Alonso's secret Aston Martin meetings, how Red Bull outfoxed Ferrari, Hamilton eyes first win – iNews

In Formula One things move as fast off the track as on it. Cloak and dagger? Not quite, but secret talks resulted in a coup nonetheless.
Aston Martin headed for Hungary expecting Sebastian Vettel to agree an extended contract and left it announcing Fernando Alonso as his replacement.
Alonso, who was on the point of saying yes to an extended deal at Alpine, has form in this regard, accepting an offer from McLaren while celebrating his first world title in 2005 in the Brazilian paddock. Vettel informed the team only last Wednesday that he wanted to retire and would therefore not be extending his deal.
His retirement was announced the very next morning, speed being of the essence to hook any restless drivers in Budapest before they left for the summer break.
Aston boss Laurence Stroll has long been a fan and Alonso maintained a watchful interest, engaging in the odd informal chat as the team continued its ambitious development at Silverstone.
Vettel was still first choice and his decision to quit came as a shock. A swift whisky and some smelling salts set them right.
Alonso did not take much persuading during secret negotiations at the Hungaroring.
“I still have the hunger and ambition to fight at the front, and I want to be part of an organisation that is committed to learn, develop and succeed,” Alonso, 41, said. “I intend to win again in this sport and therefore I have to take the opportunities that feel right to me.”
Alpine’s reserve driver, Australian hot-shoe Oscar Piastri, is Alonso’s obvious replacement.
Great car, exceptional driver, brilliant strategists, adds up to an unbeatable team. Red Bull were required to rethink racing as the steaming heat of Friday morphed into a wet Saturday, which in turn promised a cool, damp race day.
After a complicated qualifying which left Sergio Perez 11th and Max Verstappen 10th after a power unit glitch, Red Bull were planning to start on the hard compound targeting fifth and sixth. Only when they went to the grid and recognised the impact of much cooler conditions did they decide to switch to a soft start.
On such nimble strategy moves is the season turning convincingly Red Bull’s way. The reconnaissance laps before the race completed on softs persuaded both drivers the hards would never get up to temperature quickly enough.
The softs, and to a greater degree the mediums, proved more durable than anticipated, which allowed Red Bull flexibility in pit stop strategy. As ever, they made the sharpest calls, bringing in Verstappen early through each round of stops to launch the undercut and force Ferrari to respond. Red Bull got it emphatically right, Ferrari emphatically wrong.
In the heat of Friday, Ferrari were a team apart, quickest in both practice sessions and looked nailed on to resurrect their championship challenge heading into the summer break. Where Red Bull responded decisively to the changing conditions Ferrari were sluggish going on clumsy.
Unnerved by cooler conditions which radically altered tyre behaviour, taking the Ferrari out of its optimum performance window, the team were spooked by the pit stop strategy of Red Bull and Mercedes, who switched to mediums from softs on lap 16.
Charles Leclerc, who started on mediums stayed out an extra five laps, but switched to a second set of mediums. Though in hindsight he might have gone for softs, this still felt like a decent call when he reeled in George Russell on lap 31.
The error came eight laps later after Red Bull brought in Verstappen for the undercut. Ferrari opted to cover the move by pitting Leclerc immediately instead of keeping him out on medium rubber five laps fresher and still working. Worse still they shod him with hard tyres, for which they had no data since they had not run in them all weekend. Leclerc’s race and in all likelihood his championship chances were cooked right there. For the third time this season the Ferrari pit wall killed their star man with rank bad calls when he was leading the race. For Hungary read also Monaco and Silverstone.
What a difference a day makes. After the worst Friday of the season, and that is saying something at Mercedes, the team stumbled across the sweetest of sweet spots following a dramatic cooling of the weather. Russell landed a first career poll and Lewis Hamilton, denied by a faulty DRS in qualifying, led a double podium finish on race day. In the heat of Friday Mercedes were more than a second off the Ferrari pace.
On Sunday, Hamilton and Russell got the better of Carlos Sainz and, with the help of the Ferrari pit wall, oustripped Leclerc too. The gap to Red Bull and Ferrari remains but is narrowing, raising hopes of a first win of the season when the season resumes at the end of the month.
Between now and the Belgian Grand Prix on 26-28 August, the teams must shut down for a period of two full weeks, during which they are allowed to execute only essential maintenance. No development, design work or planning meetings are allowed. Time in the wind tunnel and the machining of parts is banned.
The teams can choose when to trigger the 14-day hiatus during the three-week break. After 13 races in 20 weeks, and with nine in 12 to follow, none is minded to break curfew.
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