After a Grand Prix double header at the Red Bull Ring in Austria opened the truncated 2020 Formula 1 season, F1’s circus – these days a closed shop in an effort to prevent a COVID-19 breach that would most likely scupper any possibility of a decent length campaign – arrived at the Hungaroring just outside Budapest for the Hungarian Grand Prix – the third of the season.
Williams arrived in Hungary on the back of their best qualifying performance in over a year, when Britain’s George Russell broke into Q2 for the first time in his short Grand Prix career, eventually lining up in 11th place for the Styrian Grand Prix.
This was tangible progress for a team that spent the whole of 2019 rooted to the back of the field, despite torrid conditions on Saturday masking any potential performance deficit Williams’ FW43 might have to its rivals, allowing Russell to guide his car to a better qualifying position than perhaps his car deserved. And so it was proven on Sunday, when after a handful of laps battling in the midfield, George dropped to the back after an off at T6, where he remained for the duration of the race.
And so, with much improved pace over a single lap all eyes were on Williams in Hungary to see whether this pace would translate into a strong qualifying in dry (or normal) conditions, and whether or not that would in turn lead to strong race pace.
Come Saturday afternoon, we got an answer to the question of whether Williams could repeat their Styrian qualifying success in the dry – and it was a resounding yes! Not only did George get into Q2 for the second time in two races, he was joined by team-mate Nicholas Latifi, who qualified in 15th in just his third Grand Prix.
Russell would eventually line up in 12th, a mere two-tenths off Q3 – surely now his target for the remainder of the season.
Unfortunately, the answer to the question of Williams’ carrying their single-lap pace over into the race was less positive.
Come lights out on Sunday for the Hungarian Grand Prix, both cars found themselves sorely lacking. Despite very different starts – Nicholas taking off like a rocket in the damp conditions, and George with his now traditional tardy getaway (he really needs to get that sorted!) – the two Williams hit the back with a dozen laps on the board.
Latifi, the victim of a calamitous early stop leaving him needing a further visit to the pits to remedy a puncture, found himself miles adrift, eventually taking the flag five laps down in 19th and last.
George, seemingly unable to make any inroads into the cars ahead finished one place ahead in 18th.
“If we look at everything and see the steps we have made, especially on the Saturdays, we have got to be relatively pleased. There are plenty of positives, we just need to rectify the negatives and make our pace of the car a bit better across the ball.” George said after the race.
Okay, so the Hungarian Grand Prix was another duffer for Williams, and the records will show they’re last and second last again. But that doesn’t tell the full story. This year’s car has shown in qualifying that it’s capable of competing in F1’s midfield on pure pace, and that’s a massive improvement on last year.
Step two is to optimise strategy so that every last drop of the FW43’s quali potential is squeezed out in the race.
One step at a time. So far so good. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Etc. Etc.
We’re getting there! On to Silverstone.