A Radio Challenge For Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton races his Mercedes to a win in Hungary, Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud waves the chequered flag
Here’s a fun radio challenge for Lewis Hamilton for the second half of the 2019 Formula 1 season!

Lewis Hamilton’s Radio Ga Ga

In typical Hamilton fashion, the race was also enlivened by his radio exchanges with the Mercedes pit wall after the second pit-stop. Hamilton, who kept questioning the alternate strategy and its difficulty time and again, did well to keep up the suspense in the 20-odd laps he chased Verstappen. In fact, Formula 1 used radio messages very well to further amplify the duel between the two drivers and the difficulty they faced while making different tyre strategies work for the race win.

Although as big fans of Hamilton’s talent and driving, for once we wish to hear messages of a different tone, perhaps that of Hamilton being excited to chase down a rival rather than his usual grumbling. After all, Hamilton chased down Verstappen almost 3 laps earlier than Mercedes’ forecast, such was his pace in the closing stages of the race. In the Drivers’ Championship, Hamilton is now 62 points ahead of Bottas, and with 9 races to go, beating Hamilton to his 6th title will be a mountainous task.

After a forgetful weekend in Germany last Sunday where he failed to score any points whatsoever, Bottas had yet another disastrous race in Hungary. After beating Hamilton to P2 in qualifying, Bottas went backwards in the race after a not-so-good start and a horrible opening lap where he sustained damage to his front wing after clashes with Hamilton and Leclerc. Mercedes were forced to pit their driver ahead of schedule, a decision that cost him time, track position and eventually points in the Drivers’ Championship. After his early stop, Mercedes forecast a 6th place finish for their driver, however, it was 8th place that Bottas could best manage – his lowest finishing position this season.

On the back of three thrilling Grands Prix in Great Britain, Austria and Germany, the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix had high expectations to live up to – and it did. If the previous three races provided edge-of-seat wheel-to-wheel action, the race this weekend was a masterclass in tyre strategy. Lewis Hamilton won his 81st race in Formula 1, aided by Mercedes’ mid-race decision to switch to the unconventional two-stopper. Max Verstappen finished second, nearly 45 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc. The surprise result was Mclaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr. finishing 5th – ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Pierre Gasly. Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s sole challenger for the Drivers’ Championship this season, could only manage 8th after a not-so-good start and a disastrous opening lap. Bottas finished only just behind compatriot and Alfa Romeo driver, Kimi Raikkonen (7th). Lando Norris and Alexander Albon claimed the last two points-scoring position respectively.

Hungary and History

There’s something about Hungary and creating history in Formula 1. The Hungaroring has witnessed several ‘first-time’ records ever since the first race in 1986. Damon Hill (1993), Fernando Alonso (2003), Jenson Button (2006) and Heikki Kovalainen (2008) all scored their first Formula 1 wins at this circuit. In Saturday’s qualifying session, it was time for Max Verstappen to add to Hungary’s illustrious history. The young Dutchman claimed his first-ever career pole position in Formula 1 – with a lap that was only 0.018 of a second ahead of Bottas. It took Verstappen 92 races before adding to his tally of pole positions. The other star of qualifying was rookie Williams driver George Russell. The Briton drove a mega lap in Q1 and missed the cut for Q2 by only half a tenth – a gap that’s usually been over a second all through the season.

The other driver who made history in Hungary was Hamilton – winning the race for a record 7th time in his career. The Hungarian Grand Prix is only the second race on the calendar (the other being Canada) where Hamilton’s won 7 times. However, Hamilton’s victory this weekend was anything but straightforward. After the start, Hamilton kept his gap to Verstappen at a comfortable 2-odd seconds till the first round of pit-stops. On lap 24, Red Bull Racing chose to pit Verstappen and this was when Mercedes made their first strategic move of the race. They opted to go longer with Hamilton, choosing to pit him for hard tyres 6 laps later with the hope that fresher tyres would come in effect towards the end of the race. After exiting the pits, Hamilton made good use of his fresher tyres to narrow the gap and attempt to overtake Verstappen. A few laps later, a battle for the lead of the race ensued between Hamilton and Verstappen, however, it lasted only a couple of corners and ended after Hamilton went wide at the exit of Turn 4. Round 1 of the battle went to Verstappen for his aggressive defence!

Mercedes’ Great Tyre Strategy

Historically, overtaking has always proven to be tough around the Hungaroring, also dubbed as ‘Monaco without the walls’. Hence, the reliance on tyre strategy to make up positions during the race. Mercedes knew that they had to attempt something different if they wanted to win the race and they had two factors that favoured their mid-race decision to change tyre strategy. First, they were the challengers and not the leaders of the race – a position Red Bull Racing usually find themselves in. Second, the gap to the 3rd place driver was over 20 seconds – allowing them a free pit-stop without losing track position. In the end, Mercedes chose a tyre strategy that Red Bull Racing has relied on several times in this hybrid-turbo era.

