It was key for Lewis Hamilton to have a perfect race in the 2018 Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix to build a healthy points advantage to rival Sebastian Vettel before summer break.
The Mercedes team on the whole started on the backfoot as both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas suffered through lack of rear grip which affected their on track performance. They were easily the third best team behind Ferrari and Red Bull Racing on Friday.
The wet qualifying played into their hands to give Hamilton a pole and Bottas a front-row position, while Ferraris were relegated to the second row and the Red Bull drivers were totally out of contention.
On Sunday though, Mercedes dominated the proceedings especially with Hamilton winning by a good margin to create a 24 points advantage. The British driver though was helped by Bottas holding up Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
In the middle of the race, it seemed like Vettel on the different strategy to Hamilton could have beaten the British driver towards the end of the race, but he lost few seconds before his pit stop which eventually cost him the chance to come out in front of Bottas.
That certainly helped Hamilton to keep his lead without the challenge. In fact, he revealed he had to push as well on his first stint to create that gap so that Vettel is not closer in his second stint. “The tyres converge,” he started.
“If you draw a line of the tyre life you’ve got the ultrasoft which starts quickest and it drops off at a certain point. There’s a crossover between the soft and the ultrasoft and then there’s the medium which is way off, it’s a terrible tyre. I think somewhere around Lap 8, the soft tyres is going to be faster than the ultrasoft.
“I was taking it quite easy on my tyres at the beginning. I was able to get that gap to Valtteri. I think it was to something like eight seconds. By the time he had pitted, and Sebastian had got clean air, then I was able to react to the times that he was putting in.
“So we were matching times, which, as I said, the team and we definitely didn’t expect. Because, as I said, there’s usually that crossover – but I was able to match his times for a good period of time and that’s really what made the race.”
Meanwhile, elaborating the set-up changes which helped Mercedes to challenge Ferrari in the race trim, he said: “From Friday to Saturday I made a big car change. The balance that I steered towards, I made a big change in P1, because I was uncomfortable with it.
“It’s difficult to make change in P1 because you have to wait for the track to come to you rather than chase the set-up. I straight away made a big change and I tried to pursue that direction but by the time I got to the end of P2 I realised it wasn’t the right direction.
“So, I had to pull back and go another way. We had a bit of running in P3 but the car still wasn’t perfect. And then it rained. I didn’t make any changes but I knew that Valtteri had had good P2 running and we weren’t too far off in the direction that we ended.
“All the learning you do on a Friday, it wasn’t perfect, the way you drive, the way you use the tyres, then you come back on Sunday and you have to bring you’re ‘a-game’. Friday is not usually the day I bring my ‘a-game’.
“In terms of the tyres, the ultrasoft lasted a lot better than I thought today. I did struggle in P2 but, as I said, I was on a different set-up. The long run was quite good and then we went to the soft and I struggled, as where in P2 I was really good on the soft.
“So it was completely different.” The changes certainly helped him in the race as he explained how he extended his first stint and not allow Vettel to claw into the gap for him to pose any challenge.
“I struggled at the beginning and then we got through some traffic and then I moved a lot of switches around and eventually was able to balance the car and then it was OK,” he said. “After that I was able to do some decent times and pull the gap.
“I knew that at some point I’d need to pull the gap to these while they were still behind Valtteri. I knew the strategy that Valtteri was on it was highly unlikely that he was going to make it last and when I pulled away from the grid I knew that Sebastian had been on the soft tyre.
“We knew that it would also make it very difficult to win, even for me, so that’s why the gap was really important. I definitely don’t think the team expected me to be able to eke out my first stint to Lap 25.
“I think they were a little bit too optimistic I would say on the other side to make those tyres go that far. Even for me towards the end of my stint my tyres were on the way out. I probably could have done another 10-15 laps on them before they were completely dead.
“Their pace was obviously good but fortunately I’d done enough by then.” Some tactics and a help from Bottas sealed the race for him on the track where Mercedes were unlikely to win considering the pace advantage of Ferrari.
In fact, the Finn’s hold-up of Vettel and Raikkonen eventually was a ‘wingman-like’ effort as Toto Wolff alluded. Hamilton once again took to the social media to express his gratitude towards Bottas.
“Finally sat down and I would like to give praise and thanks to Valtteri Bottas. Without his great drive, the team may not have won today, [it] would have been very tight at the end. But thanks to his fight, [his] help enabled us to come away with three more points as a team than Ferrari.
“Don’t forget, the priority for the team is to win the race and the team championship. So, today he played a key role. As for me, he ultimately helped me in being supportive as a teammate which I want to acknowledge. Huge respect between us.”