Hamilton vs Verstappen resumes at tricky Hungarian Grand Prix: what to watch for in 2021 race
Will there be more contact between Hamilton and Verstappen in Hungary?
The podium represented three stunning drives: Daniel Ricciardo two wins from the last five in a 2014 Red Bull, Fernando Alonso coming within an ace of winning with a 2014 Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton fighting out the victory after starting from the pitlane, beating his pole-sitting team-mate.
All three of them maximised the opportunities lady fortune threw their way – and it really was just a day of chance in many ways. The timing of the heavy rain shower half an hour before the start randomised the event, ensured it started on inters on a rapidly drying track, and played its part in the accidents that brought out the safety cars which in turn impacted upon the strategies of the key players.
For example, the first safety car – triggered by Marcus Ericsson dropping the Caterham in a big way on the exit of turn three – wiped out Lewis Hamilton’s half-minute deficit. That in turn ensured that the ideal strategies of Hamilton and Rosberg at Mercedes became interfering waves; they were each in the way of the most efficient running of the other’s race. The problems of that were perhaps compounded by the inexperience of senior management in not overriding the calls decided between the respective race engineers of each driver.
“I was very shocked the team would ask me to do that,” said two-stopping Hamilton of the call made over the radio that he should allow three-stopping Rosberg past just as he was in the midst of a fight for victory with Alonso and Ricciardo. “I was never going to lift off and lose ground to Fernando and Daniel just so [Nico] could have a good race.”
Rosberg, in turn, could point to the 9-10s he lost lapping at the slower pace of the old prime-tyred Hamilton when he was on options, as losing him possible victory. Both could feel aggrieved in the heat of the moment, but in the bigger picture perspective the safety car had simply ensured their strategies interfered, even though they had started first and last. And if we’re playing the ‘what if’ game, what if Mercedes had put Hamilton on two sets of options – as they had Rosberg – rather than a single set of primes? So much quicker were the options he’d likely have overcome the 21s of the extra pit stop and more – and could perhaps have won that way.
But probably the most significant way that fate played was in how the timing of that first safety car meant the first four cars had already passed the pit entry lane as the race was neutralised. This seriously compromised Rosberg (who had been streaking away from the pack and looked set for a dominant victory otherwise) Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel – and it brought Ricciardo’s race to life.
He followed Jenson Button’s McLaren in as the first of the stoppers while the leaders were forced to do almost a whole lap at safety car speed. McLaren elected to put Button on another set of inters thereby neutralising him on the drying track, the new rain McLaren had been expecting didn’t arrive and suddenly Ricciardo was perfectly placed to dictate his own destiny. Just as up to that point Rosberg had been. Alonso and Hamilton simply grasped the lifeline their races had been given by that safety car – and did so quite brilliantly – but it was Ricciardo whose strategy dovetailed perfectly with circumstance. That was clear only in hindsight, though.
What it all made for were a closing few laps that were among the most tense and exciting we’ve ever seen as the interweaving strategies all played out to a thrilling climax: Alonso leading but out of tyre grip on his old options being caught by Hamilton on his more durable primes, the pair of them being caught by Ricciardo on his fresher options, Rosberg coming from a long way back going at a completely different rate to all of them in the fastest car, also on fresh options. In theory they’d all be arriving at the finish line at roughly the same time. What was going to give? The curved ball of random weather had set everything up beautifully.
That Hamilton should be in the middle of it all was explainable but still remarkable. Seven days after his broken brake disc put him in the wall early Hockenheim qualifying, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes caught fire on the very first lap of qualifying at the Hungaroring. A simple old-fashioned fuel leak from a chafing pipe this time had left the world title contender with no time on the board and his car burnt out.
A new car was built around the spare tub and Mercedes elected to start him from the pitlane. The sister car of Rosberg sailed through the sessions and he duly planted it on a comfortable pole ahead of Vettel’s Red Bull, Bottas’ Williams, Ricciardo’s Red Bull and the Ferrari of Alonso.
Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari failed to make it out of Q1 as the team mistakenly believed he’d done enough to graduate, not recognising that Jules Bianchi in the Marussia on the option tyres was capable of lapping faster than Räikkönen had on the much slower primes. It’s not the first time Ferrari has been caught out similarly over the years; it isn’t even the first time this year. But Kimi’s mediocre lap, 0.7s slower than Alonso’s on the same tyre, played its part in his fate.
Around the Hungaroring’s tight confines the advantage of the Mercedes power unit was reduced. The way its greater efficiency can keep delivering extra external power to the crankshaft via the ersK for much longer down the straights than the Ferrari or Renault was largely negated on a track so confined. The Merc W05 was still the fastest thing in the place but only by a few tenths and the Red Bulls and Ferraris had more of a chance to be challenging the Merc-powered Williams as fastest of the rest.
Scorching track temperatures took the prime (medium) tyre well out of its working range, limiting the chemical bonding with the track and making it way less grippy than the option (soft) – the very thing that tripped up Ferrari with Räikkönen. The absence of one Mercedes and one Ferrari allowed both McLarens to graduate to Q3, with Jenson Button lining up seventh behind Felipe Massa’s Williams.
Button’s team mate Kevin Magnussen was in the wars however. A brief rain shower – mainly at turn one – had heralded the start of Q3 and everyone was on track in a big hurry in case these early laps turned out to be the driest. Rosberg locked up into there and took a trip across the escape road but the following Magnussen was just a passenger once he’d got locked up under braking, and he hit the end of the tyre wall hard, side-on. Kevin was unharmed but the McLaren was wrecked and had to be rebuilt. Like Hamilton, he would be starting from the pitlane.
Next time through there everyone was super-cautious – except the confidence-high Bottas who, sensing opportunity, felt the grip and committed to it. He was a full 1.2s faster through the first sector than anyone, a margin that he pretty much maintained for the rest of the lap. Had it rained more heavily at this point, he’d have been on pole by 1.1s from Ricciardo, with Rosberg third. But instead the rain abated, the track dried and normality returned. But it had been a thrilling little snapshot into what we might be about to see from the Finn over the next few years.
As forecast, Sunday was showery and 18-degrees cooler than in qualifying. Heavy rain fell for about 15 minutes then stopped half-an-hour before race start, leaving the track patchily wet. The still-warm air meant much of the surface dried quickly but the sections where puddles had formed – the depression between turns two and four – remained wet. Everyone therefore started on intermediates, Daniil Kyvat’s Toro Rosso joined Magnussen and Hamilton as a pitlane starter after his engine died on the formation grid.
As the lights went out Rosberg was cleanly into the lead, Vettel defended hard from Bottas who opted for the longer but grippier outside line through the long turn one and the Williams emerged ahead of the Red Bull into second. Alonso was down past Ricciardo into turn one, with Daniel trying unsuccessfully to defend fifth from the round-the-outside, power-squirming McLaren of Button. The opportunistic Alonso then picked off Vettel for third into turn two, but Seb retaliated to go back ahead out of three as Fernando struggled to get the power down.
At the back, Hamilton’s new brakes – replaced in the rebuild – were stone cold and as he stood on the pedal for turn two one of them grabbed, spinning the Mercedes through 180-degrees and onto the grass before the turn. The left front wing was damaged against the wall, but otherwise he got away with it. His early laps were problematical as it took time for brakes and tyres to reach their working temperature but even so he was picking off Magnussen by the third lap and into what was to be a typically dramatic high-octane Hamilton race.
Flashing red tail lights lit up the gloom as the pack accelerated out of turn three up the hill towards the fast blind exit of four but from the looping turn five, through the chicane and the left-right of seven-eight it was perfectly dry. Spray would be thrown high in the air from the tyre grooves as they exited the quick right of turn 11.
Rosberg meanwhile was scintillating, 2.7s clear of Bottas at the end of the opening lap, 4s by the time DRS was enabled a lap later and just generally in a race of his own. His advantage was exaggerated by Bottas’ struggles. The Williams was nowhere near the competitive force it had been in the heat of Saturday, but was more than quick enough down the straights to keep the potentially faster Vettel behind.
