Jolyon Palmer's Analysis: How Verstappen went from pre-race crash to the podium
Max Verstappen has been electrifying in the past few years, demolishing team mates for fun and niggling at the Mercedes in what has been an inferior Red Bull car. But on Sunday he committed a cardinal sin: crashing his car on the way to the grid.
It’s a pretty rare mistake, and only occasionally happens in very tricky conditions, as we had for the start on Sunday in Hungary. The last man to do it was Romain Grosjean in Brazil 2016, in immensely wet weather, and coincidentally from 7th place on the grid – the same starting berth as Verstappen.
Grosjean didn’t start the race that day and when the extent of the damage on Verstappen’s car became apparent it seemed he too would have to be a bystander in a race which would have suited him down to the ground.
Crashing on the recce lap to the grid seems a ridiculous error to make – and quite frankly it is – but it’s actually easier done than people would imagine, particularly in treacherous conditions.
Those two or three laps are a drivers only chance to feel the grip in those conditions before the lights go out and they are racing full speed with cars all around them. It’s natural that drivers get close to the limit in these circumstances because you don’t want to be oblivious to the grip level when the race begins.
Verstappen was pushing clearly harder than most, and it was obvious watching his lap that he was on the ragged edge even before he hit the wall, having lurid oversteers through many preceding corners.
When you drive the Hungaroring the wall feels quite far away at Turn 12, and I’ve rarely seen anybody hit it. This presumably led Verstappen to believe it was a good place to push the braking limits, feeling there was plenty of run off if he overcooked it. But overcook it he did, and when he panic-downshifted with the front wheels locked, the rears snatched as well and he was sent careering into the barriers.
As he trundled to the grid it seemed clear he wouldn’t race. Changing suspension components takes far longer than the amount of time Red Bull had to make the repairs – around 25 minutes.
Mercedes were so sure that the car couldn’t be fixed they must have told Lewis Hamilton that Verstappen wouldn’t be making the start before he got into his car. Which provoked the humorous ‘I thought you said Verstappen’s out?’ comment over the radio as he was told early in the race that the car behind was indeed the Red Bull man.
It goes to show what an utterly unbelievable job the Red Bull mechanics did, in a cauldron of pressure - on the grid, with the clock ticking, the cameras around and the world watching on. Somehow, extraordinarily, they repaired the car and had the left front wheel on 30 seconds before the deadline.
For Max in this time it was critical for him to keep a clear head. I’ve been in that position before, when my car has had issues on the grid and you don’t know if you will start or not. It’s a difficult time to get your mind on the start of the race. It was even worse for Verstappen because it was his error that had put their race in jeopardy.
But ultimately there’s nothing the driver can do at that point. Formula 1 is a team sport and this is where the mechanics, some of the most highly skilled in the world, can earn their keep.
Verstappen went about his business on the grid in the usual way, and did a great job of blanking out the furore around his grid spot and focusing on the race ahead, as highlighted by his brilliant start.
On the formation lap he would have been anxious and maybe done a few extra weaves early on to make sure the car felt normal and responded to his inputs properly.
But by the time the lights went out he was back into normal Max Verstappen mode and got his head down and elbows out, making a fantastic start and optimising the wet conditions as he always seems to do, to get himself into that second place behind Hamilton.
Crossing the finish line in that same place, despite pressure from the fast approaching Valtteri Bottas late on, sealed an astonishing result for Red Bull, that repaid the mechanics for their frantic work on the grid.
Finishing second from seventh on the grid seemed unlikely enough on Sunday morning for a team that had struggled for pace all weekend, let alone one that had to deal with a bent car parked in its grid spot just minutes before the race.