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The Crofty Blog – Hungary

It was a shame that we didn’t get a referee’s whistle at the end of lap 35 this weekend. But that was the point where we reached half time in the 2016 Formula 1® season. I’m not sure how you felt about it, but for me, the first half has gone by in the blink of an eye. Life tends to in Formula 1®, never stopping for long after one race, before you’re fully immersed in the next.

Throughout the first half Nico Rosberg has lead the Championship, but after Spain and that first lap collision things haven’t exactly been plain sailing for him. Just one win since and that was after his team mate had problems in qualifying, so that his once 43 point lead is now a 6 point deficit. For the first time in 2016, Lewis Hamilton sits on top of the table.

Five wins in six races, he’s not just surfing the Silverstone crowd, he’s riding the crest of a massive wave and still basking in the glow of the affections his home crowd brought him a fortnight ago.

Plenty of Brits were here in Hungary to witness his latest victory, this race seems to get more and more popular every year with the British fans, and I can see why. Budapest is a brilliant city, full of top places to eat, drink and on occasion, get very merry!! And whilst it’s played host to plenty more exciting races than we had this year, it’s not always provided a marker for the World Champion. In fact, since Michael Schumacher won here in 2004, no driver has taken victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix and gone on to be Champion that season since.

So, the question now is whether that run will change and will Lewis Hamilton’s win this weekend, take him on to a 4th title come the end of the season? And if not, how does Nico Rosberg stop him? Actually that’s a few questions, but let’s face it, as much as Ferrari first and latterly Red Bull, have improved, and tried to take the fight to the boys and girls in Brackley, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that Mercedes and one of their drivers won’t be Champions again.

This weekend, they stretched their advantage over the competition, on a track where realistically, Red Bull had arrived thinking that they had a genuine chance of victory. This was meant to be a race where Mercedes were under pressure, but the 1-2 never really looked in doubt. And when the engine upgrade arrives, most likely at Spa, how much more pace will we see?

Now Lewis has a couple of engine penalties to take, I say a couple because that is what the man himself keeps stressing. But, it could make sense for the team to introduce two new Power Units at the same race. After all, he’ll be starting at the back of the grid anyway. Not strictly speaking the most sporting interpretation of the rules, but we saw other teams do something similar last year.

So if it’s one or two races where Lewis starts at the back, then Nico has the chance to go out and bag a few more points than his rival. But there are ten races to go, so he’s got to rely on more than just engine penalties to restore his advantage. Nico’s problem is that he’s not beating Lewis when all things are equal. Hungary for instance, Nico started on pole, Lewis went and won the race, all down to his move at the first turn. When Lewis has had mechanical issues in qualifying or a bad start, Nico has taken advantage, but we’re still waiting for him to beat the defending champion on the track when the two of them are scrapping it out. Forgive me if I’ve forgotten it, but has Nico overtaken Lewis in a race whilst they’ve been team mates, other than at the start?

For me, Hockenheim is the big race for Nico. All season long he’s lead but for the first time he finds himself behind. There’s been a 49 points swing since Spain. Should Nico not regain that lead this weekend, then he goes into the summer break one again on the back foot. What he’s tried so far hasn’t worked, and he knows that if he gets tough on the track, he’s got to keep it clean now after the collisions in Spain and Austria. So that itself will add extra pressure, even with his new two year deal in place. Both drivers are on a Yellow card as the teams have informed us, but it seems that Lewis appears better equipped to deal with the fall out when the pair collide. Look at his run after Spa in 2014 for example, and what’s happened since Spain this year. That could be complete coincidence of course, or it could be that Nico takes longer to get over it.

Nico is well liked by the Mercedes team. He’s popular with the staff and the sponsors like him as well. I got a chance to see how well he interacts with the sponsors on Thursday night when he turned up to open a shop in Budapest and spent over an hour delighting the crowd. Personally I wished he’d have got a move on as I had to get into the shop to buy some new clothes as mine were currently in a suitcase that hadn’t quite made it to Hungary at the same time as me. Big thanks to Mercedes for having a word and getting the staff to re-open the Hugo Boss store as soon as Nico left, otherwise I’d have been in my shorts on screen, and I’ll leave that look to Ted!

But it’s all well and good being well liked, what Nico wants is to be respected as a Champion too. Lewis has earned that respect, three times over. With both driving equal cars, it’s down to Nico to show he’s got the little bit extra that turns race winners into Champions. He already holds the record for the most race wins for a driver who hasn’t won the title, but somewhere down the line he’s got to find a way to up his game.

And that, in this big race to come, really needs to happen in front of his home fans this weekend. Nico isn’t a bad driver, it’s just that he’s up against another who has consistently found a way to beat him, which makes Lewis a better driver as things stand at the moment. But everything can change in a moment and if Nico can regain that Championship lead straight away, well the next ten races might not be as straightforward as some people are thinking.

Right, have you finished with your half time oranges? The referees got his whistle to his lips once again, time for the second half. Enjoy!

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