NOT for the first time, Saturday's qualifying proved more entertaining than race day when the unpredictable Formula One circus set up camp near Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Qualifying in particular was wild and whacky, although it still ultimately uncorked a not unfamiliar result – a Mercedes-Benz lockout of the front row.
Right until the end of qualifying, the shootout threatened a boil-over.
Heavy rain delayed the start of Q1. Once the session resumed, there was a series of red-flag interruptions as cars ended in the wall, some dabbling somewhat adventurously with an unfortunate recipe of intermediate rubber, puddles and white lines. A saturated track and the low ride height of modern F1 machines don’t make great companions.
By the end of Q2, the drivers were on slicks and then with a dry line obvious and just a couple of perilous damp patches to be leery of, all 10 survivors were on an equal footing and Supersofts for Q3.
On the drying surface, the last seconds of Q3 were always going to produce the best lap times. Then Fernando Alonso spun his McLaren, bringing out waved double yellow flags requiring anyone following to respond and back off. Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen all complied, ruining laps that promised to be their best. Nico Rosberg had the barest of lifts off the throttle, and completed his lap to take pole with a 1m 19.965s time. There was a stewards’ investigation into his faint acknowledgement of the rules, but no penalty – although lots of criticism from other quarters.
So the order was: Rosberg, who earlier signed a new two-year contract with Mercedes, Hamilton, Ricciardo and Verstappen, ahead of Sebastian Vettel, Carlos Sainz, Alonso and Jenson Button.
Lots of ifs and buts there, particularly from Hamilton and Ricciardo…
“I think we had better than a 19.9 [time] in us,” said Ricciardo. “We don’t get many opportunities to get a pole from Mercedes, but I thought today there was definitely a chance.”
But Hungary was always a circuit that brought confidence to the Red Bull camp. After Friday’s practice, when he was second-fastest to Rosberg, our man Ricciardo ventured to suggest: “We have to target top three; the last two years we have had podiums here.”
As is all too often in F1, the race was virtually decided in the first couple of corners. The rest of the race was snoozy, large periods of processional activity only broken in the concluding stages by a frustrated Raikkonen making an occasional lunge at an overly defensive fifth-placed Verstappen. One resulted in Raikkonen losing part of his front wing.
After the race, the Finn blasted Verstappen’s driving. "It's not for me to decide, but I think that his manoeuvres are questionable," Raikkonen said.
"It's not my job to determine if he was correct or not, but I have seen people penalised for much less."
At the start, Ricciardo made a blinder from third and fired around the outside of Rosberg to get his nose in front… for the barest of moments.
Hamilton charged through to the lead in the usual scrimmage, and there he would stay, in so doing grabbing a six-point margin over Rosberg in the fight for the world championship.
Rosberg later grumpily declared he couldn’t pass Hamilton on the Hungaroring, while Ricciardo was clearly enjoying delivering a cuff behind the ear to his upstart Red Bull child prodigy team-mate, and at the same time beating home the Ferrari of Vettel.
“I’m really pleased with a podium today,” said Ricciardo. “I don’t think we could have got a win. We tried at the start; we had a good run off the line and at the apex the Mercs were in my blind spot, so I thought I was in the lead, but on the exit I was done by Lewis (Hamilton) and then Nico (Rosberg) got me round the outside of turn two.
“I think even if we had got the lead, their pace was good so they could have even over-cut us if they stayed out an extra lap. Third was the best we could do and Seb (Vettel) got really close in the last three laps.”
Lowndes, van Gisbergen snare Supercars wins at Ipswich
It was a weekend of two very different parts but one team was absolutely dominant
Shane van Gisbergen led home a crushing Triple Eight Race Engineering one-two-three in Saturday’s Australian Supercars Championship 120km sprint at Queensland Raceway, catching and passing struggling Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes in the closing stages.
And then to emphasise the resurgence of Roland Dane’s outfit, Lowndes employed his magic touch on Sunday to emphatically crush the field and matching Mark Skaife’s record as the most successful Holden driver in Supercars history, each having recorded 80 wins for the Lion brand.
