Hamilton escapes one of his “worst races” to extend championship lead in Hungary


Lewis Hamilton escaped what he called “one of the worst races I think I’ve had” in the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday to extend his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

Starting from pole position, Hamilton had his sights firmly set on a record fifth victory at the Hungaroring. After finishing fastest in every session over the weekend, it seemed that no-one could rival him for the race win.

However, a poor start saw the Briton drop to fourth off the line, and a lock-up on the first lap caused Hamilton to go off track to avoid hitting teammate Nico Rosberg. By the end of lap one, he was tenth.

Despite fighting back through the field to get within sight of race leader Sebastian Vettel under the safety car, Hamilton was forced to pit for repairs after hitting Daniel Ricciardo off the restart. He was also given a drive-through penalty for causing a collision.

With title rival Nico Rosberg running second, Hamilton looked set to not only finish outside of the points but also relinquish his lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in 2015.

However, just as he began to fight back up the order, Rosberg suffered a puncture following a run-in with Daniel Ricciardo, causing the German to drop down the order.

Hamilton eventually finished the race in sixth place, and with Rosberg in eighth, the British driver extends his lead in the drivers’ championship to 21 points.

“That was a very tough afternoon,” Hamilton said. “The team did everything right and the car clearly had the pace – I just had a very bad day at the office.

“It was one of the worst races I think I’ve had and I don’t really have any explanation for it at the moment. All I can do is apologize to the team and work hard to make amends at the next race.

“I just made too many mistakes today. In the end, it’s damage limitation in terms of points for the championship so I just need to take the positives into the summer and bounce back in Spa.”

Hamilton was happy to accept the blame for the collision with Daniel Ricciardo that saw him receive a drive-through penalty, and explained how he remained calm to fight his way back up into the points.

“My start wasn’t ideal and the Ferraris were really quick off the line, so suddenly I was under attack from both sides,” Hamilton said.

“It was tight with Nico later in the lap where I locked up and went off, then of course there was the incident with Daniel. It wasn’t deliberate but it was my fault. He took a tight line around the outside and I just lost grip, ran out of road and understeered into him.

“That meant a drive through which dropped me right back again after all that work to make it back through. From there I just had to tell myself to calm down and not give up so I could fight back for some points.

“You could see in that phase that the pace of the car was really strong and the pace was really there all weekend.”

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.