Daniel Ricciardo’s first win was a lucky one, benefitting from the technical issues encountered by the Mercedes pair. His second win also had a fair share of luck. As said and done by Fangio, success is achieved by maximizing your opportunities, and Danny didn’t let his chance slip in Hungary.
This was probably the most spectacular GP of the year, as several drivers shone by virtuosity, dedication and calculated aggression. The best were also the luckiest and finally stood on the podium: three different characters and driving styles. They might just be the best of the 2014 breed. Ricciardo’s delicate and fluid style reminds us of Clark, the relentless Alonso seems a modern potion of Nuvolari perfume, whilst the acrobatic Hamilton that stays forever in the red zone seems to be a bridge over time to Stirling Moss, back in the days of Maserati and Vanwall.
The decisive moments of a classic race
It all seemed to be a walk in the park for Nico, who had a lead of 3 seconds after lap one, more than 4 seconds after the second lap and almost eleven after 8 laps. His rearguard was Bottas in his Williams that was unsuited to the track conditions, as it lacked downforce. Yet still, his top speed was too much for the rest, keeping the closest rival, Vettel, at bay. Behind the German, there was the same opportunistic Alonso, as a hunter with no good weapon. And so came the crucial moment on lap 8, that put Ricciardo in the hot seat. Held behind Button’s slow McLaren, the smiling Aussie was waiting for his chance.
This time, it wasn’t a case of Mercedes brakes failing, but something more basic, with Ericsson crashing and bringing the Safety Car on track. When the SLS joined the track, Rosberg was already on the main straight and his three closest pursuers had already passed the pit entry. Button and Ricciardo were perfectly placed to jump into the pits.”We knew it was going to be a safety car, so told both boys to box,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. ” Seb was halfway around the last turn. Daniel managed to make the pitlane. The first four cars didn’t make it in, so the group behind were in the pound seats.
McLaren made the error of fitting another set of intermediates on Button’s car, taking him out of contention as the rain never came back. Again, advantage for Ricciardo. The leading quartet spent a whole lap behind the Safety Car and young Valtteri lost even more with a slow stop, falling back to 11th place. “We can win this one” shouted Daniel. Button passed him on the restart, but the drying track took its toll on the Briton’s intermediates. Daniel retook the lead, followed by Massa (another Williams with intangible top speed) and a hard fight between Alonso, Vergne, Rosberg, Vettel and Hamilton, who got there with some luck, brilliant driving but not inch-perfect, as the spin on lap one wasn’t just due to cold brakes.
After only ten laps of green, the #3 Red Bull enters the pitlane, in a surprising, yet inspired move. Only Williams realized the weight of this option, as there were 47 laps still to cover on softs, thus involving one more stop. “ It may have seemed too early, but it gave us the opportunity to split the remainder of the race in two halves” said Horner.
The second phase of the fight for supremacy had a very spectacular show on offer. On lap 27 the race resumed, with Alonso in the lead, ahead of Vergne, Rosberg, Vettel, Hamilton and Ricciardo. Things were already shaping up nicely for the Australian, who was now displaying another quality: his patience. He did not ruin the tires, while keeping the leaders in sight.
“Daniel was very intelligent as he didn’t burn up his tires in the pack and had enough rubber when those guys pitted. He was then able to use his pace and put in a long stint,” says the same Horner. On lap 32 Rosberg pits, Vettel has a hairy off in the last turn and one lap later it is time for Vergne to pit as well. There were still four drivers with a chance of winning, with Ricciardo having a strategic plus, Rosberg and Hamilton with a superior car and Alonso impossible to rule out. On lap 38 it’s time for the Spaniard to go for the risky move, switching on to softs that had to last until the end, on a giant stint of 32 laps.
Hamilton follows suit, opting for the more conservative medium compound. Ricciardo is in the lead, with Massa slow behind. As Williams with no more grip is no threat, the main focus of the RBR crew was prolonging the stint ahead of the final stop. On lap 43, the Renault V6 has some issues, with only 5 cylinders still working. Much to everyone’s relief, the problem fixes itself after some laps. Still, during laps 44-52 Alonso gained about 8 seconds. The Australian finally pits on lap 54, having a 12 second lead in front of the #14 Ferrari. There are still 16 laps to run and the final battle of four was penning out to be epic.
The final ingredient that decided the winner was Hamilton’s reluctance in letting Rosberg past, thus ignoring team orders. On new tires that lead to a massive advantage in the twisty section between turns 4 and 11, the smiling Aussie proved to be an inspired attacker, taking the lead away from Alonso. Nico lost some 8 seconds behind Lewis, but the Briton can’t be blamed, as his team mate showed no attacking spirit and barely hung on to the DRS gap. This is where Mercedes lost the win, with Hamilton cutting 3 points of the gap in the standings. The 11 laps when his laptimes increased by 6-7 tenths per lap, took away Nico’s opportunity of adding to the points gap to Lewis. In the end, the German was inspired only in clean air, showing a lack of incisiveness in traffic, mainly due to his cautious approach.
This brings us back to Ricciardo. Alonso was trying to save his 20-laps old tires, being caught by Hamilton. The Mercedes had an issue in transferring the full hybrid power, compromising his top speed on the DRS straight. The Spaniard’s slow pace allowed Daniel to catch the train, sensing the win. With only three laps to go, Hamilton misses the breaking point for turn 1 and Ricci lunges on the inside. Bye-bye Lewis, Fernando up next! One lap later, the RBR driver takes the lead in the same turn, as Alonso defended half-hearted, for fear of not being also passed by Lewis.
“I attempted to pass Lewis into Turn 2, two laps before I eventually got him, but just locked up and went too wide. I had a second crack at it and I still locked up but I managed to just hang on and had a bit more grip around the outside. Once I got close enough to Fernando, I knew I just had to go for it. Being in that sandwich, Lewis was still in the DRS zone so I couldn’t waste too much time,” said the winner.
The second win for this driver, that’s rated as “gold standard” by the important analysts, is due to his delicate style but also to Marcus Ericsson. In the end, it was a deserved victory, after a brilliantly executed strategy and a fine drive, as error-less as we’ve seen back in the days of Alain Prost.
Still, the driver of the day has to be Fernando Alonso, who escalated the rocky path to what could have been the most improbable victory since 1989, helped by lower track temperatures. In those days, the Ferrari 640 was well suited to the track, with the best and most predictable handling. F14T is nothing more than a beast with some decent qualities, that a good driver can sometimes harness. A truly great one can drive around those issues, bringing such a car where others could never even dare to dream.