If you need a definition of ‘Winning is Everything’, rather than focus on Lewis Hamilton’s justifiable happiness, study the faces of Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas after Sunday’s race.
Vettel had the look of a man who’d lost 100 Euros and found 10. The Hungaroring should have been the place where this flip-flop season returned the momentum to Ferrari. All the evidence pointed that way until rain in qualifying gave Hamilton the opportunity to demonstrate just why Mercedes pay him so much.
Bottas had produced a brilliant lap to take provisional pole but his expression afterwards was reminiscent of Nico Rosberg at Shanghai in 2015 when Hamilton aced the Finn’s excellence by 0.042s. Bottas wore exactly the same ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ look as he trudged back to the Mercedes enclave to dry out on Saturday afternoon.
But if that personal setback had to be treated with reluctant resignation, Valtteri’s mood was less benign 24 hours later when he heard his role had been referred to as Lewis’s wingman.
You knew exactly what Toto Wolff meant, even if it came across badly. Bottas had produced an exemplary defensive performance on tyres that were as knackered as Valtteri probably felt while watching his team-mate extend the lead and, at the same time, strengthen his case for de facto number 1 status when the championship reaches a potentially crucial stage in a couple of months.
Whether that phase will be critical for Mercedes depends on how Ferrari respond when battle resumes at the end of the month. Despite having the potential to allow the failings of Germany and Hungary to fester, the break will allow Ferrari to regroup following the unexpected loss of Sergio Marchionne. There’s every chance the Scuderia will come back even more determined.
Which is not good news for Mercedes since, despite the recent loss of around 30 points, Ferrari has the marginally better car. It’s just that the driver and his team are not allowing themselves to maximise the SF71H.
If Vettel was 100 per cent at fault at Hockenheim, the team has to take the wrap for leaving their driver at the mercy of surprising intransigence by Carlos Sainz (who’s clearly not looking for a Ferrari drive despite his new-found and surprising lowly status in the market place). The four week break, however, will scarcely be a happy one for the poor Ferrari bloke who took all of two seconds more than he should with the left-front during the pit stop.
Vettel may be ruing the loss of a win on Sunday but you could argue that he ought to be thankful for second place. He could have come away with a punctured left-rear and the best part of a lap for the flailing rubber to do its worst during the trip back to the pits.
The stewards saw the incident as 50/50. Valtteri was guilty of running too deep on worn rubber when the corner was more or less lost, but Seb was just as culpable when making another of his questionable judgements under pressure by leaving barely enough room for a car he knew was struggling for grip.
Either way, it was a racing incident followed by a reasonable decision not to start slapping drivers’ wrists for going racing. But that should not lessen Vettel’s quiet gratitude for a 24-point deficit instead of possibly almost twice that number.
As the Hungaroring and Hockenheim proved: there’s losing – and there’s really losing.