Hamilton reels in Verstappen to win gripping Hungarian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes pulled off a tactical masterstroke to reel in and pass Max Verstappen with just three laps remaining and win the Hungarian Grand Prix.

With 21 laps remaining, it appeared that Verstappen had the race at his mercy, handily keeping Hamilton behind. But with a clear track window, Mercedes opted to pit Hamilton for a fresh set of medium tyres with which to set about his prey.

And that he did, engaging DRS and swooping past the outside of the Dutchman around the outside into Turn 1 as Verstappen’s tyres went. A final stop for fresh rubber allowed the Red Bull to keep second place with plenty in reserve over the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc.

It is the seventh time that Hamilton has won the Hungarian Grand Prix and this victory clearly meant just as much as many of the others.

“Thanks so much James, Bono,” Hamilton said after taking the chequered flag. “You guys thankyou so much for this weekend. I know the last one was a difficult one but really appreciate you continuing to push and sorry James for doubting the strategy. That was definitely a tall order but grateful we did it. That feels so good guys and hope you feel good too.”

After the chaotic nature of the weather-affected German Grand Prix, the vagaries of the Hungaroring circuit and one/two-stop strategy was never going to provide the same drama if the sun stayed out. Instead, it threw up an intriguing battle between the current king of Formula One and heir apparent as the duo sailed off into the distance and played out their own race away from the rest of the field after Valtteri Bottas damaged his wing and Ferrari off the pace.

It made for a captivating game of defence versus attack, as Hamilton stayed within a handful of seconds of Verstappen for the majority of the race before gambling on one final stop for fresh medium rubber that eventually paid dividends.

“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 to take a risk and a chance on me,” added Hamilton after stepping from his winning machine. “We have been together seven years and it never gets old and it always feels brand new. It feels like a new win for us. If it wasn’t for these boys here and the guys back in the factory this wouldn’t even be possible so I’m just grateful to be a part of it. And for a race to be able to push like that, I’m telling you I was on the limit all the way.”

At a racetrack where, like Monaco, overtaking opportunities are few and far between, the start was always going to be crucial. And for front-row sitter Bottas, it was a bad one, the Finn passed by Hamilton around the outside before contact with Leclerc damaged his front wing. A lengthy stop put the second Mercedes plumb last and his chances evaporated immediately as he re-joined plumb last.

Pierre Gasly was another driver to lose out, dropping three places at the start on a race weekend that he really needed to shine amidst speculation surrounding his Red Bull drive. No such problems for the evergreen Raikkonen, the popular Finn gaining three places to run seventh.

With only a handful of laps gone, however, it already seemed to be developing into a two-horse race between Verstappen and Hamilton with Leclerc six tenths slower than the leaders.

Last Sunday’s chaotic German Grand Prix saw cars pitting up to six times for different compounds amidst the changing weather conditions, but with the sun shining in Budapest, a one/stop strategy was the name of the game. Again, those stops would prove crucial.

The gap down to a second and his tyres degrading, Verstappen was first to pit on lap 25, 1 2.6s stop putting the Dutchman back out ahead of the Ferrari duo. Now appeared to be the time for Mercedes to bring Hamilton in but they decided instead to run him several laps longer on the medium tyre before pitting on lap 31. A slow 4.0s stop put him back out 5.5s behind his rival and the race to the finish was on.

With Hamilton dialling in a succession of stunning laps, he found himself right on the Dutchman’s tail once more and some great racing ensued between arguably the best two drivers in Formula One, Verstappen defending with all his might between Turns 2-4 to keep a charging Hamilton at bay.

And with 21 laps remaining, Mercedes produced an unexpected move, pitting Hamilton for a fresh set of medium tyres on a clear track in a second attempt to reel in and pass Verstappen.

“We were just not fast enough,” said Verstappen. “I tried all I could on that hard tyre to stay alive but unfortunately just not enough. Still second and fastest lap is a good weekend overall for us and congrats to Lewis for the win. He was pushing me very hard so I like that. Today we didn’t win but it was a good weekend for us.”

Although the race was all about the leading duo, there was great wheel-to-wheel racing to keep the fans entertained all the way down the field, none better than a brilliant scrap between the Toro Rossos of Albon and Kvyat, the latter eventually passing his teammate after a fantastic tit-for-tat scrap through the first four corners.

Carlos Sainz was a brilliant fifth for McLaren ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, Pierre Gasly and Kimi Raikkonen. Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Ricciardo rounded off the points scoring finishers after an intriguing battle.

Hamilton’s victory means that he heads into the summer break 62 points clear of teammate Bottas but Verstappen’s second place means that he draws to within eight points of the Finn’s second place.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.