2022 Hungarian Grand Prix · RaceFans

The Hungarian Grand Prix weekend began with the bombshell news of Sebastian Vettel’s retirement and ended with a clue to his replacement.

Thursday

I was excited to get the weekend underway in one of my favourite cities. Expecting a quiet media day as Formula 1 began to wind down for the summer break, I walked to the media room to grab my spot.

The place was abuzz with chatter about Sebastian Vettel and Instagram. Curious to learn the famously social media-averse driver suddenly had a verified account, I sought it out and found a shared post from his brother indicating something going on at midday. Realistically I knew there was only one announcement to be made here.

At 11:59am I began hammering the refresh button. The news began to ripple around the media room as Vettel’s voice boomed from everyone’s devices. The 35-year-old had decided his time was over in Formula 1, and he was to step down at the end of the season.

Despite it not being a shock, it nevertheless was a sad moment. Moreover, it set my mind back to five days earlier: In the paddock at Paul Ricard I’d asked him who would take over from him and Lewis Hamilton in pushing for diversity and raising awareness for climate change when they retire.

“Instagram,” he’d quipped. I wish I had realised then he was giving me an oblique clue about his upcoming announcement. Knowing the day had just become a good deal busier, I made my way to my first media commitment of Thursday.

At AlphaTauri, Pierre Gasly lamented their performance in France, but also told us how Vettel had helped him persuade Red Bull to give him his F1 debut. It seemed like everyone we spoke to had a good word to say about the four-times world champion.

Next on the list of commitments was an exclusive chat with Lando Norris for an upcoming feature. I enjoyed a quick coffee while he finished another interview, then sat down with a warm hello, his cap facing backwards.

Vettel being the story of the day, I wasn’t surprised to see his session was packed. Sitting at the front, I waited with the others for the four-time world champion to appear.

Waiting for my turn, I knew I only had one question to ask. He laughed when I brought up last week’s Instagram statement, grinning at his long-time public relations manager Britta Roeske at what was clearly an in-joke between them.

The session done, as I left the motorhome I felt a hand on my back. I turned to see Vettel standing in front of me. “Instagram! You’re good,” he grinned, adding “no one else got that…” before being whisked away by an amused Britta.

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Friday

Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Hungaroring, 2022

The journey into the circuit was a breeze. Many other tracks could learn from the Hungaroring.

With few media commitments, I was able to catch up with those in the paddock before the F1 cars made their way out on track. Over in the Alpine garage, Fernando Alonso was celebrating his 41st birthday.

With fans already filling the grandstands, it was clear a lot of Max Verstappen supporters had made it to Hungary. Cheers erupted as the Red Bull driver took to the track, something we’ve grown accustomed to hearing during the European leg of the season.

Later, heading back into the city at the end of the day, I noticed a huge crowd of fans outside one of the hotels. A sea of red suggested it was a Ferrari driver, which was confirmed when a smart black Prancing Pony arrived.

With cameras flashing and cheers cascading through the crowds, I could see the top of the head of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jnr. Fans happy, autographs signed, they meandered into the hotel ahead of qualifying the next day.

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Saturday

Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, Hungaroring, 2022

After a scorching Friday, clouds were forming as I made my way into the circuit on Saturday morning. Rain was forecast however the skies looked relatively calm as we parked up and made the short journey under the tunnel towards the paddock and straight into the media centre.

Still perplexed by the weather forecast, I stopped for a chat with Johnny Herbert. Moments later the rain came, and I saw a bolt of lightning flash across the sky. A deluge of rain followed and I was trapped where I was. Grabbing a cagoule, I made a mad dash through the paddock in my sandals back to the media centre, briefly waving at a bemused Beat Zehnder from Alfa Romeo.

After the rain cleared, the afternoon was spent dashing to the podium to congratulate Alice Powell after her W Series win, before stationing myself in the pen for qualifying.

A dejected Lewis Hamilton, confined to seventh by a DRS glitch, was our last interview in the mixed zone. His elated team mate George Russell dashed past him heading on his way to speak to Rachel Brookes at Sky about his first F1 pole position.

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Sunday

Waking up to far cooler conditions on Sunday morning, I walked across to a friend’s hotel for race day. Rain was falling lightly as we arrived. With the smell of Hungarian Chimney Cake wafting through the paddock from a stall, I was lucky enough to get onto the grid before the race.

Keen to find my way down to pole position to watch Russell prepare to lead the field away, I briefly stopped to see Adrian Newey scrutinising the McLaren. The Red Bull chief was clearly keen to see what he might learn from his former team, whose recent upgrade helped Lando Norris to a fine fourth on the grid.

Up at the sharp end, Russell emerged from his car to a scrum of photographers. With no interest in crowding him further, I made my way along the grid with some colleagues before the klaxon commanded us to clear the track.

As no one dropped out of the race until its closing stages, I didn’t need to head to the interviews zone until the final laps, by which time rain was beginning to pelt down. With drivers keen to get their summer breaks started, many were quick to pass through.

Leclerc, who had endured another rotten race courtesy of Ferrari’s latest dubious strategy, conducted himself incredibly. His lips looked almost white, as though he had been biting them for the past 70 laps, perhaps fuming at what had unfolded.

The day ended at Alpine with team principal Otmar Szafnauer. I and several other journalists quizzed him on Fernando Alonso’s future, which the driver had indicated would be sorted before the season resumes at Spa. I asked if he was confident Alonso would be staying at Alpine in 2023. He paused for three seconds, then answered: “Of course.”

A rainbow formed in the sky as the F1 teams began packing up for the break. By now Vettel’s impending retirement had been replaced as the main paddock talking point by Ferrari’s latest debacle. That had allowed Verstappen to take an 80-point lead into the next race at Spa, some four weeks away. As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait anything like as long as that to discover Alonso’s future.

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2022 Hungarian Grand Prix

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