Alpine F1's Esteban Ocon scored his maiden Formula 1 victory over Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel, with Lewis Hamilton having to dig deep to battle his way from the back and claim the last place on the podium in the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix.
The race had been red flagged after a slow-starting Valtteri Bottas braked too late into turn 1 and hit the rear of Lando Norris, sending the McLaren into the back of Max Verstappen. The Red Bull was able to continue, but damage meant he only finished in tenth place.
As well as Bottas and Norris, there were early retirements for Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll with Nikita Mazepin also out of the race after a clash on pit lane with Kimi Raikkonen.
Best known for its dry, dusty and scorching conditions, this year the Hungaroring presented the drivers with a very different challenge on Sunday afternoon. The clouds moved in with light rain starting to fall half an hour before the start of the race, and the precipitation was set to continue for at least another 30 minutes into the race. The track was far from drenched, but teams were obliged to start on intermediate tyres and all the race strategies coming into the day were now comprehensively overturned.
Mercedes still held a front row lock-out with Lewis Hamilton on pole ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Meanwhile Max Verstappen was lucky to still be in third alongside Sergio Perez after Red Bull had needed to undertake an overnight power unit change on his car. Best of the rest was AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly starting from fifth alongside McLaren's Lando Norris, followed by Ferrari's Charles Leclerc ahead of the two Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso.
When the lights went out, Hamilton got a strong start and leapt away to safety. However a miserable launch from Bottas triggered mayhem all around him as he dropped to fifth and then left his braking into turn 1 too late. Norris attempted to make gains down the inside only to get tagged by the Finn and thrown into the back of Verstappen who had briefly picked up second place. The knock-on effect of this mad game of skittles also saw Bottas connect with Perez who ran off at the first corner. Lance Stroll tried to take advantage of the mayhem ahead but the Aston Martin driver out-braked himself into the first corner, colliding with Leclerc and also sending Daniel Ricciardo for a spin.
Unsurprisingly, the safety car was scrambled and then quickly superseded by a red flag to enable the track to be cleared of debris. Bottas, Leclerc, Perez, Norris and Stroll were all out of the race, and Verstappen had sustained heavy damage to his right-hand side bargeboard which the team was able to work on with huge quantities of duct tape during the stoppage. The primary beneficiary of all this was Ocon who had somehow emerged in second place, with Sebastian Vettel third and Carlos Sainz having leapt up to fourth all the way from P15 on the grid.
AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda found himself in fifth ahead of Williams' Nicholas Latifi with Alonso now seventh followed by George Russell, Kimi Raikkonen and Mick Schumacher. Gasly had been forced to take evasive action to dodge both of the key opening lap incidents dropping him to 11th for the restart ahead of Ricciardo. Verstappen was shown in 13th ahead of Nikita Mazepin and Antonio Giovinazzi, who had been the sole driver to gamble on slick tyres for the original start but who now briefly fell into line on the inters ahead of the restart.
It didn't stay that way for long: Russell was on the Williams team radio predicting that everyone would pit to change to slicks before lights out. He was right, with one crucial exception as Hamilton alone stayed out and had the grid all to himself for the second standing start while everyone else was on pit lane switching to the mediums. A lap later Mercedes had to concede the nightmare scenario and belatedly summoned Hamilton in. He dropped to 14th place, putting him dead last after Mazepin was next to retire following a pit lane collision with Raikkonen, for which the Finn earned himself a ten second penalty for an unsafe release.
Ocon now inherited the lead from Vettel with Latifi in a remarkable provisional podium spot ahead of Tsunoda, Sainz, Alonso and Russell, and the rest of the top ten taken up by Raikkonen, Ricciardo and Schumacher. Verstappen was struggling to catch and pass the Haas, and Hamilton had a similar problem picking his way past Giovinazzi before finally pulling off the overtake on lap 10. The Briton then briefly ran wide while attacking Gasly in turn 2, while Verstappen finally forced his way past Schumacher through turn 5 on lap 15. After that, the Haas was quickly caught and passed in quick succession by both Gasly and Hamilton.
Frustrated by running in dirty air, Hamilton pitted early for hard tyres on lap 19 in an effort to undercut essentially the entire field. Ricciardo and Verstappen responded next lap by, but Hamilton had done enough on his out lap to jump both cars for position as they came back out on track. At the front, Ocon continued to lead the race but Vettel was close behind and benefitting from DRS to make probing attacks on the Alpine, the pair having long dropped Latifi who was nonetheless holding on to third from Tsunoda, Sainz, Alonso and Russell.
Tsunoda and Russell pitted but Sainz, Alonso and Gasly all opted to stay out for the time being. Latifi came in on lap 24, and the Williams inevitably dropped behind the AlphaTauri and was soon dispatched by Hamilton who had already made his second pass of the afternoon on Schumacher for eighth. Schumacher and Russell were still in the points, with Ricciardo just on the outside ahead of Verstappen who was failing to make progress in the damaged Red Bull.
With 30 laps gone, Vettel had fallen out of DRS range of Ocon while third-placed Sainz was taking almost a second per lap out of the leading pair. Gasly then pitted from fifth, and Hamilton swept past Tsunoda in turn 4 on lap 33 giving him clear air ahead of him to Alonso in fourth. Seeing a window of opportunity, Sainz took the opportunity to make his one and only planned stop and came back out just two seconds ahead of the charging Mercedes.
Vettel came down pit lane on lap 37, and while his stop proved far from ideal it was still enough to put him back out on track with six seconds in hand over Sainz and Hamilton. Alpine immediately responded with a better stop for Ocon that allowed him to narrowly keep the advantage over Vettel. Alonso made his own stop on lap 40, coming back out behind Hamilton who was now struggling with rear tyre wear that soon forced him to make a second stop on lap 48 for a fresh set of mediums, at the net cost of one place as he dropped behind Alonso but stayed ahead of Tsunoda.
Hamilton was soon flying, and by lap 54 the field had compressed to the point where just ten seconds covered the top five. However, catching is a very different task to passing and Alonso never a soft target at the best of times. Despite the disparity in car performance and fresher tyres, the Spaniard repeatedly defended his position with all the skill at his disposal leaving Hamilton with no way through as the laps counted down, until finally the pressure resulted in Alonso running too deep into turn 1 on lap 65, and forcing him to cede fourth to his rival.
Next time by Hamilton also caught Sainz, and despite the presence of lapped traffic he muscled his way past the Ferrari to put himself onto the podium. However there was no time left for him to catch the leaders, and Esteban Ocon was duly able to claim his maiden Formula 1 victory in 78 Grand Prix starts by 1.8s from Vettel and Hamilton.
Sainz was able to hang on and hold off Alonso to retain fourth, while AlphaTauri took the next two spots with Gasly sixth and Tsunoda seventh, There was jubilation for Williams as both Latifi and Russell scored championship points for the team for the first time since the 2019 German Grand Prix ahead of Verstappen who limped home in tenth, denying points to Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Schumacher and Giovinazzi.
Although a late stop and last-gasp effort saw Gasly deny Hamilton the bonus point for the fastest lap, the result gives the reigning world champion a six point lead in the drivers standings going into the summer shutdown. Mercedes also retake the lead in the constructors battle from Red Bull by ten points, with the next race in Belgium set for August 29.
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