Williams is currently trying to apply some science to the matter of the track surface-to-tyre interface, but is early into its research. In the meantime, this is a still-young engineering support and operations group, without the big picture confidence to override the numbers when necessary. On Saturday morning, as they refined the FW36 (with its new rear wing and modified front) around the loss of FRICS suspension, they believed they had the tyres in the perfect working temperature zone and the car was suddenly much more competitive than it had been on Friday.
There was therefore a reluctance to deviate from this for qualifying even though it was known that Sunday would be significantly cooler. Sure enough, for the race it struggled to generate the necessary tyre heat. This wasn’t such a problem on the inters which are naturally prone to overheat on a drying track anyway, but would become so when everyone got onto slicks later on.
The extent to which Rosberg was pushing, looking to maximise the opportunity afforded by the Red Bulls and Alonso being stuck at the compromised Bottas’ pace, was evident by a few trips across the tarmac run-off areas. But still the gap over Bottas extended and was 10.5s by the end of the eighth lap. The pace had been getting progressively faster as the wet parts became less treacherous and now the times were only a couple of seconds away from the ideal slick switchover.
Then Ericsson dropped it. On inters now getting worn on the drying track he was at the back and tucked tight behind Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus (which had started from the back on account of not getting in a qualifying lap) as they exited the damp, quick turn three. Getting just a little greedy with the throttle, he lost the rear end and did a tank-slapper hard into the barrier on the left, wrecking the Caterham which then bounced back across to the edges of the track, clearly in a dangerous position.
This accident was the crucial defining factor in shaping the race. The safety car came out immediately – just as Rosberg was arriving level with the pit exit. He was thereby obliged to slow and follow it. Bottas, Vettel and Alonso had all passed the pit entry lane too and were thereby also consigned to follow the safety car. Button and Ricciardo headed the rest of the field in pitting – all bar Magnussen who stayed out. Jenson was delayed leaving and Ricciardo managed to get out ahead of him.
Because the safety car had picked up Rosberg immediately he – and the three following him – was limited to the safety car’s actual speed rather than the safety car delta time, which is around 20s faster than the safety car itself. Rosberg’s 10.5s lead over Bottas and the rest was wiped but worse than that was the loss behind the safety car to those who’d been able to get in.
Rosberg, Bottas, Vettel and Alonso pitted on the ninth lap. Rosberg’s switch to the option slick was completed in just 3.2s but he exited fourth, behind Felipe Massa’s Williams – a car that had been over 23s behind him before Ericsson crashed. Bottas came off even worse. The stop itself was slow but he’d been delayed entering the box by another car leaving from the adjacent pit. The combined delay lost him many places. As well as losing out to many of those who’d been able to pit earlier, he was also jumped by Vettel and Alonso and rejoined back in 11th.
Ricciardo now led the queue behind the safety car from Button, Massa, Rosberg, Magnussen, Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso, Vettel, Alonso, the Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Pérez, then Bottas, Esteban Gutiérrez’s Sauber and Hamilton, who had passed Räikkönen just before the safety car period.
There was a certain irony that Ricciardo had spent the first eight laps frustrated at being held to the speed of Button’s McLaren but that had turned out to be a blessing in disguise – for without that he’d have been too far up the road to have been able to pit on lap eight. The timing of the safety car had completely transposed the fortunes of the two Red Bull drivers. Daniel is driving superbly and with huge confidence, but he is getting a much better rub of the green than Vettel at the moment.
The safety car was about to come in but Romain Grosjean extended its presence on track by crashing his Lotus – also at turn three. After a further couple of safety car laps racing resumed at the end of the 13th lap with everyone but the two McLarens now on slicks. Magnussen had stayed out, but Button’s car had pitted and had fresh inters fitted – something that perplexed him as he rejoined and observed the choices of everyone else.
