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How Mercedes strategy aided Hamilton

Wednesday August 7 2019

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (left) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton stand on the podium after the Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring circuit in Mogyorod near Budapest, Hungary, on August 4, 2019. PHOTO | ATTILA KISBENEDEK |

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (left) and Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton stand on the podium after the Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring circuit in Mogyorod near Budapest, Hungary, on August 4, 2019. PHOTO | ATTILA KISBENEDEK |  AFP

ALEX MWANGI
By ALEX MWANGI
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Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton kept his head down in the final laps of the Hungarian Grand Prix last Sunday to snatch the lead from Red Bull's Max Verstappen and take the chequered flag in a race in which a strategic gamble by Mercedes yielded handsome dividends.

Verstappen, who drove brilliantly for the entire race, had led for most of the race, but his team's hard tyre option for a lengthy second stint meant that Mercedes' choice to pit Hamilton for mediums in the 48th lap was the wiser option even if strategists before the race start had a consensus that a one-stop strategy was the best for the race.

Verstappen had clinched pole in spectacular fashion on Saturday, pipping both Mercedes for his first ever pole.

Such was the tension and drama at the tail end of qualifying and after each driver had given it their best shot, only 0.197 of second separated the first three drivers.

It was even closer between pole-sitter Verstappen and second placed Valtteri Bottas, just 0.018 of a second.

The Dutchman needed a good start if he was to take his maiden win at the Hungaroring.

FRONT WING DAMAGE

He took care of that and going into Turn One, it was Bottas and Hamilton who were side by side.

Bottas locked up giving Hamilton the initiative and when the Finn locked up again in Turn Two, Hamilton swept round the outside to firmly take second place.

Bottas' front right touched Hamilton's rear left tyre at the exit of Turn Three, slowing the Finn in the process and in that moment, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc pounced.

He passed Bottas on the right but then swerved left and had his left rear wheel, just like Hamilton seconds before, touch Bottas' right front. This was more forceful and Bottas suffered front wing damage. On the second lap, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel swooped past.

Bottas had to go in for a new nose, and with that, dropped to last, the chance for a podium place finish effectively erased.

SportPesa Racing Point's Sergio Perez, who started 16th was 11th by the 11th lap, giving credence to the notion that new upgrades to their cars are paying dividends.

Bottas, in the hard compound, was making his way up the field and it made other teams take note that the compound would perform well under the circumstances.

Toro Rosso's Alexander Albon and his teammate, Daniil Kvyat, had an interesting 'fight' on lap nineteen which saw them go wheel to wheel until Albon eventually had to go out wide in Turn Four.

All this while, Verstappen had kept himself out of DRS range of Hamilton.

The Brit, however, was biding his time. Verstappen complained of losing grip more than once and his team obliged to bring him in on the 24th lap.

Hamilton stayed out and when he pitted seven laps later, he had not managed to slash the times.

A four-second pit stop only compounded the problem for Mercedes. They had only one car that could hunt Verstappen and it seemed they were losing it.

Three laps after the pit stop, Hamilton was able to erase a five-second gap to get within DRS range of Verstappen.

The Dutchman was told to expect an attack from the five-time world champion.

It came in the form of an attempted pass into Turns Two, Three and Four. Like Albon, however, Hamilton used the run-off in Turn Four to safely get back on track and continue the chase.

Overheating brakes meant he couldn't sustain the pressure.

On the 44th lap, Verstappen and Hamilton, ironically in car number 44, lapped Bottas, with Rowan Atkinson, a.k.a. Mr. Bean, who is a Formula One enthusiast, keenly tracking the progress of his fellow country-mate.

UNHAPPY WITH CALL TO PIT

Mercedes rolled the dice and pitted Hamilton on the 48th lap, putting him on mediums. This gave Verstappen a lead of more than 20 seconds with 21 laps to go.

Hamilton was unhappy with the call to pit. Verstappen, on the other hand, felt like they had missed an opportunity to pit.

He was told that had he pitted after Hamilton, he would have ceded the lead. Eight laps from the end of the race, it was predicted that Hamilton would be within striking distance of Verstappen in six laps. It looks like that did not take into account Hamilton setting three consecutive New Lap Records which slashed the gap to 10.4 seconds with six laps to go.

With only three laps to go, Hamilton caught Verstappen and passed him down the pit straight on the approach to Turn One. Diminished rubber on the Red Bull meant that Verstappen could not put up a fight.

He did, however, pit on that lap and went for the extra point of the fastest lap, which he clinched.

Vettel, on softs and on a different strategy from his teammate that saw him go for a longer first stint, passed the Monegasque who had the hard compound just two laps from the end of the race.

Hamilton won his eighth race of the season putting him firmly in control of the Championship. He now has 81 career victories, ten shy of Michael Schumacher's record.

Vettel took the third podium slot.

If there is one thing that the Hungarian Grand Prix showed, it's that the 'old' guard has shown the young turks that they've still got it.

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