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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 September 2018

F1 analysis: Vettel can enjoy summer break as Bottas secures Mercedes future

Following the Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix, Graham Caygill looks at the big stories to come out of Budapest.

Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium after winning the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday. Lars Baron / Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel celebrates on the podium after winning the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday. Lars Baron / Getty Images

It was a Ferrari one-two in Budapest on Sunday at the Hungarian Grand Prix as Sebastian Vettel finished ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen. Here are some of the talking points from the action at the Hungaroring.

Vettel’s important retort

Sebastian Vettel needed that win in Hungary and he needed it badly. The British Grand Prix was a tough weekend for the German as he lost almost all of his points lead in the drivers’ standings to Lewis Hamilton through a late puncture.

Vettel has been top of the standings, or joint-top for one race in China in April, since the start of the campaign and losing the lead just in time for the four-week summer break would have been a setback.

But he and Ferrari put on their most convincing display since Monaco, coincidentally also a low-speed track full of twists and turns, and a first win since then gives him a 14-point lead over Hamilton to reflect on during the next few weeks before racing returns in Belgium on August 27.

It was not easy for the German given that he had handling issues due to a problem with his car’s steering from early in the race.

He was fortunate to have teammate Kimi Raikkonen play the team game by sitting patiently behind him on a day when the Finn was clearly faster for much of it.

Raikkonen’s presence protected Vettel from the Mercedes cars and ensured what could have been a problematic afternoon went a lot smoother than expected.

Ferrari must improve, compared to Mercedes, on higher speed tracks in the remaining races if Vettel is to be their first drivers’ champion since 2007, but they have at least some momentum to go into the summer with.

Great day for Bottas

Peter Kohalmi / AFP
Peter Kohalmi / AFP

If Valtteri Bottas was in any doubt about whether he will be retained by Mercedes-GP for 2018 then he should be able to cast them aside. If the German marque had no intention of keeping the Finn then they would not have bothered allowing Hamilton to relinquish third spot to him on the final lap at the Hungaroring.

Bottas had run ahead of Hamilton for most of the race as he sat in third behind the two Ferrari cars, but had moved aside for the triple world champion on Lap 47 to see if he could do any better in trying to overtake Raikkonen and try to put pressure on Vettel.

Hamilton could not, and despite the fact he is in the midst of a title duel with Vettel where it looks as if every point will count, he kept to his promise he had made to the Mercedes team on the pit radio to give the place back to his teammate if he could not get through.

Hamilton duly did that and instead of falling only 10 points behind Vettel, he finds himself 14 back instead.

While it was very honourable, if Vettel leaves the final race of the season at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix having won the championship by one or two points, this gesture of doing right by Bottas will look very ill-judged.

The fact that both Hamilton and Mercedes did want to honour the deal to Bottas means he is clearly valued to them. It will not be a surprise if a new contract is announced for him to remain with the team very soon.

Alonso proves he's still got it

Mark Thompson / Getty Images
Mark Thompson / Getty Images

For a man who has 32 wins and two world titles to his name, sixth place is not really something, on paper, to be getting too excited about.

When you have driven a car as chronically slow and unreliable as the McLaren with its Honda engine then being the best non Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull Racing car was a heck of an achievement.

Fernando Alonso had every reason to smile as he got out of his car after taking sixth, also setting the fastest lap late in the race, and it again showed just what he can do given even half a chance to be competitive. The low-powered Honda unit will hurt McLaren on circuits where horsepower is at a premium and where, unfortunately, the majority of the remaining nine races of the season are.

So, it was great to see Alonso capitalise on a rare chance at a track like the Hungaroring to show that he has lost none of his speed and hopefully it will help him find better machinery in 2018, be it with McLaren, or elsewhere.

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