“You sure about this?” he asked and the team responded by telling him it expected more rain within the next few minutes. Clearly not confident with this forecast, they were then asking if Jenson wanted to make a corrective stop for slicks on the following lap. “If you think it’s going to rain, obviously leave them on. If not, change them,” was the gist of his reply. They left them on.
Which meant that he had the perfect tyres for the restart with the wet part of the track early in the lap – and he almost immediately passed Ricciardo, going by between the first two turns to briefly lead the race. Magnussen too was inters-shod and he was able to deprive Rosberg of fourth a couple of corners into the restart. Just behind them, Alonso despatched Vettel and Vergne in quick succession.
Rosberg’s rear brakes had overheated behind the safety car for reasons the team hadn’t established at the time of writing. The relentless Alonso needed no second invitation to go by the Mercedes for fourth, these decisive early-lap passes the foundation of his day. Vergne – invariably quick in mixed conditions – followed Alonso through, Nico demoted now to sixth.
Rosberg wasn’t the only one suffering a few glitches. Vettel had problems with his energy recovery, which was why Alonso had been able to pass so easily. “We were in the wrong mode,” said Seb. Renault’s Thierry Salvi explained further. “The fuel consumption was less than expected and forced us to use different energy scenarios to recharge the car.”
The safety car had worked wonderfully well for Hamilton, wiping away much of what had been a 33s deficit to the leader and now he was slicing past the lesser cars with breathtaking verve. On the first lap of the restart he overtook Gutiérrez, Bottas and both Force Indias to be lined up right on Vettel’s tail – with Rosberg just beyond the Red Bull. Incredibly, circumstances and Hamilton’s attack had brought the pole sitting Merc and the pitlane-starting sister car almost together within just 15 laps.
McLaren’s rain was clearly not about to arrive anytime soon and both Button and Magnussen were struggling on overheating inters and pitted at the end of the 15th lap, the team’s challenge effectively over for the day as they rejoined at the back of a still-compressed field. Ricciardo led the race once more, pulling quickly away from Massa as Alonso closed in on the Williams, which simply wasn’t working well in these temperatures, its Saturday pace having deserted it completely. Partly it was down to pressures, which had been set for full dry, several psi lower than would normally be used on track still damp in parts. It meant they were simply not reaching working temperature. Bottas was suffering similarly, a few places back.
Just behind Alonso, Vergne continued to hold off Rosberg, Vettel and Hamilton, though Rosberg came perilously close to hitting Vergne as he attempted a DRS pass into turn one on lap 16. Pérez had passed team-mate Hulkenberg and the latter was trying to retaliate going into the last corner.
“The previous lap he had taken a much wider line so I tried to overtake on the inside,” said Hulk, “but he took a tighter line and I couldn’t back out of the move. I made contact with his car, lost my front wing and went straight on into the barrier. It was my mistake and I’ve apologised to the team.” Pérez rescued a wild oversteer moment and continued, a couple of seconds behind Hamilton who was looking hard for a place to pass Vettel whose energy recovery issues had now been solved. Lewis had a couple of feints down the inside into turn two but it was still damp off the racing line there.
Although the racing line was now fully dry around the circuit, there were still a few places ready to catch out the unwary. A particular hazard at these times are the artificial grass zones beyond the exit kerbs which are treacherously slippery when wet – and which tend to remain wet long after the track has dried. Pérez demonstrated this to spectacular effect as he got the Force India beyond the kerb coming out of the final turn on the 23rd lap. It looped around quicker than Sergio could react to and deposited him hard into the pitwall. Cue the second safety car and the slotting of another critical piece of the race’s jigsaw into place.
Red Bull was planning on three-stopping Ricciardo and this safety car was perfectly timed to fit into that window. Williams was thinking similarly – and so the first two cars of Ricciardo and Massa peeled off into the pitlane, to be followed a few seconds later by the second Williams of Bottas, which was far enough behind to allow Williams a double-shuffle stop without stacking the second car. No-one else pitted, having decided on two-stopping. The logic for the popularity of this choice was the expectation of more rain before the end. The fewer stops you make, the more likely you’ll be able to dovetail your stops with a change to wets. But the rain never did arrive.
