• The Final Stint - Hungarian GP

Hamilton right to question Mercedes

Laurence Edmondson and Nate Saunders
July 28, 2014
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The Hungarian Grand Prix had everything you could want from a Formula One race. Early rain to make the race as unpredictable as possible, safety car periods shaking up the pecking order, drama, tension, controversy, and some woeful tyre gambles. ESPN's Final Stint looks at the best and worst of the weekend's action.

Battle lines drawn

Since the start of the season Mercedes has claimed it is committed to letting its drivers race. That was an easy policy to formulate and stick by when its cars were leading each race by 30 seconds from the nearest rival, but throw in some competition and the lines easily become blurred. If Sunday's race had been held in bright sunshine, we would no doubt be heralding another lights-to-flag win for Rosberg, but a deluge in the hour before the race muddied the waters for Mercedes and when Marcus Ericsson's Caterham decimated against the barriers on the exit of Turn 3, the race was blown wide open. Rosberg was shuffled back through the field and Hamilton was doing a good job at moving forward. Mercedes split their strategies to tailor the needs of their two drivers, but inadvertently set them on a collision course for later in the race. "We needed to split the strategies because we didn't know how the race was going to go," Wolff said after the race.

At the time it seemed as though Rosberg's target was still very much the race win, but as the action unfolded it became possible that both drivers could challenge for victory. That's why it was so surprising to hear the pit wall tell Hamilton to move over on lap 50 and let Rosberg past. Rosberg needed the clear air, but Hamilton was also in a position to angle for first place and his team-mate was one of three of his rivals. Perhaps the Mercedes pit wall was still living 30 laps in the past and saw Rosberg as their only chance at victory, but to ask Hamilton to help him was asking him to go beyond the call of duty. After the race Wolff suggested that the team soon realised this after the initial call: "I don't want to play the vicious general and demand that they obey the rules. I could have gone on the radio or Paddy could but we didn't." Yet the damage was done and it could have implications moving forwards. Hamilton has every right to question his team, but would be wise not to create divisions and enemies at this stage of the season. In Niki Lauda he has a very powerful ally who can fight his corner at the team's top table. Hamilton should trust him to do just that.LE

The show looks pretty good

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After everything we've heard this year about artificial this and artificial that, the F1 product itself is actually pretty good. The relaxing of the stewards penalties has been a godsend to 2014 and means we see the sort of wheel-to-wheel duels we're almost being spoiled with after more enthralling racing in Hungary. Of course the rain helped, but as it was the first wet race since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix this itself was a welcome sight and provided a sense of unpredictability before the lights had even gone out. The rain and the accidents of Ericsson and Sergio Perez, coupled with the strategy calls made by every team in either safety car period, was a perfect storm and created a superb spectacle. It still would not have been enjoyable if the racing itself had been below par and thankfully it was not.

There are of course still issues with the sport. A perfect example was Nico Rosberg asking Mercedes for advice on driving during qualifying, moments which make drivers seem less like the heroes of old and more like robots going through the motions behind the wheel. But there was nothing artificial about the race itself. If drivers wanted to get past the guy in front, they had to get past - as we saw with Daniel Ricciardo's ballsy do-or-die moves on Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso at the death. That's what people pay to see. As aritifical gimmicks go it is worth noting that two standing restarts, which would have happened if it were 2015, may have ruined the Hungarian Grand Prix. During the first restart one half of the pit straight had developed a dry racing line, while the other was still fairly wet, putting those starting on that side at an enormous disadvantage. How this would make for a fair restart is anyone's guess, and if it was a situation where the cars would just restart from their grid positions behind the safety car anyway you have to wonder - what's the point? It seems to be one step forward and two steps back, sometimes. NS

Rising star

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Daniel Ricciardo is quickly emerging as the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the 2014 season. His second victory of the season was the result of a brilliant drive, helped to some extent by the early safety car, but executed by a man operating on top form. Once the opportunity presented itself, Ricciardo seized it and balanced aggression with tyre management to enable him to attack at the end of the race. So many times in the past we have seen drivers look strong towards the end of the race but unable to pull the necessary moves to take the win, yet on his two chances this season Ricciardo has nailed it. It's easy to forget about the drivers' championship after the two Mercedes drivers, but in the last five races Ricciardo has scored 78 points to Rosberg's 80 and Hamilton's 73. Considering the power unit disadvantage Ricciardo has, that is hugely impressive.LE

The Fernando show

In the final laps of the Hungarian Grand Prix it was hard not to cheer Fernando Alonso and Ferrari to victory, improbable as it looked with the charging Lewis Hamilton and the fresh-tyred Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo behind him. It would have been the perfect fairytale story for the summer break. A victory for Ferrari would have been even more remarkable than Ricciardo's second win of the season given how much the Prancing Horse has struggled to compete for podiums this season. Alonso's performance almost became a side act to Ricciardo's win, which itself has been dwarfed by Mercedes' incredible decision to issue team orders to drivers fighting each other for the world title.

Ferrari knows its fans may never forgive them if it never again gives Alonso a car with title-winning potential.

Of course Alonso benefited from the safety cars in the first half of the race but the Spaniard's drive was as good as you will see this season. Alonso stretched out a set of super-soft tyres for 31 laps and kept his lap times competitive throughout. His pace in the middle of the race was spectacular, he was the fastest man on track for a good 10 laps at one stage, as he reminded us all again he has all the tools to squeeze every inch of performance out of whichever car he has beneath him. If he is in fact staying at Maranello, Ferrari knows its fans may never forgive them if it never again gives Alonso a car with title-winning potential. Love him or loathe him, Alonso battling for victories just feels right.NS

Vettel to Mercedes?

Silly season always ruffles a few feathers in the paddock. Speculation over whether drivers will turn their backs on their current teams for promises of race wins and bigger pay cheques have the potential to fill endless column inches. It also presents the opportunity for teams to try to upset their competitors and unsettle relationships, or at least watch and smile as journalists unleash a barrage of questions within their rival's motorhome. It appears that was the motive of Red Bull's Helmut Marko when he said Mercedes were looking to poach Sebastian Vettel, thereby suggesting Lewis Hamilton is on his way out. Both Mercedes and Vettel seemed bemused by the suggestion when they arrived in the Hungaroring paddock and by the end of the weekend Niki Lauda, an old friend of Marko, set the record straight: "We are in contact already to renew [Hamilton's] contract, so all the speculation of bullshit Marko is absolute rubbish."LE

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