Friday 23 February 2018

Hamilton increases advantage despite a day of disasters

Lewis Hamilton was far from his best in the Hungarian Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton was far from his best in the Hungarian Grand Prix

Daniel Johnson

Lewis Hamilton has been used to beating the rest, but yesterday he beat himself. While Sebastian Vettel kept his cool to win a dramatic Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring, Hamilton raced more like a rookie than a two-time world champion.

Starting from pole, Hamilton produced a rash performance but still managed to finish sixth. He was at a loss to articulate why the day went so wrong for him, other than recounting a bad night's sleep and a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach.

The champion's blushes were spared only by an equally disastrous drive by team-mate, Nico Rosberg. With victory and a bag of championship points in sight, Rosberg collided with Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull, and fell back to eighth after a puncture.

As with Hamilton, Rosberg had only himself to blame. But somehow it all meant the Englishman ended up extending his championship lead to 21 points. As Toto Wolff, the Mercedes boss, put it bluntly: "This was a crappy day at the office."

The chaos should not detract from the display of the victor or the Red Bulls drivers in second and third, giving a welcome bit of relief to the beleaguered team. Formula One grew tired of watching Vettel win a couple of years ago as he kept his nose in front, absorbing the pressure while others faltered. The German was supreme yesterday, reminiscent of Michael Schumacher in his pomp.

The four-time champion equalled Ayrton Senna's record of 41 victories, moving him into joint third in the all-time list. More and more his woeful 2014 is proving to be a blip. But Hamilton was as bad as Vettel was brilliant. It was so incomprehensible given his crushing performance in Friday practice and qualifying.

The 30-year-old conceded that it was probably his worst race in seven years. Doing his best to laugh off a dismal performance, he said: "The last time like this was Fuji in 2008 maybe, when it went from one thing to another.

"Honestly, this is the first day I've felt a bit strange before the race this morning. I had a massive buzz and then a massive come down. I didn't sleep last night and then had a big adrenaline rush. It was nothing to do with that [Bianchi], I just got to bed and couldn't sleep. Before the start I had a tired moment, then I was feeling good, my heart was racing, but it just didn't go well from the beginning."

Hamilton said. "Considering how bad it was, the one thing I can take in my heart is I never gave up. I never threw my toys out of the pram and thought, 'This is over'."

His start was poor as he immediately fell to fourth. He then challenged Rosberg into the chicane, getting it all wrong and trundling across the gravel. From as low as 10th, he hauled himself up to fourth, only to clatter into Ricciardo at the restart on lap 48 after a crazy race had been enlivened further by Nico Hulkenberg's spectacular crash, when the front wing disintegrated underneath his chassis, bringing out the safety car.

Hamilton had to take a drive-through penalty for causing the collision with Ricciardo and pit for a new nose. But he somehow found his way to sixth.


The blunders by the Mercedes drivers were in contrast to the surprising speed of Vettel's Ferrari. The Mercedes and Ferraris were four abreast going into the race's first turn. Kimi Raikkonen smartly snatched second place at turn two and probably would have followed Vettel home for the team's first one-two in five years had it not been for an electrical problem.

After the safety car peeled in 20 laps from the end, and Hamilton careered into Ricciardo, there was a three-way fight for the win between Vettel, Rosberg and the Australian. But Rosberg also misjudged a move on the Red Bull, swiping across his front wing and sustaining a self-inflicted puncture.

It meant an easier final few laps for Vettel, while Daniil Kvyat finished second for his first podium, followed by his Red Bull team-mate, Ricciardo.

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