The safety car came in at the end of the 26th lap and new race leader Alonso quickly got the jump on Vergne who soon had a queue comprising Rosberg, Vettel, Hamilton and the rejoining Ricciardo on his tail. “We can win this,” said Ricciardo over the radio. “Danny is on the crest of a wave of confidence,” said Christian Horner post-race, “and things are just falling right for him too. It seems to all just be feeding into the loop and it’s like he can’t do any wrong at the moment.”
But the task he faced wasn’t straightforward. He needed to monitor his pace carefully, as the option tyres were potentially quick-wearing and he needed to get the required stint lengths from them while still setting a hot pace. He was helped in this by having saved a fresh set from qualifying the day before – the only Q3 runner who’d been able to do so. But until the two-stoppers pitted out of his way all he was going to do was hang onto the back of the group and look after the rubber.
Stint duration was very much on the minds at Williams too. Both Massa and Bottas had been fitted with primes. It wasn’t that they thought they could possibly get them to last the remaining 47 laps. It was that they felt this was too far for two sets of options. “Friday had suggested the softs wouldn’t do more than 16 laps,” pointed out Rob Smedley. Furthermore, because they had struggled to get the softs up to their high temperature range and the medium is designed to work in a lower temperature range, there was a certain logic to supposing the prime might switch on faster. In fact it was worse.
“It felt like a fresh cold tyre for about 10 laps,” reported Bottas. “There was a brief period where it began to work, then it would wear out and lose temperature again.” Massa wasn’t quite so badly afflicted and hung on behind Ricciardo for a while. He was now being tailed quite closely by Räikkönen’s Ferrari which had made steady progress from its lowly grid position.
Rosberg could find no way by Vergne’s defences of second place and with Vettel and Hamilton closing in, there was a strategy decision to be made on Rosberg’s side of the Mercedes garage. “Do the opposite of Vergne,” Nico was told on lap 32. Vergne stayed out, so Rosberg came in. Stopping this early would be asking too much for one set of options, particularly as those he had were used. Going onto primes would make him too slow – and critically he was now on course for Lewis to jump him when he finally stopped. So he was switched to a three-stop, with the remaining 38 laps to be divided up into two stints on options. The stop was slow at 4.9s while the brake duct blockers for the earlier damp conditions were removed.
1. D Ricciardo, Red Bull 1h53m05.058s
2. F Alonso, Ferrari +5.225s
3. L Hamilton, Mercedes +5.857s
4. N Rosberg, Mercedes +6.361s
5. F Massa, Williams+29.841s
6. K Räikkönen, Ferrari +31.491s
7. S Vettel, Red Bull +40.964s
8. V Bottas, Williams +41.344s
9. J-E Vergne, Toro Rosso +58.527s
10. J Button, McLaren +1m07.280s
11. A Sutil, Sauber +1m08.169s
12. K Magnussen, McLaren +1m18.465s
13. P Maldonado, Lotus +1m24.024s
14. D Kvyat Toro, Rosso 1 lap
15. J Bianchi, Marussia 1 lap
16. M Chilton, Marussia 1 lap
E Gutiérrez, Sauber 33 laps
K Kobayashi, Caterham 25 laps
S Pérez, Force India 23 laps
N Hulkenberg, Force India 15 laps
R Grosjean, Lotus 11 laps
M Ericsson, Caterham 8 laps
Alonso’s lead over Vergne was now out to around 6s as Hamilton and Ricciardo began to close in on the Toro Rosso. They were not without their problems though. “The left side of my seat is getting hot,” said Lewis. And more worryingly: “It feels just like it did in Montreal.” Possibly connected to this, his rear brakes were playing up in the same way as Rosberg’s had earlier on and needed managing with regard to harvesting rates. Then the Merc began losing fuel pressure. Lewis was instructed to change up later, using the revs rather than the torque. The Red Bull was also suffering low fuel pressure and a sensor was threatening to shut off a cylinder because of excess heat. This required Ricciardo to turn a few knobs as instructed by Renault Sport in order to shut the sensor down. These power units are delicate, complicated beasts.
