Formula 1

Mika Häkkinen: “In such a close battle, every improvement really counts”

August 4, 2021January 3rd, 2022

Mika Häkkinen shares his thoughts on the recent Hungarian Grand Prix.

In two races the Formula One World Championship has completely changed. When they left Austria, Red Bull Racing had a good lead in both the Drivers and Constructors championships. Now they lead neither of them.

In my experience, the World Championship can change in one weekend, so while there is a long way to go in the championship, it feels like Hungary changed the 2021 season. The pressure is now on Red Bull Racing to respond, and with the next two Grand Prix on circuits Mercedes should be strong – Spa and Monza – it will not be easy.

I expected Red Bull to dominate this weekend considering the strengths of their car and its suitability for tight circuits. However, Mercedes has reacted brilliantly in recent weeks, bringing upgrades and really fighting back.

When Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas locked out the front row in qualifying it was a clear sign Mercedes had made a step forward. The margins are small but in such a close battle every improvement counts.

The first corner accident had a big impact on the race and the World Championship. Valtteri has accepted it was his mistake, an easy one to make in wet conditions, but it was a real pity to see Lando Norris taken out after making such a great start from P6 in his McLaren.

It was the damage caused to Red Bull’s cars that really changed the race and the championship. With Sergio Perez out of the race and Max’s car suffering a lot of damage, it’s a miracle he finished the race and scored a point. This was a difficult day for the team.

Like everyone else ,I have never seen one car line up on the grid before, so it was extraordinary to see Hamilton on his own after the red-flag restart. The team should have pitted him so he could switch tires like everyone else, and when he fell down to last place it seemed impossible he could still score a podium finish.

But Lewis loves a challenge, particularly a recovery drive.

I believe he would have won the race had Fernando Alonso not managed to keep him behind. When you consider Lewis finished the race 4.5 seconds behind Esteban Ocon, and was lapping so much faster, Alpine can thank Fernando for using all his experience to keep the Mercedes behind. That was a fascinating duel to watch.

In one race Fernando has repaid Alpine for the faith they have shown in him.

I think it is brilliant that Alpine have won a Grand Prix.  The last time a French car and engine won a race was with Alain Prost at Renault in 1983, so this is a special moment for Alpine – in its first season for the brand in F1 – and for the Renault Group.  It will give the team an enormous boost, and is a perfect result for Ocon after recently signing a new three-year contract.

It was also a fantastic result for Aston Martin and Sebastian Vettel, so long as they keep the second-placed finish. Every team has to supply the FIA with a one liter sample of fuel after a race, so they now have some nervous days ahead while the fuel system is checked.

A race win in Silverstone and podium finish for Lewis Hamilton in Hungary have put him back in charge of the World Championship, while Max Verstappen’s crash at the British Grand Prix has now been followed by a difficult race and just one more championship point.

It is too difficult to predict which team and driver combination will win the World Championship. In two weeks the balance has shifted and I think we are going to see plenty more changing fortunes in the second half of the season.

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