Lewis Hamilton’s first pitstop key part to his victory

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Lewis Hamilton entered this weekend with his team yet to run the latest evolution of Pirelli tires, whereas the rest of the field got three days with them at Silverstone earlier in the month.

Having had just the free practice sessions to try and gain as much understanding as they could, Lewis delivered a simply stunning lap to take pole position on Saturday.

Ahead of the race today, all teams went in with limited knowledge about the way the current Pirellis would perform under race conditions, in the searing heat of the Hungaroring, but none more so than the eventual winners.

Today was all about keeping strategic options open for as long as possible and reacting to real time events as the race unfolded and two key moments, for me, determined the final podium order in Budapest.

The track in Hungary is traditionally difficult to overtake and that meant that options were limited for those at the front, starting on the soft tire, to find a way past using any other method. The first lap was crucial, as always, and Lewis did a great job to stay in front from there, but where most people assumed he’d suffer from the now synonymous catastrophic degradation, he managed to hold a decent pace throughout. The first real key moment came after Lewis’ first pitstop.

This was a strategic decision by Hamilton himself, not one made by the computing and simulating power of the team back at base, but his determination and ability to clear Jenson Button ahead of him quickly, made the difference between the race win and a probable third or fourth place finish.

The pitstop brought him out behind the McLaren and as we saw with Vettel in the same situation a short time later, if you don’t use the advantage of new tires in the first lap out of the pits, it can become very difficult to make the move around here.

Vettel’s car setup, although quick over a lap, wasn’t the fastest in sector one, whereas Hamilton had speed in that crucial zone to enable the pass at the vital moment. With the World Champion stuck behind Button for such a considerable length of time at that phase of the race, and indeed making contact in trying, he effectively lost out on the chance to stay with Lewis.

The second key strategic moment came at the point where Kimi Raikkonen and his Lotus team made the decision to switch from a planned three stop race, to an adventurous two stopper.

The E21’s been good all season on its tires, but with some of the highest air and track temperatures of the year and still a relatively unproven tire on the car, it was a gamble. In truth it was a gamble they had to take, as a poor decision to leave him out perhaps a lap too long in the first stint had left him languishing out of position and amongst cars on alternate strategies after his first stop.

As the cars that started the Grand Prix on the medium compound began to disappear for their pitstops, the prospect of some clear air and careful management from Kimi opened up the exciting, but daunting prospect of the two stopper. If he could maintain a good pace and yet still look after the rear tires, it could put him in amongst the podium positions come the end. It did however rely on him managing a long twenty eight lap stint on the mediums, something no one else had thought possible before today.

Of course Kimi did exactly that and still had enough pace in the car to hold off a thrilling assault from Vettel in the last ten laps of the race and take a thoroughly deserved second place. Frustratingly for Lotus, had Raikkonen qualified up near his team mate on Saturday, the race win would’ve been a distinct possibility.

Red Bull might look back and wonder if the setup direction could have been different to allow higher top speeds at the key overtaking sections, but one suspects they never really expected to be having to do much overtaking.

In the end they were beaten by two guys who simply did a better job today and that’s not something we’ve been able to say too often recently.

The new ‘hybrid’ Pirellis played a big part as ever in the outcome of today’s race, but all in a positive way. Clearly some teams benefited more than others, but all leave here with far more data to look at than when they arrived and the summer break gives opportunity to find ways to make the best of them. You can shut down the factories for two weeks, but you can’t stop F1’s minds from thinking and the second half of the season looks like a scintillating affair to look forward to.

Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.

Vettel refusing to be misled by Mercedes’ F1 practice pace in Russia

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to read too much into Ferrari’s impressive Formula 1 practice pace in Russia on Friday, saying it is easy to be “misled” by rival team Mercedes.

Vettel arrived in Russia for the fourth round of the season after making the best start to a campaign by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004, winning two of the first three races.

Vettel continued Ferrari’s impressive showing to start 2017 by dominating second practice on Friday at the Sochi Autodrom, finishing over half a second clear of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

However, Vettel is refusing to take too much from the result, citing Mercedes’ jump in pace from Friday to Saturday in Russia last year as a reason why not to.

“I think Mercedes will be fine. It’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong tomorrow,” Vettel said after practice, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“I don’t want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were.

“That’s how sometimes you can be misled. I think there are a lot of things we can play with in the car, loads, engines modes. At this track especially there are a lot of things you can show or not show.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we talk about ourselves, our balance, and I think we improved throughout the session so I’m reasonably happy.”

Vettel will be chasing Ferrari’s first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, with qualifying live on CNBC from 8am ET.

