Häkkinen: “Lewis loves a challenge, particularly a recovery drive”

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Two-time Formula 1 champion Mika Häkkinen says “Hungary changed the 2021 season” and “the pressure is now on Red Bull Racing to respond”.

In his Unibet column Mika Häkkinen gave his thoughts on the amazing Hungarian Grand Prix that saw Mercedes regain their lead in both championships ahead of the summer break.

“I really expected Red Bull to dominate this weekend considering the strengths of their car and its suitability for tight circuits,” the Finn wrote.

“However, Mercedes has reacted brilliantly in recent weeks, bringing upgrades and really fighting back. When Lewis and Valtteri Bottas locked out the front row in qualifying it was a clear sign that Mercedes had made a step forward.

“The margins are small but in such a close battle every improvement really counts.”

Häkkinen then turned his attention to the big crash on race start. Valtteri Bottas bumped into the McLaren of Lando Norris, which then took out both Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen. The latter managed to finish the race, but his car was badly damanged.

“The first corner accident had a big impact on the race and the World Championship. Valtteri has accepted it was his mistake, an easy one to make in wet conditions, but it was a real pity to see Lando Norris taken out after making such a great start from P6 in his McLaren.

“It was the damage caused to Red Bull’s cars that really changed the race and the championship.  With Sergio Perez out of the race and Max’s car suffering a lot of damage it’s actually a miracle that he finished the race and scored a point. This was a very difficult day for the team.”

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After the crash the race was red-flagged, and it was decided that there will be a standing restart. On the formation lap every driver entered the pits to switch from intermediate to dry tyres, everyone except Lewis Hamilton.

This led to a crazy scene of Lewis starting the race by himself, while everybody else started from the pitlane.  He then had to go for a tyre change at the end of his first lap, which dropped him down to the back of the field.

What followed was a recovery drive that saw him ultimately finish in P3 (later promoted to P2, due to Sebastian Vettel being disqualified).

“Like everyone  else I have never seen one car line up on the grid before, so it was really extraordinary to see Lewis Hamilton on his own after the red-flag restart,” Mika continued.

“The team should really have pitted him so that he could switch tyres like everyone else, and when he fell down to last place it seemed impossible that he could still score a podium finish.

“But Lewis loves a challenge, particularly a recovery drive.”

There is no doubt that Lewis would have won the race if Fernando didn’t hold him up for several laps in their battle for P4. Häkkinen believes the same.

“I really believe he would have won the race had Fernando Alonso not managed to keep him behind. When you consider that Lewis finished the race 4.5 seconds behind Esteban Ocon, and was lapping so much faster, Alpine really can thank Fernando for using all his experience to keep the Mercedes behind.

“That was a really fascinating duel to watch.”

Ultimately, the Finn says the Hungarian Grand Prix will be remembered as a pivotal point in the 2021 season.

“In two races the Formula One World Championship has completely changed. When they left Austria Red Bull Racing had a good lead in both the Drivers and Constructors championships. Now they lead neither of them.

“In my experience the World Championship can change in one weekend, so while there is a long way to go in the championship it feels like Hungary changed the 2021 season.

“The pressure is now on Red Bull Racing to respond, and with the next two Grands Prix on circuits Mercedes should be strong – Spa and Monza – it will not be easy.”

Häkkinen expects there will be a lot more “changing fortunes” in the second part of the season.

“It is too difficult to predict which team and driver combination will win the World Championship.

“In two weeks the balance has shifted and I think we are going to see plenty more changing fortunes in the second half of the season,” concluded the Finn.

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