the end for Valtteri if he was going to make it with just the one pit visit.

When Valtteri pitted, Vettel's second-placed Ferrari was 8.7s behind Lewis's leading Mercedes and on a clear track for the first time. It was on the harder tyre of course and the gap stayed pretty consistent. Vettel would obviously run a longer opening stint and be on the faster UltraSofts at the end. Tension was building...

The team extended Lewis' opening stint for as long as his lap times were competitive and pitted him on lap 25 for fresh Softs, car No.44 pitting out 13s behind Vettel's now-leading Ferrari. Valtteri was a further 8s down with Räikkönen another 3s in arrears.

Worth noting was that Valtteri was not going quite as quickly on his fresh Softs as Vettel was on his starting set. Which suggested two things: first, there was less degradation on the Soft than might have been expected in the blistering 60-degreee track temperature heat. Second, it looked as if the Ferrari may have two or three tenths pace advantage. Lewis still had a fight on his hands at this stage.

Vettel's pit stop was key. Ideally, he wanted to get to around lap 40 to leave just 30 laps on Ultras to try and close down Lewis. On lap 30 he had a fairly comfortable pit window over Valtteri's third place (23s against the necessary 21s), but then he hit traffic. The blue flags and back markers were not kind to him and, on lap 37, the gap was down to 21.8s - marginal! This was an unexpected bonus for Mercedes and Valtteri was told to push.

Successive quick laps from No.77 meant that when Vettel's front left did not locate properly and he was stationary for 4.2s, the Ferrari, crucially, came out behind the No.77 Mercedes.

Vettel at this stage was 9s behind Lewis, who was on the slower Soft tyre, with 30 of the 70 laps still to run. The Ferrari needed to negotiate Valtteri quickly, before the edge went off Vettel's UltraSofts. He couldn't. Not for another 25 laps!

"That's the best race so far from Valtteri at Mercedes," proclaimed a beaming Toto after the race.

Valtteri probably did not agree after he ended up fifth. As his tortured Softs finally started to go away, Vettel accelerated alongside out of Turn 1 and chopped across into Turn 2. Valtteri resisted for all his worth but couldn't get the car stopped on the dirty inside line and damaged his nose against the left rear of the Ferrari. Räikkönen followed his team mate through and Valtteri was left to try to fend off a charging Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull.

The Australian went around the outside into Turn 1 on lap 67, Valtteri ran deep into the corner on the inside line once again and, with his worn tyres and damaged front wing, made contact with the side of the Red Bull. Ricciardo finally made it by on the last lap and Valtteri earned a 10s penalty for his defensive efforts. Happily, it didn't demote him further.

"Valtteri deserved to finish second," Toto opined. "The term 'wing man' doesn't do him any justice but he did a perfect job today and drove in a sensational way. Lewis also drove a perfect, spectacular race!"

Lewis beat Vettel by 17s on a track that was expected to suit Ferrari and at which the red car's dry weather pace was quicker. Would Vettel have caught Lewis had he cleared Valtteri at his pit stop? He would probably have caught him, but passing would likely have been a different matter.

After two fantastic battling wins in seven days, there is a feel-good factor to take into the summer break: Lewis has extended his Drivers' championship lead to 24 points over Vettel and the team has a 10-point advantage over Ferrari in the Constructors' Championship. Happy holidays - see you at Spa on August 26!