Ipswich, aka known as Hansonville, has been a happy hunting ground for Lowndes across many years.
And so it was again on Sunday when he landed his 105th career win and denied team-mate Jamie Whincup his 100th Supercars win.
Not that Whincup was too aggrieved. His pair of second places across the weekend pushed out his lead in the championship ahead of van Gisbergen, Mark Winterbottom and Lowndes.
Prodrive Ford’s Chaz Mostert continued his recent solid form to finish third in Sunday’s 200km race.
Van Gisbergen was in the mix on Sunday until he made an instant call to pit after seeing Scott Pye fire into a gravel trap and assumed a yellow caution flag would be inevitable. It wasn’t. Van Gisbergen headed into the pit lane to complete a pit stop – only to have to double-stack behind teammate Whincup. It was a costly move.
Lowndes gapped the field at the start on Sunday and never appeared remotely under threat as he cruised to his 12th win at Queensland Raceway. It was his second win this season and capped off a strong weekend after finishing third in yesterday’s 120km race.
Saturday’s sprint race was way more entertaining, helped by some lively preceding activity.
Kudos to Chris Pither, the Kiwi rookie who claimed a surprise but well-earned pole. Luck didn’t come into this process.
The six o’clock news, however, was dominated by Scott Pye’s spectacular practice crash when brake failure sent the DJR-Team Penske Falcon spearing into, up and almost over a tyre barrier. The team toiled hard and fast to get the car ready to take a start from the pit lane with just five minutes to spare, the crowd cheering as the #17 rolled out of the garage looking remarkably pristine.
Six-time Australian Supercars champion Jamie Whincup’s looked to have control of the Saturday race, but his late-race pace was compromised by older tyres and a need to conserve fuel, allowing the fast-finishing van Gisbergen to snatch victory on the penultimate lap.
Lowndes finished a close third to nail that impressive clean sweep for Triple Eight. It may have been a different story if the race ran a few laps longer as the Prodrive Ford men Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert were closing right on up on the three Triple Eight cars at the flag.
The championship situation is now: Whincup leads van Gisbergen by 110 points, with Winterbottom another 10 further back in third, and Lowndes fourth (-150).
Webber, Porsche claim back-to-back victory at Nurburgring WEC
Fighting back from a puncture in the first hour, Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley have sensationally taken the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid to victory in the 6 Hours of Nurburgring, round four of the World Endurance Championship.
It was the first win of the season for the reigning champions who took the lead late in the race when the #2 Porsche of Neel Jani/Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb collided with a slower LMGTE Am car, denying them a likely victory.
The fourth full-course yellow of the race was triggered to retrieve the stranded Abu-Dhabi Proton LMGTE Am car while the front runners rushed to the pits for service, the #2 Porsche taking fresh front bodywork.
Webber emerged in front.
The #2 Porsche finished fourth, two spots behind the #8 Audi Sport Team Joest R18 of Loic Duval/Oliver Jarvis and Lucas Di Grassi, which has reduced the points gap to the Jani car in championship.
The #7 Audi of Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler, which earlier took pole, claimed third place.
There was no post-Le Mans joy for the Toyotas, which finished fifth and sixth after tough race.
Mawson wins again in German F4
Australian Joey Mawson has enjoyed another successful weekend in the German Formula 4 Championship, scoring a win, a third and a fourth in the three races held at Austria’s Red Bull Ring.
Mawson now holds a 254 to 208 points advantage over nearest rival Mick Schumacher as the series moves into the second half of the season.
Mawson set the fastest time overall for both qualifying races however due to a penalty of 10 grid places imposed on him at the last event, the Australian was relegated to 11th slot for the first race.
He took a fighting fourth to get his weekend off to a strong start.
From pole for race two, Mawson led away and won easily by six seconds.
The final race of the weekend was a tough one from position seven, but secured another podium finish in the closing laps.
Mawson has increased his lead of the championship to 46 points over Mick Schumacher while also taking his podium tally to 11 from 15 races this season.