F1 title fight between Hamilton and Vettel as Bottas and Raikkonen recieve team orders
Bottas and Raikkonen will both have a crucial role in months ahead in trying to help man they share garage with come out on top
As the Formula One circus heads to Budapest this weekend for the Hungarian Grand Prix, the roles the key protagonists are going to play in the drivers' world championship denouement are a lot clearer.
The main act is Lewis Hamilton v Sebastian Vettel: Mercedes-GP's lead driver up against Ferrari's No 1 in a tussle that has arguably been the best title duel in years and promises to have even more twists and turns before we reach the decider, the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, on November 25.
Behind them will be their respective teammates Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen, who will both have a crucial role in the months ahead in trying to help the man they share a garage with come out on top.
Last Sunday's German Grand Prix saw both Bottas and Raikkonen become victims of team orders as Mercedes and Ferrari prioritised their teammates.
Raikkonen in particular had his race run around the needs of Vettel. He was third early in the race but not on the pace of Vettel as he sat six to seven seconds behind him, with Bottas in between.
The race was expected to be a one-stop strategy for both teams, but Ferrari pitted Raikkonen on Lap 15 - 11 laps before Vettel would make his own stop.
Ferrari looked to use Raikkonen to bait Mercedes into making Bottas pit early to get him on to a two-stop strategy, something that would take the pressure off Vettel.
It did not work as Mercedes kept Bottas out and on the quicker strategy, even if it meant losing track position for a short while to Raikkonen, who was doing fast laps on his new tyres in clean air.
The move actually backfired on Ferrari as Raikkonen's pace on his fresh rubber actually got him ahead of Vettel after the German had stopped.
Vettel became increasingly frustrated stuck behind Raikkonen, who by then had slowed as his tyres began to wear - a consequence of that early stop. That ensured an almost certain need for a second stop became and Ferrari had to order him out of the way.
Ironically, Raikkonen ended up being Ferrari's sole hope in the final laps after Vettel crashed out, but he had to be content with third behind the Mercedes pair.
Bottas actually led Hamilton for most of the afternoon after the Briton had started back in 14th place after his car had suffered a mechanical failure during qualifying.
Hamilton looked set to finish fifth, with Bottas duelling with Raikkonen for second spot, until the late rain shower blew things wide open.
After Raikkonen and Bottas had pitted during the safety car period - brought out by Vettel's crash - Hamilton ended up in front, with his teammate behind him.
Bottas, on the fresher tyres, had a real good go at passing Hamilton when the race restarted, but was told by Mercedes to back off and stay second.
The Finn took it with good grace and no histrionics, simply saying "copy" to the order and he came home second.
The situations for Raikkonen and Bottas are now similar, but the context is different.
Raikkonen is slower then Vettel and has been throughout the season. He out-qualified the German at the opening race in Australia, but has not done so since, and he has rarely been a match for him on race pace either.
The four times he has finished a grand prix ahead of Vettel (China, Azerbaijan, France and Austria) all involved his teammate either being hit by another car, making a mistake or having to deal with a penalty from the stewards.
Bottas, however, has been much closer to Hamilton and has out-performed him on a number of weekends this year.
Certainly in Bahrain, China, Azerbaijan and Canada he did a better job then his world champion teammate.
Misfortune and unreliability are why he has not won a race yet this season, and he was unfortunate in Germany where he had the quicker package in the closing stages but could not act on it because of team intervention.
Hamilton holds a 17-point lead over Vettel, with Raikkonen 57 back and Bottas 66 adrift. Statistically all four men still are in the title hunt, but Germany underlined that Mercedes and Ferrari are respectively putting their backing behind Hamilton and Vettel.
That does not mean, however, that their teammates are not going to play an integral part in the coming months.
Mercedes and Ferrari will both look to their No 2 driver to beat the other team's title contender, and take points away from them.
Bottas has beaten Vettel twice this season, while Hamilton has only finished behind Raikkonen once in races where they both finished.
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The Ferrari SF71H has looked the quicker package in recent races, with Mercedes claiming in Germany that the Italian team's power unit gave them a 0.5 seconds advantage on the straights.
That was highlighted by Raikkonen's improved qualifying form in Britain and Germany were he was third quickest, and Ferrari will want him to keep that up.
What you will likely see in the remaining 10 races of the year is more instances of Ferrari and Mercedes using their second drivers for aggressive strategies in a bid to try and unsettle their rivals.
It might not always work, but it should keep things unpredictable.
The goal for both teams will be as many one-two finishes as possible. Mercedes have two this year in Spain and Germany, while Ferrari have none.
If Hamilton and Vettel can win a race with their teammate behind them then it will be at least a 10 point gain,assuming their rival is third.
If all four drivers are close to each other on the grid on Sunday expect more strategic tactics to be the fore.
Updated: July 24, 2018 04:23 PM