Vettel had a rather more basic problem. On lap 32 he got onto the still-wet artificial grass out the final corner, just as Pérez had done. Vettel somehow managed a full 360 with the rear tyre sidewall only just kissing the wall. He only lost around 3s! But all four tyres were now flat-spotted and he pitted at the end of the lap.
Hamilton was upon Vergne by the 34th lap and it was crucial for Lewis that he not be held up by him, for he needed to remain on schedule to emerge from his stop ahead of Rosberg. Without the straightline speed to get by the Toro Rosso in the DRS zones, Lewis instead took the brave option of a move into turn four. He needed to kiss the dirt with his right-rear on the approach to get himself in place to do it, but he made it work, going clean around the outside in much the same way Grosjean had on Massa last year, but keeping his wheels within the white lines. It was a vital move and a thrilling one all at the same time.
Vergne pitted at the end of the lap and had a set of primes fitted. He rejoined a couple of places behind Rosberg, one ahead of Vettel. Hamilton was now within 6.6s of leader Alonso and beginning to close him down, but with Ricciardo on his fresher tyres catching them both. All three needed to stop one more time, but Danny not for a long time yet.
Alonso was in on lap 38 and fitted with a set of options. Thirty-eight laps on a set of these seemed a big ask, but it was a gamble worth taking. “We were thinking maybe we do a late third stop,” explained Fernando. “That would have got us a safe fourth place and we need the points. But if we could stay out, lead and defend, even if we lost positions we still would only drop back to fourth. It was the right thing.”
1. Nico Rosberg 202
2. Lewis Hamilton 191
3. Daniel Ricciardo 131
4. Fernando Alonso 115
5. Valtteri Bottas 95
6. Sebastian Vettel 88
7. Nico Hulkenberg 69
8. Jenson Button 60
9. Felipe Massa 40
10. Kevin Magnussen 37
11. Sergio Pérez 29
12. Kimi Räikkönen 27
13. Jean-Eric Vergne 11
14. Romain Grosjean 8
15. Daniil Kvyat 6
16. Jules Bianchi 2
17. Adrian Sutil 0
18. Marcus Ericsson 0
19. Pastor Maldonado 0
20. Esteban Gutiérrez 0
21. Max Chilton 0
22. Kamui Kobayashi 0
It was something that Hamilton may wish Mercedes had emulated. Instead he was put onto a set of the much slower primes at his stop a lap later. He emerged in front of Rosberg but still behind Alonso. All of which left Ricciardo leading with another 15 laps before his final stop. He was 16s clear of Alonso and needed to be 21s ahead by the time he stopped if he was going to retain the lead. That just wasn’t feasible and he concentrated instead on stint length. If he was going to win this he was going to have to do it on-track, in the final stint on his fresh options.
Räikkönen pitted from his temporary third place on the 41st lap and rejoined just in front of Vettel. They diced hard through turns two and three. Vettel got a better exit out of three and was gaining on the Ferrari, on the outside, as they headed up to the fast turn four. Kimi shut Seb out on the approach, exactly as he had done to him last year. Räikkönen stayed ahead.
It was at around this time that the Hamilton and Rosberg strategies really began to interfere. The intention was for Nico to stop again and for Lewis to be going to the end and now Rosberg was within a couple of seconds of his team-mate and lapping faster. “Nico has one more stop, so don’t hold him up,” Lewis was told. “He’s on a different strategy.”
Hamilton didn’t see it quite like that. He was chasing Alonso hard, he was going to be racing Ricciardo later. He was in the mix for victory, just as much as Rosberg was. To back off to allow Rosberg an easy passage would cost time. Besides, who was to say that if he let Rosberg past it wouldn’t allow Nico to repass after his stop? Nico in turn was asking, “Why’s he not letting me past?”
