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RICCIARDO FACES THE MUSIC AGAIN

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AUSSIE driver still out of tune in chaotic Hungary Grand Prix, writes PETER COSTER:

THE review of the incident that saw Lewis Hamilton knock Max Verstappen out of the British Grand Prix was never going to be a second look by the stewards that might have changed a too-lenient penalty.

It doesn’t work like that. Changing a 10-second add-on at a pit stop to a stop-and-go penalty would have been a punishment to fit the crime.

Even grid-place penalties at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday would have been appropriate.

But the stewards insisted there was no new evidence that would change their original decision.

Instead there was seven-times world champion Hamilton on pole in Hungary while teammate Valtteri Bottas became the wrecker.

Bottas was given a five-place penalty for barging into the back of McLaren’s Lando Norris as the first lap turned into a butchers’ picnic that put five cars out of the race.

For the second time in as many races, Red Bull was left lamenting.

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At Silverstone last week, Verstappen was lucky to survive when Hamilton tried to pass on the inside at the fastest corner on the circuit.

It was doomed to failure. Verstappen was close to a car’s length ahead and turning in when Hamilton’s left-front wheel hit the Red Bull’s right-rear wheel, sending Verstappen into the barriers with an impact of 52G.

The Dutch driver staggered from the smoking wreck and was taken to hospital, fortunately uninjured, while Hamilton went on to celebrate with the crowd.

At the Hungaroring on Sunday, Hamilton was ahead of the carnage that brought out another red flag.

This time, as cars cannoned into each other, it was Verstappen’s team mate, Sergio Perez who could not continue.

Verstappen’s car had one side ripped out and the floor badly damaged, seriously affecting the car’s aerodynamics. Mercedes was quick to see this and relayed the good news to Hamilton.

The main reason for the Bottas rear-end on Norris was rain on a track already greasy from being rubbered-in from practice and qualifying.

Bottas hit the brakes in the mist, but too late. That ended the afternoon for Norris and Perez.

Verstappen limped on in his Red Bull after the restart with its side hanging on with duct tape.

Meanwhile, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll ran into Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and they were to take no further part in proceedings.

Like Bottas, Stroll was given a five-penalty for the next race in Belgium at the end of the month after the summer break.

Teammate Sebastian Vettel, who was to finish second in Hungary, was disqualified from the race after his car failed to pass a fuel test.

Back to the race, which was restarted but with Hamilton alone on the grid as the rest of the field went into the pits to change from wet-weather tyres to slicks.

Hamilton thought the track was drying and also wanted to change to slicks but was told to stay out.

It was the wrong call and Hamilton had to pit after the restart, which put him at the tail of the disappearing field.

Alpine, formerly Renault, found itself leading the race with Esban Ocon, who started eighth on the grid with teammate Fernando Alonso on ninth.

Mercedes was on the front row with Hamilton and Bottas. Red Bull was on the second row with Verstappen and Perez.

Pierre Gasly was on the third row with Norris. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was on the fourth row with Ocon.

Alonso was on the fifth row with Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel.

That was before the first lap carnage that saw Ocon take the lead. Hamilton drove through the field and raced wheel-to-wheel with Alonso for 10 laps before the double world champion locked up.

If Alonso had not held off the fast-finishing Hamilton, Ocon would not have won.

The centimetre-perfect duel with Hamilton was a privilege to watch.

The seven-time world champion was close to collapse on the podium, not only from exhaustion from an epic drive, but from what he thinks is long-Covid, having tested positive to the virus earlier this season.

McLaren’s Lando Norris missed on scoring points for the first time after being put out of the race by Bottas.

But what of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo?

The form that won him seven GPs, has deserted him. McLaren’s Andrea Stella, the team’s executive director of racing, prefers to think of Ricciardo’s inability to extract the best from the car as a musician who is not at one with his instrument.

Not enough practice, says Stella, in spite of being halfway through the season.

Maybe it is more of a case of Ricciardo not reading from the same song sheet.

He is still driving as he wants the car to behave rather than as the car demands.

Is he playing the violin when the car is a double bass?

Whatever the problem is, Ricciardo needs to get his ear attuned to what the car is telling him. Lando Norris is playing the McLaren MCL35M like a virtuoso while Ricciardo appears to have a tin ear and may find himself looking for another gig.

Maybe one of the cheap seats in the F1 auditorium.

In Hungary, Ricciardo was lapped after starting 11th and finishing 12th.

Did Ricciardo make the wrong decision in leaving Renault for McLaren? Too late now with Ocon and Alonso showing the renamed French team’s improvement.

Improvement that seems beyond Ricciardo, whose enthusiasm for F1seems to be waning if he meant what he was saying after a failure at the Syrian Grand Prix:

“It  was one of those days that I really did not love it.”

Like the slogan for Maccas (the Hamburgers not the F1 team) he needs to change that to “I’m Lovin’ It.”

mm

Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games.

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