Just as the title seemed to slip away from Sebastian Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari’s hands, they came back in a strong manner than ever, securing a 1-2 finish in Hungary. Vettel recorded his 46th career victory and only his second at the Hungaroring, where his previous victory also came with Ferrari. Vettel’s victory took him to 202 points in the leaderboard, and helped him extend his lead in the Driver’s Championship to 14 points over Lewis Hamilton (188 points), heading into the summer break. His teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, had been struggling until the third qualifying session, but then finished strong throughout the weekend. Raikkonen was also faster than Vettel for most of the race, but with the process of overtaking to be a very difficult task in this race, he had to settle for a second place finish.
If Scuderia Ferrari (318 points) is to win the Constructor’s Championship, Raikkonen must continue firing on all cylinders as they still trail Mercedes AMG Petronas (357 points) by a significant margin of 39 points. Prior to this race, Ferrari trailed Mercedes by 55 points, and results like these prove that the title race is far from over.
Despite the Hungaroring not being Vettel’s favorite track of the calendar, he delivered a dominating performance when it mattered most. Prior to the Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton had reduced Vettel’s lead in the championship to just a point after a historic fifth British Grand Prix win. Vettel achieved pole in qualifying at Hungary, and even after facing issues with the positioning of the steering wheel during the race, he brought in all of his experience to control every single lap. With overtaking as difficult as it can get at this circuit, Hamilton had to do it all if he was to take the lead in the Driver’s Championship.
Hamilton tried valiantly, but the Ferrari’s pace proved to be too much for the Mercedes driver, who would end up finishing in fourth place- behind his teammate, Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton had been running in third, but since he could not get past any of the Ferraris, he kept his word by handing the place back to his teammate. After the race, Hamilton told reporters, “I am a man of my word,” indicating that he wants to win the Championship fair and square.
Hamilton had initially requested the team to let him pass because he had a faster pace than Bottas, and that was the only chance that Mercedes had to take some points away from Ferrari in that race.
Impressive performances from Hamilton in GP2 helped him get signed by a top team like McLaren Mercedes in his very first season in F1. Hamilton had won the GP2 title in his first season in 2006 and was not short of impressive performances at McLaren. In 2007, Hamilton finished second in the Driver’s Championship in his rookie season in F1 before eventually winning the Driver’s Championship itself with McLaren the next season. After four unsuccessful years at McLaren from 2009 to 2012, he then shifted to Mercedes AMG Petronas in 2013, who have dominated the sport since 2014. At Mercedes AMG Petronas, he won the Driver’s Championship in 2014 and 2015, before losing the title to teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016.
Unlike Hamilton, Vettel struggled initially, as he took a while to even make it into F1. However, after he had finally scratched the surface and made it in 2007, there was no turning back. He scored his first pole position and victory at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix with Toro Rosso, making him the youngest driver to ever win a race, and the only driver to ever win for Toro Rosso. His impressive performances at Toro Rosso helped him get signed by Red Bull Racing in 2009, the year which saw him finish second. He won his first F1 title with Red Bull Racing in 2010 by defeating two-time former World Champion, Fernando Alonso.
Fernando Alonso is considered to be one of the best drivers in the sport by many experts, and seeing Vettel beat him by the closest of margins did not change the mind of any critics. They believe that Vettel had a lucky escape. These critics did not seem to bother Vettel as he continued to impress by winning four consecutive titles at Red Bull Racing from 2010 to 2013. Furthermore, he won nine consecutive races, the longest streak ever, to win the 2013 Driver’s Championship.
The Championship Until Now
After Mercedes AMG Petronas dominated the past three seasons from 2014 to 2016, winning both the Driver’s Cup and the Constructor’s Championship, they finally seem to have competition from a familiar face; none other than Scuderia Ferrari. Ferrari dominated the sport with Michael Schumacher, winning five consecutive titles from 2000 to 2004. They finally seem to have made a competitive car after not having won the Constructor’s Championship since 2008.
Before the start of the 2017 season, Mercedes again appeared as the favorites to win the Championship because of excellent testing runs. Ferrari improved significantly from previous seasons, but still seemed far off from the standards that Mercedes had set. Although Vettel won two out of the first four races with Hamilton and Botta (respectively), it was not until the Monaco Grand Prix that Vettel was a serious contender for the Driver’s Championship. After the Monaco Grand Prix, Vettel had a massive 25-point-lead over Hamilton. However, that lead reduced significantly after Hamilton won two out of the next four, with Vettel winning none.
Just as the previous few seasons provided heated rivalries between the championship contenders in the plenty, this season seems to be the same. For the past three seasons, the rivalry was between Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, with that rivalry reaching its peak last year. After the Azerbaijan Grand Prix incident between Hamilton and Vettel, it seems that the shades of the intensity in last year’s championship rivalry can be seen.
Vettel was seen colliding with Hamilton during the safety car period, and was deservedly penalized for his actions. However, Vettel would still slam Hamilton by telling his team on the radio that Hamilton break-tested him. Hamilton, on the other hand, mentioned Vettel’s driving as “disgusting” and “disgraceful,” clearly indicating the rivalry is beginning to get as heated as it can possibly get.
After the rivalry reached its peak at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with a collision between the two strongest contenders for the Driver’s Championship, the next two races were pretty one-sided. Mercedes dominated the British Grand Prix and secured a 1-2 finish while Ferrari dominated the Hungarian Grand Prix with a 1-2 finish.
In the British Grand Prix, Ferrari faced tire issues with both Raikkonen and Vettel, who were running in a solid second and third place, respectively. The left front tire burst on the cars of both drivers, but despite the tire issues, Raikkonen managed to finish on the podium in third place. However, Vettel finished in a meager eighth place, thereby dropping vital points in the Championship to his fierce Mercedes rival.
The Championship Ahead
Vettel received three penalty points after the incident at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, taking the total tally of penalty points on his license to nine points. No other driver has ever received more penalty points on his license than Vettel has in the past year, and three more points would mean that he would receive a race ban.
With all of the teams returning from a summer break in the coming days, Vettel looks to have settled his nerves and temperament, while Hamilton and Mercedes AMG Petronas will try their best to increase the pressure and push for a fourth consecutive Driver’s and Constructor’s title for Mercedes. While recent history of the past three seasons favors Mercedes, the overall dominance of the sport is on Scuderia Ferrari’s side. With nine races remaining, the next half of the season will surely be an intriguing battle, led by two heavyweights: Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. The rivalry resumes at the Belgian Grand Prix on August 27.