1. Mercedes 393
2. Red Bull-Renault 219
3. Ferrari 142
4. Williams-Mercedes 135
5. Force India-Mercedes 98
6. McLaren-Mercedes 97
7. Toro Rosso-Renault 17
8. Lotus-Renault 8
9. Marussia-Ferrari 2
10. Sauber-Ferrari 0
11. Caterham-Renault 0
After further discussion Hamilton said that if Rosberg could get up with him then he’d let him by but he wasn’t about to slow down for him. It was not a reasonable request – as team boss Niki Lauda emphasised. “The team was under enormous stress today. Mercedes has been used to being in the lead and racing against each other. This race, with the safety car at the beginning and the wet conditions, was a completely different race. So every minute you had to decide something different.
In this stress the team told Lewis he should let Nico by because he was on softer tyres and has to come in anyway. But in Lewis’ position he was clear that if [Rosberg] had been in the DRS position, Nico one second behind, for sure he would have let him by. But Nico never got that close. Therefore I do understand that Lewis said, ‘Why? Why should I stop now in the middle of the circuit to let my team colleague by.’ He is fighting for the championship anyway. So from my point of view Lewis was right. And why the call came, this happened out of the panic and we had to make up for what we were losing.”
Besides, Hamilton at this point was far from convinced that his tyres, even though they were the primes, were going to last the distance.
Rosberg had been lapping in the mid 1m 27s when he arrived within 1s of Hamilton’s tail on lap 45 and he stayed there until his lap 56 stop. During those 11 laps he was stuck at Hamilton’s harder tyre pace of mid-28s. So he lost around 10s – surely enough to have won him the race, though he’d have had to pass. But that’s in hindsight. At that moment Hamilton was also fighting to win the race. What is notable though is how much Hamilton’s pace picked up after Rosberg had pitted. Having averaged mid-28s with Rosberg on his tail, his next three laps were all in the 1m 27s…
Leader Ricciardo made his third stop on lap 54. He rejoined 8s behind Alonso who led by 3.9s from Hamilton. Rosberg meanwhile pitted on lap 56 and rejoined 25s adrift of the lead and needing to pass Räikkönen and Massa. By the time he did that it was lap 61, with nine to go. He was 23s behind the lead but faster by around 2.8s. Game most definitely on. So Hamilton was catching Alonso, Ricciardo was catching Hamilton and Rosberg was catching all of them at a great rate but from a long way back. This was a fantastic, climactic Hungarian Grand Prix.
On lap 63, with Hamilton breathing down his neck, Alonso on his old tyres twitched into the chicane and had to open out the steering and go straight on. He duly slowed as he rejoined to make it plain he gained no advantage – but there was nowhere to pass him. Both were now losing the grip of their tyres and Hamilton began locking up into turn one as he continued to look for a way by the Ferrari.
On the 65th lap Hamilton’s focus was forced to switch from attack to defence as Ricciardo was now right with him and trying for a dive down the inside of turn two. It didn’t quite work but on the next lap Ricciardo was able to hang on sufficiently around the outside of two that he could force his way through on the inside to three. He was through – and with Alonso as his next target. It was no contest and going into the 68th lap he slotted the Red Bull down the inside into turn one. As in Canada, he’d left it late but he’d done it.
Hamilton continued to attack Alonso until Rosberg appeared on his tail with a lap to go. He had to get defensive into turn two on that lap. On the final lap he had to get downright rude, hanging him out to dry over the exit kerb to keep him behind.
Ricciardo duly took his second win in five races, Alonso a tenacious relentless second, Hamilton a fantastically combative third, Rosberg a disappointed fourth on a day when, if it hadn’t been for the timing of the Ericsson crash, no-one would have even seen which way he’d gone. Massa rebuffed Räikkönen’s pressure to hang onto a distant fifth while Vettel withstood intense pressure from Bottas in the last few laps to hang onto seventh ahead of Vergne and Button.
A wide-grinning Perth boy stood getting drenched by champagne under a late afternoon Budapest sun.
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