First corner carnage gives Ocon his 'fantastic moment': 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix report


Esteban Ocon was the unlikely winner of the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix after Valtteri Bottas triggered a multi-car collision at the start of the race. Sebastian Vettel was disqualified after running low on fuel

Esteban Ocon with the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix winners trophy

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

And you thought the sight of just six cars starting the 2005 United States Grand Prix was bizarre…

At 15:35, Lewis Hamilton lined up on pole position for a standing start on what was officially lap four of the Hungarian Grand Prix, and the only other car on the grid was the medical car. And he wasn’t going to win.

That’s because one hour earlier, rain had started falling as the cars made their way onto the grid and by the time the lights went out for the first time it was a full wet track with everyone on intermediates for the first time this weekend. And it caught two out massively.

Lewis hamilton, 2021 Hungarian GP

Hamilton took the restart by himself while the rest of the field pitted for slicks

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

All eyes were on Hamilton and Max Verstappen after their Silverstone collision, but the first hurdle was for Verstappen to clear Valtteri Bottas who was lining up alongside his team-mate on the front row. That job was done quickly as Bottas dropped to fifth behind Verstappen and Lando Norris, with Sergio Perez on his outside.

Just after slotting in behind the McLaren, however, Bottas then outbraked himself and rammed the rear of Norris’ car, pitching him into Verstappen, while the damaged Mercedes then careered into Perez. Only Verstappen would continue but with a heavily damaged car.

“Again taken out by a Mercedes…” Verstappen said. “That’s not what you want and from there onwards I was missing my whole side of the car – the whole bargeboard area. And the floor was damaged as well. It was almost impossible to drive to be honest.”

First corner crash at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Late-braking Bottas caused crash when he slid into Norris

Grand Prix Photo

Charles Leclerc retires from the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Stroll impact proved terminal for Leclerc's race

Dan Istitene/F1 via Getty Images

For Bottas, there was no hiding.

“Obviously my mistake, I was the one coming from behind and then you need to brake early enough,” Bottas said. “But I misjudged it, which shows that things are not so easy to predict on those conditions, and I should have braked early, because when I started to brake I was closing in, I locked wheels, I hit Lando and that caused the whole mess, so my misjudgement, my mistake.

“It was clear I started the Turn One mess at the front and I told [Norris and Perez] it was my bad and they know I’m not trying to take anyone else out. That’s what I do – I accept it was my mistake.”

Valtteri Bottas sits on the tyre barrier after crashing out of the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Bottas was handed a five-place grid penalty for the next race for the incident, and he wasn’t alone. As many cars ducked to the inside to avoid the carnage, Lance Stroll had made the same error and wiped out Charles Leclerc at the Turn One apex. Daniel Ricciardo was also clattered into and spun, though he was the only one of the three able to keep racing.

The view back from Hamilton’s car was slightly ridiculous. He was almost all alone as he accelerated towards Turn Two, with Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel picking their way through the carnage from eighth and tenth on the grid respectively.

The safety car was deployed, Verstappen took to the pit lane for running repairs and the race was soon red-flagged to clear the debris, deeming that stop unnecessary.

After a delay of nearly 30 minutes, the remaining 15 cars rolled out of the pits – led by Hamilton – to carry out a standing restart. All were on intermediates but in that time the sun had come out and high temperatures meant the track was close to dry.

As the leader, it was understandable Hamilton thought he had too much to lose by pitting and giving up track position. But he will have watched in horror as the whole field deemed slicks the right tyre to be on and Ocon led them back down the pit lane, leaving a solitary Mercedes on pole position for the standing start.

“I saw everyone diving in…” Hamilton said. “It’s crazy to think we were the only ones on the grid at the start.

“I kept telling them it’s ‘dry, dry, dry, dry’ and they said to stay out. I don’t really understand, but I’m sure we accept that it’s definitely a mistake from us all. We win and lose as a team.”

