The Hungaroring has delivered some cracking races in its illustrious history but few were as thrilling as this year’s edition, as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen had a race-long ding-dong battle for the lead, with Mercedes playing a strategy masterstroke and Hamilton doing his bit by brilliantly hunting down the Red Bull driver to clinch a sensational victory.
Hamilton has been the class of the field in this era of F1, while Verstappen has emerged as the driver to take his mantel. As Red Bull have closed the gap to Mercedes this year, the chances of the duo fighting wheel-to-wheel have increased and in Hungary we were treated to the kind of battle for the lead that we expect to see much more of in the future.
Verstappen led away from pole position, but Hamilton made things exciting by passing Valtteri Bottas at Turn 2 before setting off in pursuit of the Dutchman. Red Bull looked to have nailed the strategy when they pitted Verstappen six laps before Hamilton and ended up with a six-second lead, with both drivers running the hard tyres. But then things got exciting.
Hamilton hunted Verstappen down, launching an attack that almost clinched the lead. He backed off to cool his brakes, but then Mercedes rolled the dice and pitted him for an unscheduled second stop, fitting the medium tyres. Hamilton wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do, questioning the decision on the radio. But he needn’t have worried.
The Briton chased down Verstappen, who was forced to stay out because had he reacted to the stop he would have rejoined behind in second. That meant he had to make his hard tyres last – but it was too tall an order and with three laps to go, Hamilton made the pass to take the lead, going on to take his seventh Hungarian GP win.
Verstappen was forced to pit, having run out of tyres, and came back out in second. He promptly pumped in the fastest lap, to get the extra bonus point, and crossed the line 17.7s adrift with Sebastian Vettel passing Ferrari team mate Charles Leclerc late on for third, but he was a staggering 61.4s down on the race winner.
Carlos Sainz continued his sensational run of form with a brilliant fifth for McLaren, albeit it one lap down, ahead of Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen. Bottas, who was forced to pit early on for a new nose after contact with Hamilton and Leclerc, recovered to eighth, with McLaren’s Lando Norris and Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon completing the top 10.
Glorious conditions greeted the drivers at the Hungaroring on Sunday, with swathes of Max Verstappen and Robert Kubica fans packing the grandstands and chanting their respective hero’s name ahead of the start.
Pole-sitter Verstappen got away cleanly, unlike in Germany, to lead into Turn 1 with Bottas locking up to allow Mercedes team mate Hamilton to close up. The Finn locked up again into Turn 2, allowing Hamilton to sneak past at Turn 3, the two making light contact in the process.
Charles Leclerc capitalised on the Mercedes squabbling, as Bottas lost momentum, and mugged him a few corners later to take third, the duo making contact and a piece of Bottas’ front wing breaking off.
He tried to continue, but was losing three seconds a lap to leader Verstappen, so Mercedes were forced to box him, dropping him to the back of the field, nearly 50 seconds behind.
That error meant Mercedes relinquished their advantage of having two cars up front to tag team and attack Verstappen with strategy. Hamilton stayed within two seconds of the Red Bull with relative ease, as the duo pulled well clear of the Ferraris, who in turn had a big lead on McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, who had jumped team mate Lando Norris at the start.
Verstappen complained for several laps about his tyres, but his team told him to stay out. It became clear Red Bull were trying to build a gap so that he could pit and rejoin ahead of the Ferraris in second. Eventually, they relented, with Verstappen pitting at the end of lap 24.
Mercedes responded by telling Hamilton ‘it’s Hammertime’ as they set about trying to gain time while in clear air before their stop. The Briton managed to extend his stint by six laps, boxing to take hard tyres, the same as Verstappen, and rejoining six seconds adrift.
On a track where overtaking is tricky, that could have been considered game over, but Hamilton had other ideas. The Mercedes driver put the hammer down, pumping in a series of extraordinary laps to slash the gap to just under half a second.
Approaching half distance, Hamilton attacked into Turn 1, but Verstappen covered the inside. Hamilton tried around the outside of Turn 2 and then tucked in on the approach to Turn 4. But as he pulled to the outside, he clipped the grass and though he ran side by side, and inched ahead, it destabilised his car and he ran out wide, before rejoining in second.
The Briton was then told to back off and cool the brakes, allowing Verstappen to get some breathing space. Hamilton seemed frustrated to have to halt the attack while Verstappen demanded his team gave him more power.
Then came the twist as Mercedes rolled the dice and boxed Hamilton, fitting a set of the medium tyres. He rejoined 20 seconds adrift and was instantly questioning the decision. Verstappen asked why Red Bull didn’t pit him in response, to which Red Bull replied they couldn’t otherwise they would have lost track position.
Initially, Hamilton was baulked by traffic – hampering his attack – but in clear air, he got down to business, pulling out a series of new lap records to take chunks out of the lead. With 12 laps to go, the gap was just 12s.
That became five seconds with six laps to go, setting the scene for a dramatic finish with Hamilton’s Mercedes oozing speed and Verstappen declaring his tyres were dead. The Red Bull driver was a sitting duck, with Hamilton reeling him in and easing past at Turn 1 to snatch the lead with three laps to go.
Verstappen boxed the next time around, his tyres done, the Red Bull driver rejoining comfortably in second. Vettel, having run very deep into the race to allow him to take the softs, caught and passed team mate Leclerc to take third in the closing stages.
Sainz overtook team mate Norris at the start of the race and then showed strong pace throughout to finish fifth for the second successive race, with Gasly recovering from a poor start where he lost three places to take sixth.
Raikkonen secured seventh for his fourth points finish in five races, with Bottas limping home eighth, meaning he has scored just four points in the last two races.
Norris was set to finish sixth, but a slow stop meant he dropped down the field, ending up ninth for his fifth points finish of the year, while Albon made it into the top 10 for the second race in succession.
It was the perfect response from Mercedes, who suffered a shocking home Grand Prix last time out in Germany with Hamilton extending his championship lead over Bottas to 62 points heading into the summer break.