Formula 1

Mika Häkkinen on McLaren’s “exceptional start”, Ferrari’s “difficult moment”, and Verstappen’s chances in Hungary

July 13, 2020January 6th, 2022

VALTTERI Bottas did everything required in order to maintain his lead in the Formula 1 World Championship with a second place finish yesterday, but this time it was Lewis Hamilton’s turn to win, the reigning World Champion following a very strong qualifying with a dominant lights-to-flag performance in the race.

I suspect we are going to continue to see Mercedes winning, for at the moment only the Red Bull Honda of Max Verstappen is anywhere close to their performance. Max’s team mate Alexander Albon is not quite on the same level so it leaves one Red Bull to fight two Mercedes.

Normally Ferrari would be in the middle of this fight, but not at the moment. These are worrying times in Maranello, not helped by drivers making mistakes.

I experienced a first lap collision with my team mate in Austria, back in 1999 when David Coulthard came up the inside into Turn 2 and pushed me into a spin. It’s never good to collide with a team mate, but at least on that occasion we were both able to continue and finish on the podium.

Unfortunately the collision between the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel at the same corner on lap one on Sunday led to both cars retiring from the race. I said before that this delayed start to the F1 season would lead to drivers and teams making mistakes, but Charles had no chance of overtaking Sebastian into that corner when he was so far behind when they entered the braking zone. 

This was a mistake. It was professional for Charles to publicly apologise to Sebastian and the team, but the important thing will be for him to learn from it.

This was a mini disaster at a race where Ferrari were hoping to evaluate new floor and front wing developments over the course of 71 laps. When your car is not competitive – and there is no testing allowed during the season – you have to use the race to gather data, evaluate updates and help the team’s engineers to learn how the car is working. Ferrari now finds itself in fifth place on the team’s championship after two races. 

This is a very difficult moment for the Italian team. After a very strong result for Carlos Sainz in qualifying, it was always going to be difficult for the McLaren driver to stay in front of Valtteri Bottas during the race. The Mercedes is a quicker car, and Valtteri did a good job to overtake on lap six. From fourth place on the grid he knew that he had to focus on catching Max Verstappen.

The first indication of the pressure Valtteri was putting on Max came when the Red Bull pitted before Mercedes in an effort to preventing an undercut. When we entered the final 15 laps of the race it became clear that the Finnish driver was going to mount a strong attack. Not only did Valtteri have tyres that were 10 laps younger than Max’s, but the Red Bull driver had picked up a little damage on the front right hand wing.

The precision with which you drive each lap is so important, particularly when you have some very high kerbs. Max must have just touched a kerb, but it was enough to cause some damage and affect the car’s aerodynamic performance.

It was really good to see Max defending so well against Valtteri on lap 67, but ultimately there was nothing that he could do to stop the Mercedes taking P2 from him. You could sense Max’s frustration.

For the second race in succession McLaren’s Lando Norris provided one of the most outstanding performances, and again he saved the great excitement for the end of the race. This was helped by a really good race strategy, running 39 laps on the soft compound tyres, which meant he had fresh tyres towards the end.

With two laps of the race to go he was running in eighth position behind Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault and Lance Stroll’s Racing Point, but he was able to overtake both of them and, on the final lap, pass Sergio Perez whose car had been damaged in a small collision with Alex Albon’s Red Bull.

This kind of opportunism is great to see, for it shows that Lando has the mentality of never giving up and going flat out to the finish. It really added to the excitement on Sunday, and with team mate Carlos finishing ninth it meant another strong points finish for McLaren.

McLaren now holds second place in the team’s championship behind Mercedes, while Lando is third in the World Championship for Drivers. This is an exceptional start to the season by my former team.

We now turn our attention to Hungary next weekend, a different kind of track from Austria and one which Lewis Hamilton has mastered. He has won there seven times, including in his first season back in 2007 and also for the last two years. Following his victory on Sunday, he will arrive at the Hungaroring focused on another win. 

This is a twisty track where overtaking can be difficult, so pole position is very important. Valtteri will need to push hard to try and claim pole. He will know that if Lewis secures it, beating him and retaining the World Championship lead will be much harder, while a victory for Valtteri would be ideal prior to his British team mate heading home to Silverstone for the next two events.

Last year Max Verstappen claimed pole position in Hungary and was able to lead the race until lap 66, but Lewis had been able to take a fresh set of tyres and overtake him. There is some hope, therefore, that Red Bull can again give Mercedes a fight. Let us hope so.

Behind these teams we will again see very good battles for the other championship points, and we will all wait to see whether Ferrari can bring some performance to their car. Formula 1 needs to see the red machines back in contention as soon as possible.