Yes, yes, I know. This is a race that happened almost two weeks ago. Sorry. You should see the list of articles I still haven’t written yet but need to get round to!
In the intervening period I have received an email asking me what I think of Renault’s ban from the European Grand Prix. Now I have been accosted in the comments by Becken for failing to review the Hungarian Grand Prix. So I’d better do it then!
First of all, you have to give massive amounts of praise to McLaren for their stunning comeback. It was clear at the Nürburgring that this was a team very much on the comeback trail. At the time I said that they could be challenging for wins in the second half of the season. But I didn’t expect it to be so soon, or so emphatic when it happened.
I am not Lewis Hamilton’s biggest fan, but I was delighted to see him winning in Hungary. It is a testament to the huge amount of effort that the McLaren team has put into developing their car — what quite frankly looked like a hopeless task just a couple of months ago. The achievement is all the more incredible when you consider that testing is banned, removing a vital tool to track how the car is developing.
Hamilton’s run at the front was not down to luck. Nor was it with someone climbing all over his gearbox. Indeed, who could even have predicted that the second-placed car running 11.5s behind would be the Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen? Are McLaren and Ferrari now once again the front-runners? It could be that kers has come of age.
At times, the grand prix had a very retro feel about it. This season has been all about a new order. But for the first phase of the race the leaders were Alonso and Hamilton, with Räikkönen in 4th. Three names we should be familiar with seeing at the front, but it was most bizarre to see it happening this year.
I can’t help but notice at the same time that the unusual stewards’ decisions have come back just as the old guard have returned to the front. During the first half of this season, the stewards were noticeably quiet (with the exception, of course, of Australia). Not now. Is there something about McLaren, Ferrari and Renault that makes the stewards just lose their minds?
As you might be able to tell, I am not very impressed with the decision to ban Renault from the European Grand Prix for Fernando Alonso’s wheel coming off. On one hand, you can understand why they did it. In the week which saw the awful death of Henry Surtees in a Formula Two race after he was hit by a wheel, and a day after Felipe Massa was hospitalised after driving into a piece of debris, seeing a wheel bouncing around the track was absolutely the last thing anyone wanted to see.
But the decision to ban the entire team from the next race feels like a complete overreaction, leading to the suspicion that it was a knee-jerk reaction. I could have understood a heavy fine, or some kind of suspended ban. But the FIA’s justification for the ban seems quite odd to me. They say that the Renault team “knowingly” released Alonso from his pit box with the wheel not securely in place. Seems a bit odd to me. Which would deliberately release their car in such a state?
Nonetheless, the fact is that the team apparently took no action after that. They neglected to inform Alonso — who thought he had a puncture — what the problem was. That seems pretty incompetent to me, if not downright negligent.
That is why I think a fine would be justified. But to ban them from the race, when we have seen countless instances of wheels falling off cars going unpunished (including a similar incident involving Alonso driving a Renault in Hungary in 2006!), is over the top in my view. That’s especially the case when you consider that the next race is in Valencia, where much of the crowd will be wanting to see Fernando Alonso in action. Sometimes you think Formula 1 likes to shoot itself in the foot.
Meanwhile, both of the teams that are battling for this season’s championship will be worried for different reasons. Brawn must now be worried about the drop in their car’s performance. There is no hiding behind explanations about the temperature. Jenson Button’s bewildered radio transmission, “How — HOW? — can this car be so BAD?” sums it up. Brawn have put something on their car to destabilise what was an awesome package.
It is not a complete disaster situation. Jenson Button finished 7th. But it now looks like Brawn are behind at least five teams: McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull, Williams and Toyota. Their journey is the opposite to McLaren’s, and their challenge will be all the more difficult with testing banned.
Button actually only lost four points of his lead, which is still 18.5 points. And that is the reason why Red Bull should be worried. Because if they are to have a hope of challenging for the Championship, they need to stay at the sharp end, and they can’t afford to have the third fastest car. They need to be at the front, collecting 18, 16, 15 points when they can. Their tally from Budapest was just six.
It must be remembered that Hungaroring is a rather unique circuit, and many of the following circuits are very different indeed. But if McLaren and Ferrari are able to leapfrog Red Bull in the long run, Red Bull need to rely on staying ahead of Williams, Toyota and Brawn if their championship battle is to come to anything.
In this sense, despite only scoring two points, Jenson Button now looks like even more of a shoe-in for the championship. I’m sure he doesn’t feel like it. I can’t wait to find out how the rest of the season unfolds.