Everyone knows what to expect from the Hungaroring: hot and sunny, tight and twisty, long and just before the break. But when the teams arrived, late or via a diversion, it was to torrential storms across Hungary, worrying everyone in the teams that their carefully laid plans for the weekend might have just washed away. There were even some in the paddock who hadn’t bothered to pack wet weather clothes, such is the predictability of the weather in Budapest.
But by Friday all of their worries had vanished: the usual heat and strong sun were installed over the Hungaroring in time for the race weekend to get under way, with George Russell continuing his recent rich vein of form as he claimed the top spot in free practice, coming out on top of a typically fast and frantic session with times tumbling all the way through, halted only briefly by a red flag brought out to allow the marshals to deal with the debris from Giuliano Alesi hitting a marker board.
On the second set everyone was straight out on track apart from Jack Aitken, who held the top spot at the break but struggled to get going and had to be pushed back to his pit for the team to investigate, with teammate’s Russell and Nirei Fukuzumi soon squabbling over P1 before Raoul Hyman looked like he’d claimed it by nailing the tricky middle sector before the clock wound down to zero. But Russell was still on a lap, and when his first 2 sectors turned purple it was clear he was on a charge: he ran slightly wide at the final corner, but he’d done enough to take the top spot from Hyman and Fukuzumi.
Aitken was back on top in qualifying the next morning, making the most of his recent test at the circuit to claim his second pole of the season. All of the ART teammates spent time on the top spot, with Hyman also topping sectors but not quite stringing them together and Dorian Boccolacci looking strong too.
With 5 minutes remaining Aitken was on his first flyer, grabbing P1 and going on for his second one, but the session came to an early end when Arjun Maini pulled over at turn 1 with car problems, bringing out local yellows before stuttering off down the road and grinding to a halt at the final corner, bringing out the red flags and an early end to proceedings, much to the chagrin of those on the grid who were looking to improve before the flag.
Aitken took the top spot by two tenths from Russell, who was clearly annoyed to have missed his shot at pole, and Fukuzumi, but the Renault junior was visibly happy with the result, if not the method, of his pole: “Yeah, it was really good obviously! We had some work to do from yesterday, and even from the first set in qualifying, but it was all about doing it when it mattered on the second set, and everything was good: the car was good, I was good, so it was really nice, a good feeling!
“I don’t know what the others did – we’re all similar – but we made a small change on the second set and it was the right thing to do, for me anyway. I just really managed to get the best out of the tyre on the first lap: I don’t know whether I would have been quicker on the second lap but the chances of a red flag are high here, so it’s always important to be quickest on the first lap as well.”
Pole is never a guarantee of a result in GP3, but if there’s a circuit where it pays better dividends than anywhere else it’s Budapest, or Monaco without the walls as it’s otherwise known. Russell stopped on his outlap before limping around to the grid, and despite a flurry of activity around his car the Briton stopped on the side of the track on the installation lap, giving Aitken one less worry at the start.
When the lights went out he pulled across the track, followed by Fukuzumi, to close off any challenge from Boccolacci before leading them all through turn 1, with his teammate challenging hard until a safety car emerged to deal with the damaged cars of Maini and Tatiana Calderon, slowing everyone down again.
The Briton easily controlled the restart before heading off into the distance, slowed only briefly by a VSC to remove Steijn Schothorst’s car from turn 7, and the two teammates were soon joined by a third when Anthoine Hubert ran side by side through turn 2 with Boccolacci before grabbing P3 from his countryman and heading off after his teammates for an all-ART podium.
“We wanted this win from the start of the season,” Aitken smiled in the press conference, “it’s just been some things getting in the way. I won a race last year already, which helps: if I had not won at all, it would probably be worse! It’s just nice to see we’ve finally got the result we wanted and I can go to the summer with a bit of a smile.
“The start I had was sort of okay, but Nirei was catching me into Turn 1 so I tried to cover him off, and after that it was just managing the tyres. When you’re in the lead, it is so much easier to do that. Even with the Safety Car restart and the VSC, I never really had any issues: I managed to keep Nirei behind the whole time, and in the end I had the luxury to try for fastest lap as well.
“It was quite a simple race in the end. I could see on the big screens some fights in the back of the pack. Some people seemed to be struggling more than others with the tyres, but when you’re in the lead, you can control the pace. It was quite easy!”
Overnight Trident team manager Giacomo Ricci dreamt that his team led everyone home as a 1-2-3-4 in Race 2: it wasn’t as far-fetched as you would imagine, given that his cars were starting from those positions, but racing doesn’t tend to work like that. Surely someone, probably the thus far dominant ARTs, would slice through to wreck the party?
But when the lights went out they only had eyes for each other: rule number 1 of racing is you have to beat your teammate, and poleman Ryan Tveter made a good start and moved straight across to cover Kevin Jörg. Unfortunately for the likeable American, he focussed so much on the Swiss driver that he braked slightly too late for turn 1, ran deep and handed the inside line to Alesi, who snapped it up and exited in the lead ahead of the pair.
Behind them Boccolacci had Alessio Lorandi all over his rear wing, with the Italian sneaking by at the final turn before looking for more Tridents to pass as Fukuzumi (spin at turn 3) and Leonardo Pulcini (over the kerbs at turn 4) pitted for fresh tyres. Lorandi tried in vain to catch the leading trio, but the pace was too high: the Italian ran wide over the kerbs at turn 11 on lap 7 before stopping with a puncture a few corners later.
It meant that Ricci’s dream was back in play, but there were plenty of others intent on spoiling Boccolacci’s day: a brief VSC to remove Bruno Baptista’s stopped car from turn 6 gave the Frenchman a breather, but the attacks were soon to restart. Aitken was the first carriage in the Boccolacci train, and he looked to have broken the dream when he pushed past on entry to turn 4, but the Briton jumped the kerbs before coming back, only to retire with a puncture the next time round.
There was another VSC for another puncture on lap 14, this time for Julien Falchero, but no one dropped their guard: Alesi controlled his pace all the way to the finish and didn’t put a wheel wrong all the way to the finish, crossing the line just 0.6s ahead of Tveter, with Jörg 2s further back for his first podium and Boccolacci crossing to bring home the first Trident 1-2-3-4, much to the delight of their team.
Alesi, emotional after the race, proclaimed: “the race was filled with positive emotions, because at the start both of my teammates went wide and I managed to take the lead. After that I managed to keep it until the chequered flag. I made a few mistakes here and there, but I still managed to stay ahead. I’m really happy.
“A big thank you to the team: they set up the car with their heart and with love. I’m so happy that their hard work shows in today’s results.”
ART left the Hungaroring having extended their lead in the teams’ championship and consolidated the top 4 in the drivers’ one, with Aitken moving up into P2 and closing down Russell’s lead and the Mercedes junior driver ruing unreliability but vowing to make it up after the break. But walking through the paddock it seemed that Trident were nevertheless the winners of the weekend, with Ricci’s dream fulfilled.
The French team may have had a 1-2-3, but the Italians brought home a 1-2-3-4. It was as though they were playing the old song as they packed down their pits ahead of the summer break: anything you can do, we can do better.