On lap 49, Mercedes surprised everyone by calling Hamilton in the pits for a set of used medium tyres. After his stop, the reigning world champion had 21 laps to narrow the near 21 second gap and then overtake an always-stubborn-to-pass Verstappen. In fact, the gap between the two drivers stabilised at the 15 seconds mark after the initial 5-6 laps of chasing leading everyone including Hamilton to question Mercedes’ alternate strategy. However, it was 8 laps from the finish of the race when Hamilton began to take chunks out of his gap to Verstappen – going more than a second a lap faster than his rival. Finally, it was on lap 66 when Hamilton pulled off a DRS aided move on Verstappen for the lead of the race. For the build-up that it offered, the eventual Hamilton versus Verstappen fight for the lead was a bit of an anti-climax as Verstappen’s hard tyres were near the end of their shelf life and the Dutchman had almost no defence to offer. Round 2 of the battle went to Mercedes for being agile on tyre strategy and to Hamilton for delivering to the strategy.

Red Bull – Made The Right Call?

Should Red Bull Racing have pit Verstappen when Mercedes chose to pit Hamilton for the second time? Post-race, the answer is yes. In fact, Verstappen too questioned his team’s strategy after he learned of Hamilton’s stop. But at the time, Red Bull Racing did what most teams leading the Hungarian Grand Prix would do – keep track position, another vital part of race strategy given the circuit characteristics. Irrespective of their loss, Formula 1 and Red Bull Racing would be pleased with their challenging of Mercedes – a characteristic since Austria (and barring Great Britain). Also, did the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix signal the era of a proper Verstappen vs. Hamilton battle in Formula 1? Given Red Bull Racing’s increase in form in the second half of the season, one would hope that Verstappen is able to consistently do what Vettel-Leclerc have failed – challenging the might of Mercedes. And of course, Verstappen’s brilliant run this season sees him only 7 points off Bottas in 2nd place.

Ferrari – Nowhere In Hungary

Ferrari would be disappointed with their performance in Hungary. It was only a fortnight ago in Austria when they almost won the race, followed by a second place at an unusual race in Germany. In Hungary, Vettel finished a minute down on Hamilton’s race time. In fact, Leclerc, who originally ran in 3rd place, was already a pit-stop window (20-odd seconds) down on the then race leader Verstappen. After being half a second off the pace in qualifying (Leclerc spun and hit the wall in Q1, by the way), Ferrari were even slower in the race. Vettel (medium-soft) used a different strategy to Leclerc (medium-hard), but the best he could manage was a 3rd place ahead of his teammate who he overtook on track on lap 69. Ferrari’s loss of form means that it is Red Bull Racing who are currently challenging Mercedes for top honours.

McLaren Rising

The surprise of this season has been McLaren. While the former world champion team would be jealous of Honda’s repeated success with Red Bull Racing, they would also be content with the progress made in the first half of the season. In qualifying, Lando Norris claimed 7th place, but was unlucky to finish outside of the points in the race after a delayed pit-stop. Starting 8th, Sainz was the highest placed finishers for the drivers starting on the soft tyres. He raced on the soft-hard strategy to finish fifth for the second race in succession and finish ahead of a Red Bull (his former team!). One wonders where Norris would have finished had his race run normal, and without a doubt the young Briton has been the most impressive rookie in the first half of 2019. In the Constructors’ Championship, McLaren are currently comfortable in 4th with 82 points – the team’s best position since the 2012 Formula 1 season.

A Max Verstappen Master Class Of A Different Kind

Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen continues to be the most-consistent mid-field driver after Sainz Jr. The 2007 World Champion has scored in 8 out of the 12 races contested yet and trails Sainz Jr. by 27 points for 7th place in the Drivers’ Championship. Alexander Albon scored the sole championship point after finishing in 10th place after a fantastic mid-race scrap with his teammate Daniil Kvyat. Haas scored their 8th no-score of the season, while Racing Point was out of the points after Lance Stroll’s 4th place high in Germany last weekend. Renault, who have had a topsy-turvy season, failed to score points for the 6th race this season and finally, Russell did well to finish ahead of an Alfa Romeo (Giovinazzi) and Racing Point (Stroll), despite not scoring a point.

As Formula 1 enters its summer break, expect the driver silly season to take centre stage, in terms of news and rumours. Will Valtteri Bottas lose his seat at Mercedes to Esteban Ocon? Will Nico Hulkenberg be shown the door at Renault? What about the line-ups at Haas, Racing Point and several other mid-field teams? Either way, we assure you of the latest news and updates on Firstpost. And by the way, we will be reporting live for Firstpost (and you!) from the 2019 Belgian Grand Prix, so look out for our paddock specials.

This post was first published on Firstpost

Kunal Shah is an FIA-accredited Formula 1 journalist who has been reporting on Formula 1 for nearly two decades. He worked with the Force India Formula 1 Team for 6 seasons in Marketing, Sponsorship and Commercial roles. As a former single-seater racer, he was responsible for Force India's grassroots talent program, One from a Billion Hunt. Presently, he co-writes a regular Formula 1 column for Firstpost, speaks on Inside Line F1 Podcast & Pits to Podium and produces broadcast/OTT content for NENT Group (Viasport & Viaplay).

1 comments On A Radio Challenge For Lewis Hamilton

  • There is no doubt that Lewis Hamilton is the best F1 driver, with the passage of time his victories are no longer a surprise. His talent is unique. I have followed his career throughout these years. I like the way he drives and I want to buy a Lewis Hamilton helmet. Any recommendation?

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