Once Hamilton was clear of the pit exit, the rest were released. And it was George Russell who emerged first after jumping clear from the Williams pit box. He was reeling Hamilton in but then slowed on instruction from the FIA as he was not permitted to overtake in the pit lane, so dropped back to seventh, promoting Ocon to the lead as Hamilton came in at the end of the lap.

Lewis Hamilton takes the restart of the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Pitlane queue waits as Hamilton takes a lonely start


“It was clear to me that it was dry,” Ocon said. “What put me in a bit of doubt was Lewis continuing straight because Lewis and Mercedes don’t usually make mistakes at all, so I got a bit of doubt once that happened but it was definitely the clear thing to do.”

With Russell out of the way, Ocon led Vettel and Nicholas Latifi, with the Williams driver having made a stunning first start and avoided all of the drama at Turn 1. It was the perfect scenario as Latifi backed up Yuki Tsunoda and Carlos Sainz behind, with Fernando Alonso and Russell next in line.

Hamilton’s stop demoted him to the back of the field, but he only had to clear Antonio Giovinazzi – last after gambling on a stop for slicks for the original race start – before he was on the back of Pierre Gasly who himself was following Verstappen. Gasly was out of position after being forced wide by the Turn One incident, but he played rear-gunner to the ailing championship leader for a spell and Hamilton was forced into a pit stop on lap 19 to switch to hard tyres and clear air.

It should have yielded little response but Verstappen was stuck behind the similarly hamstrung Ricciardo and inexplicably pitted in response to Hamilton, following Ricciardo into the pits. They emerged in the same order, but with Hamilton ahead after a rapid out-lap.

Lewis Hamilton overtakes Daniel Ricciardo at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Undercut moved Hamilton ahead of Ricciardo and Verstappen

Dan Istitene/F1 via Getty Images

Given he was over half a minute off the lead after his pit stop and progress was still slow, Hamilton’s chances of a win looked minuscule. Tsunoda had been brought in for an early first stop to switch to hards in apparent reaction to all the pit activity behind him, but Carlos Sainz duly argued against a Ferrari call to do the same, telling the team to stay calm and quickly showing pace that could bring him into contention at the front.

Once Hamilton caught Tsunoda, he was fighting for fifth place but a long way off the top four of Ocon, Vettel, Sainz and Alonso. With Verstappen still outside the top ten in such a disadvantaged car, it looked like the remaining Mercedes driver didn’t need to take any risks, but that’s not how you win titles in a year like this.

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A stunningly brave move around the outside of Tsunoda at Turn Four signalled his intent and caused Sainz to pit immediately in reaction. Yet the top two serenely carried on until lap 36 when Vettel finally came in for hard tyres. A slightly slow stop hurt his hopes and Ocon responded a lap later, just managing to retain the lead despite concerted pressure from the four-time champion.

“I think we are very close with Esteban in terms of pace and I pushed so hard,” Vettel said. “I tried to push him into a mistake and it’s so difficult in the middle sector, the final part of it to stay close enough. Otherwise I think I could have tried something but he did well to defend like he did and not run into a mistake.”

Once Hamilton reached the top four, his progress stalled behind Sainz, so Mercedes stuck to the two-stop strategy and switched to new medium tyres. He was instantly four seconds a lap quicker than the leaders and Vettel got told he needed to pass Ocon otherwise Hamilton would be with them with ten laps to go.

But that discounted the influence of Fernando Alonso. After his stop he was now between Hamilton and Sainz and on fresh tyres, as the top five all started to close up.

Fernando Alonso, 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Old foes reunited on track

Lars Baron/Getty Images

“I was so convinced about the podium,” Alonso said. “I was catching Carlos and Hamilton quite quickly, I was setting the fastest laps of the race and I thought ‘I will overtake them and I will try to win the race!’ That was my mind at the moment, then I started to realise that maybe winning the race was not possible, and overtaking Hamilton and Sainz was the target for sure.