Hamilton endures ‘difficult’ Russia F1 practice, impressed by Ferrari

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Lewis Hamilton was left disappointed by a “difficult” day of Formula 1 practice in Russia on Friday for Mercedes as Ferrari stole a march on the field.

Hamilton arrived in Sochi looking to take his third win in Russia and claw back the championship lead after falling seven points behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the standings.

The Briton was left to settle for fourth place in the final timesheets in FP2 as Mercedes struggled to match Ferrari’s one-lap pace, finishing over half a second back from Vettel in P1.

“Bit of a difficult day for us,” Hamilton admitted. “We managed to complete everything that we needed to do on our runs, but in terms of the balance of the car, the Ferrari seemed very, very fast on the long runs.

“So we need to work out how we can improve our pace. But there’s still everything to play for. The tires feel very peaky, so it’s easy to drop out of the window of performance, but when they’re working they seem to be good.”

Teammate Valtteri Bottas finished third-fastest in FP2 for Mercedes, and said the team had work to do overnight to ensure it could get the maximum out of the ultra-soft tire for qualifying.

“It’s been an interesting day. It’s a very different situation here with the asphalt and the temperatures compared to what we experienced in Bahrain,” Bottas said.

“We were learning about the tires on long runs and short runs and it seems like over one lap we still have work to do to get the maximum out of the ultra-soft tire – that’s our focus tonight. But we can’t forget how important the race is.

“We have started the weekend in the right way. The car feels good and the balance is there. A good start but we definitely need to work hard to find some lap time for qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 8am ET on Saturday.

Stoffel Vandoorne set for 15-place F1 grid drop in Sochi

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Stoffel Vandoorne is set to receive a 15-place grid penalty for this weekend’s Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix after exceeding the number of permitted power units components for the season.

McLaren’s problems with engine supplier Honda have been well-documented, with a revision of the design of the power unit by the Japanese manufacturer backfiring to create further reliability and performance issues.

Vandoorne has taken the brunt of the issues in 2017, failing to score a point and recording just one classified finish – P13 in Australia, two laps down on the lead car – as well as being forced to change a number of components on his power unit.

Drivers are only permitted to use four of each power unit component across the course of the season before triggering a penalty, but Vandoorne’s usage has been so high that he is set to receive a grid drop for the Russian Grand Prix – only the fourth round of the season.

By taking an all-new power unit for the event in Sochi, Vandoorne has moved onto his fifth MGU-H and fifth turbocharger of the year, combining for a 15-place grid penalty on Sunday.

For every other ‘fifth’ component Vandoorne takes this season, he will receive another five-place grid drop. His first ‘sixth’ component will be worth 10 places; every remaining ‘sixth’ is five places; his first ‘seventh’ is 10 places and so on.

Ferrari dominates Russian GP second free practice

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Once Pirelli’s softest compound, the ultrasoft tires, came out to play in second free practice for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom, Scuderia Ferrari dropped the hammer compared to Mercedes AMG Petronas.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen ran at 1:34.120 and 1:34.383, respectively, in the pair of SF70H chassis – which easily eclipsed the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. This followed Raikkonen’s leading FP1 this morning.

It’s only practice but the thinking going into the race weekend was with a couple long straights, it would play to Mercedes’ strengths and its top-end speed. But Ferrari’s fired a warning salvo into that thinking in this session.

Bottas and Hamilton were six and seven tenths adrift on the same ultrasoft tires, before long runs commenced for the final 35 to 40 or so minutes of the 90-minute free practice. The Russian Grand Prix is expected to be a one-stop race.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were next, far off the top four and far ahead of the midfield. Verstappen’s session ended early inside of 20 minutes, as he parked his car with an apparent loss of power just before pit lane.

Williams’ Felipe Massa, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Force India’s Sergio Perez – making it four teams in as many positions from seventh through 10th in the crowded midfield. In fact while 1.790 seconds covered first to sixth, just 1.18 seconds covered seventh to 18th, covering all remaining teams!

Romain Grosjean, who tries new Carbon Industrie brakes this week, made several radio transmissions noting he wasn’t yet satisfied with the new supplier. There’s still been a lot of brake dust released from the fronts on both his and Magnussen’s car.

Meanwhile further down the grid, McLaren Honda has made yet another power unit change to Stoffel Vandoorne’s car, which cost him the opening minutes of the session. This will resign the Belgian to his fifth turbocharger and MGU-H of the season, and see him saddled with a grid penalty.

FP3 is next up, streaming online live on Saturday morning from 5 a.m. ET. Qualifying commences at 8 a.m. ET live on CNBC.