The Hungaroring has been the stage for infamous on-track battles throughout its celebrated 34-year history. Who can forget the 2006 duel between Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso in the first ever wet Hungarian Grand Prix, with the race win famously going to Honda’s Jenson Button?
In 2019, Budapest provided the perfect conditions for a cat-and-mouse chase that will be written in the Formula 1 records: Lewis Hamilton’s hunt of Max Verstappen.
Over 230,000 fans filled the stands to watch a race-long Mercedes and Red Bull Racing sparring match with Hamilton ultimately victorious with his seventh Hungarian win.
Hamilton displayed why he is the reigning World Champion in spades. Being pipped in qualifying by his Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas, Hamilton lined up P3 in Budapest but as Bottas struggled with lock-ups in the first two turns, the Briton seized the opportunity to pass and set his sights on race leader Verstappen. Overcoming the flu that plagued him at the German Grand Prix last weekend, Hamilton applied pressure to the young Dutchman as they ran side by side at Turn 4, but it wasn’t enough… yet.
A roll of the dice to pit Hamilton for the second time on Lap 48 was a risky tactic by Mercedes but gave the 34-year-old new Medium compound tyres to hunt down the Red Bull driver with just over 20 laps left. Mercedes responded, “It’s hammer time,” giving the Brit the encouragement to annihilate Verstappen’s 19-second lead. With Verstappen having stayed out, his tyres were gone, and Hamilton was able to snatch the lead with three laps to go. The result means the defending titleholder extends his lead in the Drivers’ Championship to 62 points over Bottas heading into the summer break.
When asked about how he felt after the epic drive Lewis said: “[I feel] tired which is how it should be but I feel really grateful for the day and really for the team for continuing to believe in me and continuing to push to the limits and take a risk and a chance on me.
“For a race to be able to push like that, I’m telling you I was on the limit all the way.”
He may have lost the race lead and win to Lewis Hamilton within the final minutes of the thrilling Hungarian Grand Prix but the 21-year-old Red Bull Racing star led from his first career pole for the majority of the 70-lap race in another faultless performance. The Dutch driver was unhappy with his team’s decision to keep him out after Hamilton stopped for new tyres, a move that ultimately cost him the win, but he showed that he is the man to challenge Hamilton’s dominance posting the fastest lap of the race after a late pit stop.
The predominantly orange-coloured crowd erupted in support for Verstappen’s P2 podium finish, earning him 19 championship points, closing the gap to only 7 points behind Valterri Bottas in the championship standings.
“He was clearly a bit faster than us and I was struggling for grip after a few laps,” Verstappen said. “It was just not our day in terms of pace compared to Lewis, but compared to the others we were still way faster and overall, it was a good weekend.”
The Woking squad showed good consistency in Hungary with Carlos Sainz matching his German Grand Prix P5 finish in Budapest. Getting the jump on his teammate Lando Norris off the start line, Sainz pulled away from Nando and Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly in the midfield to briefly battle with the Ferrari duo of Charles Lerlerc and Sebastian Vettel. The 24-year-old held his position to bring home his best Hungarian Grand Prix result.
Lando Norris finished in ninth place proving the steadily improving pace for the revived McLaren team, which has recorded points in each of the last five races and are closing the gap on the frontrunners. McLaren currently lies fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, 41 points ahead of nearest rivals Scuderia Toro Rosso.
“[It’s] my second consecutive P5, which I think I’ve never done in my life, so I’m very very happy with that,” said Sainz.
“Especially this P5 – I don’t know why but it tastes a lot better than the Hockenheim one. In a normal race where we just managed to beat Pierre (Gasly) and finish ahead of a Mercedes, it felt particularly good this time.”
He may have out-qualified his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to start from the front row of the grid next to Max Verstappen but sadly that was the end of the good news for the Mercedes man who finished in eighth place.
He locked up into Turn 1 and then made contact with two drivers on the opening lap in Budapest, first tapping his front wing against the rear of Hamilton’s car through Turn 3 and then further damaging the wing on Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari in the run to Turn 4. The Finn went to the box for a new nose which cost him a 14-second stop and a demotion to last place.
Bottas gradually clawed his way back up the order showing the Mercedes’ pace and came home a lap down on Hamilton. With an uncertain future in 2020, the 29-year-old will be looking to hit the reset button over the summer break after scoring only four points in the last two races, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by “disappointed” Team Principal Toto Wolff.
“He wanted to do particularly well and that went all wrong, touching with Lewis and touching with Leclerc and from then on I think there’s nothing more to expect from anybody because you know you’ve just blown it,” said Wolff.
The team brought their drivers Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc home in third and fourth respectively, a result that would have been sweeter if it wasn’t for the 65-second gap to Hamilton’s winning Mercedes.
Vettel ran longer in his first stint which allowed him to pit for Soft tyres to capitalise on their late performance and overtake his teammate Leclerc to seal the final spot on the podium with only a few laps to go.
Leclerc came back from a troubled qualifying session that saw him spin on the exit of the final corner, damaging his rear wing.
After a close call with Bottas on Turn 4 of the opening lap at the Hungaroring, the Monégasque driver kept his Ferrari on the tarmac but couldn’t fend off seven-time champion teammate Vettel for P3.
Reflecting on the lacklustre speed of his Ferrari in Hungary, Vettel said: “Obviously I can’t be happy because we were not fast today.
“Losing 60 seconds in 70 laps is probably fair – that’s what we were missing. Maybe we didn’t pick the absolute fastest strategy but overall we’re just not quick enough today so [there’s] lots of homework for us. It’s not really an eye-opener. We knew it before so it’s up to us to address it in the next couple of months really to hopefully make a difference by the end of the year.”
Ricciardo was set to line up in P18 after a debacle with Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez derailed his qualifying efforts but the Australian started from the rear of the grid due to Renault opting to swallow an engine penalty for a strategic change of Power Unit elements before the race.
The 30-year-old climbed his way through the field on track that is notoriously difficult to overtake on, a fact Ricciardo was reminded of when he failed to pass an offensively aggressive Kevin Magnussen to finish in fourteenth.
“It was frustrating not to get past Magnussen,” said Ricciardo.
“I felt he was moving under braking, and I couldn’t do anything. I wasn’t happy about that as we could have progressed even further at the end. There are some positives and the summer break will be good for us. We’ll reset, take some time off, we know we’re in it together and we’ll be targeting a better second-half of the season.”
F1 now goes into its summer break, which concludes with the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps on August 30-September 1. Ferrari is the most successful team at the Belgian circuit with 13 wins and Vettel taking the top step of the podium in 2018. With Hamilton and Verstappen placing second and third last year, fans are awaiting a fierce battle to the end.
Images via Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport and Scuderia Ferrari
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