“Hamilton pit and it was only Sainz separating myself from the podium so I thought ‘OK I will go for it and the podium is a real possibility’. Then there wasn’t enough pace on the straight especially … so I started thinking at that time if I am right behind Carlos with the DRS I could protect myself from Hamilton and just finish fourth. But every battle I had with Lewis I was losing the DRS with Carlos because I was defending.”

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Defending is one word for it. Alonso was at his brilliant best – borderline at times – as he forced Hamilton always to the outside and ran him out of road on numerous occasions. They even touched wheels briefly at Turn Four, but eventually the pressure told and a lock-up at Turn One allowed Hamilton through.

“Now, looking back on it, it was amazing. It really, really was fantastic,” Hamilton said. “It literally was wheel-to-wheel at least once … When you’re racing against a two-time World Champion he probably is one of the hardest drivers – but fair. I’d say today was a little bit over on the limit.”

There were just over five laps remaining when Hamilton finally got through, and Alonso had pegged the gap to the leaders for some ten laps, so even when the defending champion quickly cleared Sainz he was nine seconds adrift of Vettel with fewer than four to go.

He closed right up but crossed the line 0.8sec adrift as Vettel had to watch Ocon secure a stunning maiden win in one of the most thrilling and bizarre races ever. There was a further twist in the tale, though, as Vettel then stopped on track and Aston Martin was unable to provide the mandatory 1.0-litre fuel sample after the race, leading to a disqualification for breaching technical regulations. Rules are rules, and you could say at least it was the driver with 53 wins who was impacted, rather than the one who had just taken his first.

Esteban Ocon, 2021 Hungarian GP

Vettel followed Ocon to the line but disqualification loomed

Peter Kohlami/AFP via Getty Images

“I mean what a fantastic moment,” Ocon said. “I don’t have much words, to be fair. It’s crazy. We were just talking about it with the team not too long ago, that the next step to get for us would be the top step, as we did P2 last year. We were not expecting that to be today, for sure. I can be thankful for the trust the team put in me.

“It’s easier to fight at the front like we did now, to manage the opponents that are behind, than to fight in the midfield how we are doing. This is much harder. The whole time in Formula 1 I had pretty good training. The fight in the midfield is a lot tougher than what’s happening in the front. It was hard with Seb putting a lot of pressure, he gave me a hard time but you know, when you are ahead, you have clean air. You are the one who is dictating the pace on such a track.

Fernando Alonso and Estebn Ocon after the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

Alonso and Ocon celebrate Alpine’s showing at the Hungaroring

“Of course there has been a lot of incidents in that race but you know, as we are in the position, we are chasing opportunities the whole time. Today we got it, so what a moment. I will remember that forever.”

He’s not alone.

While Ocon took his maiden win, Hamilton and Sainz were promoted to the podium as Vettel’s exclusion also saw Latifi and Russell score their first points for Williams in seventh and eighth respectively, the latter holding off Verstappen who scored what could prove a crucial two points.

Some races will be pivotal in the outcome of a season, and this is certain to be one of them. But it’s also going to transcend 2021 and so many aspects of it will be talked about for years to come.

Esteban Ocon on the podium after winning the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

2021 Hungarian Grand Prix race results

Position Driver Team Time Points
1 Esteban Ocon Alpine 70 laps 25
Sebastian Vettel* Aston Martin +1.859sec DSQ
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +2.736sec 18
3 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +15.018sec 15
4 Fernando Alonso Alpine +15.651sec 12
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +1min 03.614sec 11*
6 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +1min 15.803sec 8
7 Nicholas Latifi Williams +1min 17.910sec 6
8 George Russell Williams +1min 19.094sec 4
9 Max Verstappen Red Bull +1min 20.244 2
10 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +1 lap 1
11 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo +1 lap
12 Mick Schumacher Haas +1 lap
13 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo + 1 lap
Nikita Mazepin Haas DNF
Lando Norris McLaren DNF
Sergio Perez Red Bull DNF
Lance Stroll Aston Martin DNF
Charles Leclerc Ferrari DNF
Valtteri Bottas Mercedes DNF

*Sebastian Vettel was disqualified for not having enough fuel in his car to provide a sample