F1 Business Diary 2017: The Hungarian Grand Prix

Driver safety and the spectre of a growing Formula E dominated the industry conversation as Sebastian Vettel claimed a crucial victory at the Hungaroring.

F1 Business Diary 2017: The Hungarian Grand Prix

The tight track of Budapest's Hungaroring came to the rescue of Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel this weekend, as he claimed top spot on the podium despite steering wheel issues throughout the race.

A defensive drive from pole position - aided by teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who shadowed the German - saw him extend his lead at the top of the drivers' championship to 14 points.

The lead could have been just 11, had Lewis Hamilton not taken the decision to allow his Mercedes partner Valteri Bottas to pass him into third place, showing he was "a man of my world and a team player" having earlier gone ahead of the Finn in an attempt to attack the two Ferraris. With margins as fine as they have been this season, Hamilton's sporting gesture may ultimately have a role to play in the destination of the title.

Off the track, the debate either side of the Hungarian Grand Prix has been about the future of Formula One in various ways - with driver safety in the short term and the growth of electric vehicles in the long term occupying the agenda.

The Halo Effect

Driver safety in Formula One will always be an emotive issue, as administrators struggle to balance the need for races to remain as exciting as possible with ensuring the wellbeing of its competitors in a sport which has cost several their lives over the years.

The confirmation by the International Automobile Federation (FIA), four-wheeled racing's global governing body, that the use of the much-discussed 'halo' protective cockpit device would be mandatory in Formula One starting from 2018 has once again kicked off a discussion about precisely where the line is drawn.

Formula One Strategy Group, which consists of the FIA, the leading teams and the commercial rights holder, the Liberty Media-owned F1 Group, has decided to go ahead with the measure, which sees a wishbone-shaped device placed around the cars' cockpit. The decision was driven by the FIA primarily which, with the backing of F1 Group and particularly its managing director of motorsports, Ross Brawn, did not require the teams' or drivers' approval - although Mercedes' chief Toto Wolff and leading drivers Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa have all come out broadly in favour of the halo.

Vettel drives a car with a halo fitted during testing at Silverstone

Wolff's colleague and Mercedes chairman Niki Lauda, however, has come out in opposition, saying that the halo destroys the positive steps forward made this year in creating faster and more aesthetically pleasing cars, and that Formula One currently was "as safe as it gets", with further efforts to improve safety offering negligible and deleterious returns.

"We are trying hard with faster cars and getting closer to the spectators to attract new fans to the sport,” he said. “But this now is destroyed by an over-reaction. There is 100 per cent a better solution than the halo. The halo destroys the DNA of a Formula One car."

The move may prove to only be a temporary measure in the long run. The FIA is already running trials on transparent Perspex shields to sit in front of the cockpit, which would offer greater protection without the need for the cumbersome halo. For the foreseeable future at least, though, drivers and constructors will have to get used to working with the new safety measures in place.

Formula E-xit?

After Mercedes confirmed last week that it is set to leave the German Touring Car Masters (DTM) and join Formula E from 2019, rumours began circulating that the carmaker would follow suit and up sticks from Formula One, focusing its entire efforts on the electric racing series.

It fell to Lauda to deny these rumours and reaffirm that Formula One remains the primary concern of Mercedes' motorsport division.

"Formula One is our racing sport so an exit is not an issue at all," said Lauda, adding that the team did, however, have to "ask where is the future going."

In the longer term, where the future is going is almost certainly in the direction of all-electric racing. Shortly before Mercedes' own arrival into Formula E was confirmed, fellow German carmaker Porsche announced its own plans to leave the World Endurance Championship (WEC) - the series which includes the world-famous Le Mans 24 Hours - and enter the electric motorsport competition, signalling the first time a major manufacturer has abandoned its interests in one series to take up Formula E. Earlier in the month, the FIA confirmed that Audi will join Formula E this year, the first German manufacturer to do so.

Meanwhile, the British government announced last week that it will follow France in banning the sales of all diesel and petrol cars from 2040 - a move which does not have direct implications for Formula One, but which nevertheless is indicative of which way the wind is blowing. The challenge for Formula One will be how it negotiates that future, and whether it entails an eventual merger with Formula E, or setting up as a competitor as it gradually introduces electric powertrains itself.

Ferrari sticks with Sauber and delivers fresh UPS deal

Aside from its team regaining dominance on the track, Italian carmaker Ferrari demonstrated its wider influence on the sport of Formula One in the days ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, extending its deal to supply engines to Swiss outfit Sauber.

Starting in 2018, the agreement will see Ferrari provide Sauber with engines equipped with the latest power unit specification, representing a significant upgrade on the year-old Ferrari power units they have been using throughout 2017.

The announcement came just one day after Sauber confirmed they had cancelled a planned tie-in with Honda for the 2018 Formula One season, and marks the continuation of a partnership which first began in 1997.

Meanwhile, the Ferrari team signed renewed terms with global logistics and shipping giant UPS, in a deal which will see US-based company’s branding will continue to appear on the side of their cars, in what was described as a "multi-year" collaboration.

Carbonated

Success will have tasted a little different for Sebastian Vettel on the podium on Sunday. French company Carbon Champagne has stepped in as the new supplier of sparkling refreshments to the top three at Grands Prix, making its debut at the Hungaroring to start a new contract of undisclosed length. Its bottles, which are coated with the same kind of carbon fibre used in the manufacture of Formula One cars, will be coloured in gold, silver and bronze for first, second and third respectively.