Vettel’s retirement and Ferrari on the rebound – 5 storylines we’re excited about ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix
The mid-season break is fast approaching but there is one more race to go for teams to try and make sure they head into summer with some positive momentum. Ahead of that, though, here are some of the things that have got us excited ahead of the visit to the Hungaroring.
1. Sebastian Vettel’s farewell tour
As the paddock gets ready to disperse for the summer break, there is a far bigger departure looming after Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement from Formula 1 at the end of this season.
The four-time world champion is third on the all-time winners’ list with 53 victories to date, and remains the youngest world champion we have ever seen. Vettel’s final race in Abu Dhabi will be his 300th entry, but before then will come plenty of opportunities to reflect on an outstanding career that yielded one of the sport’s most dominant spells as a Red Bull driver from 2010-2013.
Vettel retires to spend more time with his young family, saying his goals “have shifted from winning races and fighting for championships to seeing my children grow, passing on my values, helping them up when they fall, listening to them when they need me, not having to say goodbye, and most importantly, being able to learn from them and let them inspire me.”
First comes the chance to thank Seb for the memories and to praise a true Formula 1 great for all he has achieved, but alongside it attention will also turn to who will replace him, as his announcement is likely to kick the silly season into a higher gear after he mischievously suggested an extension was on the horizon just last week in France.
2. Ferrari’s response
Although all eyes were on a former Ferrari racer on Thursday in Hungary, when the cars hit the track, attention will turn to the current team’s racers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
There was a huge amount of disappointment for Ferrari fans in France when Leclerc crashed out of the lead when he looked capable of making it three wins in a row for the Scuderia, following his success in Austria and Sainz’s win at Silverstone. But there’s an opportunity to move on quickly with the trip to Budapest.
Far from letting the last race have a negative impact on the team, Team Principal Mattia Binotto is setting the targets extremely high for Hungary, saying not only is a victory the aim, but a one-two finish.
Those comments might seem bullish off the back of such disappointment, but Binotto is not alone in thinking Ferrari will be strong this weekend. Max Verstappen also suggested he expects Ferrari to be the clear favourite at the Hungaroring given the track layout and predicted temperatures, and it would be the perfect response to Paul Ricard if they can secure their second one-two of the season heading into the summer break.
3. Mercedes chasing further gains
It’s quite hard to confidently predict how competitive Mercedes are going to be at any stage in a race weekend at the moment, with even Toto Wolff admitting that they themselves are struggling in that respect.
Wolff’s comments came after a disappointing qualifying session in France in terms of the gap to the top two teams – with Lando Norris getting in between Lewis Hamilton and George Russell on the grid there – but then came a much more encouraging race performance.
And Mercedes believe they are now in possession of a car that their drivers can have fun with and push to its limits, allowing them to be stronger in race trim at most venues even if Austria was an outlier on that front.
So heading to Budapest they will be bringing some further upgrades to try and reduce the deficit to Red Bull and Ferrari. While Paul Ricard was expected to suit the W13, Mercedes are less confident about how well they will go in Hungary, but that in itself makes their progress so fascinating to follow. If the gap continues to close at places like the Hungaroring, then weaknesses are definitely being addressed.
4. Haas with an upgrade
Speaking of upgrades, while Mercedes have been bringing multiple to their car this season, one team that haven’t really delivered any for a number of years now are Haas. But that’s all about to change.
Haas struggled with their development programme in 2019 and found that their car was not really responding to the new parts they were putting on it throughout the year, so have been wary of the same happening again. After writing off 2021 in order to focus on their 2022 car, that meant there has been little in the way of new parts brought to a Haas in recent seasons, but they will have a significant package in Budapest.
Only one set of parts is ready to be tested and Kevin Magnussen will be entrusted with them as the more senior driver who is higher in the drivers’ championship at present – plus he has the experience of what went wrong for the team in 2019 to relate to.
Haas won’t be alone in bringing new components, and they’re not likely to make a massive step forward instantly, but it’s an aspect that the team will be focusing on intently to help keep their positive season so far going.
5. What chance another surprise winner?
With the way this season has panned out so far, a Mercedes win would still count as a surprise result, and unlike a year ago, they will be hoping Hungary delivers another remarkable race.
In 2021, a first-lap crash triggered by Valtteri Bottas in the wet resulted in a number of front-runners being taken out of the race, and a red flag before a standing restart. On a drying track, only Hamilton returned to the grid to start from pole position, with the rest of the field pitting at the end of the lap to fit slicks.
That opened the door for Esteban Ocon to take his maiden victory, as he and Sebastian Vettel fought closely while Hamilton fought back through the field on a track that is tough to overtake on, ultimately falling just short in third place.
Ocon’s win followed recent first-time successes for Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly, while Daniel Ricciardo’s first win for McLaren at Monza later in the year can also be chalked up as a shock. But with an extremely close grid this year, there are a number of potential candidates ready to take advantage of any dramas should the front-runners hit trouble.