This week marks Race #11 and the start of the 2nd half of the 2017 circuit as we head to Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Just one point separates Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in the Driver Standings after Hamilton took 1st and Vettel crawled to the finish line in 7th after his tire blew up (for F1 newcomers, that’s not supposed to happen, or you’re gonna have a bad time). Here’s a few things to watch this weekend.
1. Lining up in pairs
Both Ferrari cars on Row 1, both Mercedes’ on Row 2, and both Red Bulls on Row 3. While it’s been pretty clear that both Mercedes and Ferrari are running the best cars this year, with Red Bull running the clear 3rd best set of cars, there’s always a bit of added intrigue to the start when the front rows are made up of pairs of teammates. It’s a dangerous dance between trying to get both your cars away in top position and avoiding one overly anxious driver on a team from doing something stupid that causes that team to retire a car, or even two, in the early laps (looking at you Max Verstappen). If both Ferrari drivers can get a clean start and get into Sector 3 in 1st and 2nd, I’d expect one of them to hold on and win the race. As for Mercedes, Hamilton didn’t have the best qualification this week but still seems to be faster overall than Bottas, so whichever of the two gets out in front of the other in Lap 1 could determine if Mercedes goes on to pass up a Ferrari or two (Hamilton giving them the better chance in my opinion). As for Red Bull, well “Mad Max” Verstappen is probably going to come out of the start with reckless abandon, like always, and with about 90% certainty he’ll cause one of two things to happen: instantly move up to P2 with some sketchy yet effective passing, or cause a crash before he even gets to Turn 2 which forces him or another driver in the first 3 rows to retire. Max is like the “wild card” in a group of friends, but not the good type of wild card. He’s a “wild card” in the same sense as when you go to a party and there’s always that one guy who drank too much, and any time he gets that look in his eye every other party-goer internally thinks to themselves, “Oh god, what’s this crazy bastard going to do this time?”. For Max, the answer is usually cause a collision, but we’ll hope for the best.
2. Ferrari Sector 2 Times
If there’s one thing Ferrari has been able to count on more often this season than Kimi barely talking, it’s gaining time in the heavy downforce sectors. If the same is true this week, it’s going to be very difficult for the Mercedes boys to find anywhere to pass.
3. Fernando “Birthday Boy” Alonso
There’s probably not a driver on the circuit that F1 fans are rooting for more collectively right now than Fernando Alonso. An F1 great with 2 World Championships, Alonso has had to endure the piss poor performance of his Honda engine. Out of the 10 races we’ve had this year, Fernando’s had 6 ‘Did Not Finish’, 1 ‘Did Not Start’ and was so frustrated with the situation that he actually skipped Monaco GP to come race the Indy 500 in the USA (where, in some sort of sick joke, his engine failed in a race which he led 27 laps). He’s starting P7 today, and the hope is that he can at least finish there ahead of teammate Stoffel Vandoore who’s in P8. It’s also his birthday week, so if he wished for anything before blowing out his candles, it was probably that his Honda engine doesn’t explode.