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.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.