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Ferrari and Mercedes: Two different philosophies to winning

HUNGARORING, Hungary -- The Hungarian Grand Prix helped add weight to three widely-held assumptions during the first half of the 2017 season.

    The Ferrari is better suited to tight circuits with slow-speed corners than the Mercedes

    Ferrari is willing to disadvantage Kimi Raikkonen to give Sebastian Vettel the best chance of victory

    Mercedes still prioritises team harmony over the individual ambitions of its drivers

The Ferraris. Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Combined, these three trends should make for a fantastic second half of the season with a drivers' championship that will be incredibly difficult to predict The balance of remaining circuits are likely to favour Mercedes' strengths over Ferrari's, but Vettel -- with the help of Raikkonen -- is in a better position to exploit his opportunities than Lewis Hamilton is with Valtteri Bottas.

Of course, all three assumptions could change as the season progresses -- updates might swing the balance of performance one way or another, Kimi Raikkonen might go rogue and start ignoring Ferrari's strategists and Mercedes' team orders might become more ruthless -- but based on what we've seen so far, the second half of the championship is poised to deliver a classic when racing resumes after the summer break.

Ferrari shows its true allegiance, if not its true pace

On pure pace, Vettel should not have won the Hungarian Grand Prix. For reasons Ferrari continued to investigate on Sunday night, his steering wheel was offset to the left by several degrees, making right-hand corners awkward and left-hand corners a genuine challenge of his dexterity. He said the severity of the issue was changing throughout the race, making it all the more remarkable that he was able to negotiate the tight corners of the Hungaroring lap after lap and incredible that he was still able to win the race. Raikkonen's Ferrari, meanwhile, was working perfectly and had the pace to take victory at a canter if it had been cut loose on the right strategy.

Once Vettel pitted ahead of Raikkonen on lap 32, the Finn showed the true potential of the SF70H on a clear Hungaroring circuit. His first sector on lap 33 was the fastest of the race up to that point and his second sector was just 0.040s shy of the best set by Hamilton on a set of soft tyres 35 laps younger than Raikkonen's super-softs. In the middle sector alone he was 0.760s faster than Vettel on brand new soft tyres, but in his third sector he was ordered to pull into the pits just as he was edging towards a new fastest lap.

Had he stayed out for just one more lap at that pace he would have built a big enough gap over Vettel to emerge from his pit stop ahead his teammate -- all the while keeping a comfortable gap to the Mercedes, which were setting near identical sector times to Raikkonen on their fresh tyres. This was the true pace of the Ferrari in Hungary and if it had been released to its full potential on the perfect strategy, Mercedes would never have had a sniff at victory. Instead Raikkonen emerged from his pit stop just behind Vettel and soon came under attack from Bottas and then Hamilton.

"You've put me under massive pressure from Mercedes for no reason," Raikkonen complained over team radio, but Ferrari's reasoning was absolutely clear: Raikkonen was sat in the fastest car on the track and was therefore the perfect form of defence for Vettel's damaged car. Slotting Raikkonen behind Vettel was the safest strategy available to ensure a Ferrari one-two whereas Vettel may have lost two places or more if he had been exposed to attacks from the Mercedes. Regardless of how much you may have wanted Raikkonen to win his first race in four and half years, and undoubtedly he could have, you can't deny Ferrari did the right thing for the overall team result.

Hamilton plays the team game, but Bottas is the true team player

Like Ferrari, Mercedes' tactics at the Hungarian Grand Prix were also aimed at getting the best possible result. Hamilton was the faster of the two teammates and, after regaining radio communication with the pit wall, told his engineers that he thought he would be able to pass Raikkonen in second place given the chance. It took just two laps to crunch the numbers and convince Bottas to move aside but, ultimately, Raikkonen's Ferrari proved too quick for Hamilton to make a move and the Mercedes drivers swapped back on the final corner of the final lap.

While a significant amount of praise was piled on Hamilton for letting Bottas back past, it should not be forgotten that Bottas was the one who made Hamilton's sporting gesture possible in the first place. In fact, if everything had gone to plan for Mercedes, Hamilton would have moved up to second place and Bottas would have been stuck in fourth staring at the back of Raikkonen's Ferrari again. As it transpired, Hamilton did not have the pace to pass Raikkonen and it was therefore not much to expect for Hamilton to honour his agreement and return third place to his teammate.

You only have to go back to this year's Canadian Grand Prix to see a similar example between Force India's drivers where a gesture like Bottas' would have been gratefully received. In that case, the same discussions took place between the drivers and the pit wall but Sergio Perez made it absolutely clear that he had no intention of ceding position to teammate Esteban Ocon. It's likely the team would have scored a better result had the swap taken place, but Force India's management was happy to stand by Perez's decision not to trade places and move on.

Rewind further to the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix and Hamilton refused to let his then Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg past while running on different strategies. Hamilton was on a slower compound tyre than Rosberg but was running to the end of the race while Rosberg still had one more pit stop to make. He was asked to move aside and let Rosberg pass into Turn 1, but replied "I'm not slowing down for Nico. Get close and then he can overtake me." It's true that in that case Hamilton and Rosberg were in a head-to-head battle for the title, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Bottas is still a serious contender for this year's championship.

In that context, what Bottas did was remarkably sporting, especially after a similar situation in Bahrain this year saw him cede second place to Hamilton and never get it back. Ultimately, Mercedes left the Hungaroring satisfied it did everything it could to try to beat Ferrari and content that the team harmony it has enjoyed throughout the season is still intact. Like Ferrari, it did the right thing for its team at this moment in the championship.

Two teams, two philosophies

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the 2017 season is how closely matched Ferrari and Mercedes are. The winter's regulatory shake-up promised a lot in terms of lap times and cornering speeds, but the one thing it could never guarantee was a close battle between two teams for victory. Even though Mercedes and Ferrari took two very different approaches to car design under the new regulations, they have arrived at the summer break with very little separating them in terms of performance.

Mercedes looks more likely to clinch the constructors' championship, but that has been by virtue of having a stronger set of results from Bottas than Ferrari has had from Raikkonen. With that comes the added complication of allowing Bottas and Hamilton some level of equal standing within the team, while Ferrari seems more willing to sacrifice Raikkonen's results for Vettel's benefit.

So far, Ferrari's approach is paying off in the drivers' championship, with Vettel enjoying a 14-point lead he may not have had if Raikkonen's potential had been fully realised in Monaco and Hungary, while Mercedes' approach is paying off in the constructors'.

Ultimately, only the final standings will determine which approach is correct and that will be justification enough.

Source: http://www.espn.co.uk/f1/story/_/id/20209235/ferrari-mercedes-two-different-philosophies-winning

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