BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 28: Top three qualifiers Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP, Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes GP and Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari celebrate in parc ferme during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 28, 2018 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Will Taylor-Medhurst/Getty Images)

Lewis Hamilton is in pole position with Valtteri Bottas next to him in the front row. A most unexpected Mercedes 1-2. Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel start from the second row. The race on Sunday is expected to be dry with track temperatures of over 50 degrees C. The drivers have a free choice of tyre compounds to start the race as they qualified in the wet conditions.

Hungarian GP – What Lies Ahead?

The Hungaroring circuit is a track that makes it hard to overtake. The Pirelli tyre choices are the white-striped medium tyres, yellow-striped soft tyres, and the purple-striped ultrasoft tyres.

The teams can opt for a one-stop or two-stop pit strategy. Pirelli has predicted that both strategies are roughly the same. The next variation is what tyres to start the Grand Prix on.

Do the teams opt to start on the soft tyres and have a long first stint and try to do a one-stop pit strategy? Or do they start on the faster ultrasoft tyres and try to gain track position?

Given how important leading into Turn 1 at this track is, the Mercedes drivers could very well opt for the ultrasoft tyres to start on. Given the very high track temperatures predicted for the race, a two-stop pit strategy might also be the safer option.

So for the four top drivers, an ultrasoft-soft-ultrasoft tyre strategy might be the best option. For the drivers behind them starting on the more durable soft tyres and trying to make a one-stop strategy work might be more feasible.

But the free tyre choice at the start and the likelihood of dry and hot race conditions opens up the possibility of multiple strategies in the race.

The Start

The hard to overtake nature of the track puts a premium on making a good start and leading into Turn 1. Ferrari drivers have definitely had the edge with the starts in recent races. It is a long 617m run to Turn 1. Both Hamilton and Bottas need to play the team game to stay in front of both Raikkonen and Vettel at the start.

But expect atleast one Ferrari to jump the Mercedes drivers. The recent run-ins between the drivers of the two teams also adds spice to the starting battle. After Silverstone where Hamilton had a poor start and came together with Raikkonen for good measure, a war of words ensued between Mercedes and Ferrari.

For Mercedes, it is all about their drivers going 1-2 into Turn 1. For Ferrari, it is all about jumping them and taking the lead. In dry conditions, Ferrari had the edge in race pace in free practice.

So getting a good start is the key for Mercedes to mount a defence against the faster Ferraris on a track described as “Monaco without the buildings”. At this track, in the past, the pole position was on the clean side of the track and offered an advantage to the driver starting on pole. But the rain on Saturday would have washed away this advantage.

Behind them Max Verstappen (P7) will try to jump Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly at the start. The Dutchman needs to make the move if he hopes to get among the frontrunners.

Daniel Ricciardo (P12) and Nico Hulkenberg (P13) are out of position and will hope for a good start to propel them forward.

The Race

Ferrari and Red Bull had the edge in race pace, especially on the ultrasoft tyres in free practice. For Mercedes, the stronger tyre was the soft tyres. But they cannot risk starting on the softs and conceding track position at the start to the Ferrari drivers.

Lewis Hamilton said:“Well, we didn’t suffer on the softs. The softs were actually, I think, a better tyre for us. If anything we weren’t as good as they were on the ultra. But there’s a difference between the two tyres, particularly for that long straight, so I think it’s highly unlikely we’re going to sacrifice keeping our positions at the start – but again, I don’t know what the team are going to decide but I imagine we are going to start on the ultra, even with the choice.”

So if the Mercedes drivers manage to preserve their 1-2 on lap 1, it will then be a question of keeping the ultrsofts from overheating and controlling the pace at the front.

Ferrari, on the other hand, if they do not jump their rivals at the start, has to use their stronger race pace and strategy to overtake them. It is going to be a massive task for the Mercedes drivers to keep the two Ferraris behind them in the race.

Raikkonen and Vettel have a car that is well-balanced, fast on the straights and easy on the tyres. Hamilton had great race pace at both Silverstone and Hockenheim. It is going to be very interesting to see how the race unfolds in hot conditions.

The Safety Car and Virtual Safety car have played a role in giving an edge to one or the other championship contender in some of the races in 2018. With the first lap jostling and hot conditions, a SC is a distinct possibility. This could help one of the top drivers to roll the dice and take the lead.

Carlos Sainz starts fifth and it will be hard for him to keep Verstappen behind. It will be a hard-fought battle between him and the Haas drivers in the top 10. The two Toro Rosso drivers, Pierre Gasly (P6) and Brendon Hartley (P8), will have a fight on their hands to keep their positions as the race unfolds.

The Winner

Sebastian Vettel needs a win at this race to go into the summer break with momentum. At Hockenheim, he threw away a sure win with an error. To rub salt into his wounds, his rival Hamilton scripted a fairy-tale win.

Vettel was dominant in the dry conditions at the Hungaroring in the practice sessions and seemed to have a lock on pole position in the dry. But the rain during qualification ruined his chances and he is only starting fourth. The German is trailing Hamilton by 17-points in the drivers’ championship.

So a win at the Hungarian GP becomes critical in the title race. But Vettel has to guard against mistakes which have caused him to lose many points in the season so far. It is a delicate balancing act for the four-time world champion to attack and keep it error free.

Hamilton is on pole unexpectedly due to the soaking wet qualification sessions. The Briton has been handed the advantage of pole position. Can he turn that advantage into a race win and extend his lead in the drivers’ championship?

A lot is at stake in the championship battle on Sunday. Who among Hamilton or Vettel will emerge as the winner? Or will one of the Finns, Bottas or Raikkonen, steal a win?

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