Max Verstappen cruises through half of the grid from tenth position to the top spot in Hungary with a magisterial drive, setting a dominant marker for the championship as F1 enters its summer break.
Leading into this weekend’s GP, free practice and qualifying at the Hungaroring could not have gone any differently, from weather to results. A tantalising Williams 1-3 beckoned at the end of a sodden FP3, only to be snatched away in a qualifying that burnished George Russell’s ‘Mr Saturday’ credentials as he took pole position for the very first time in Formula 1. The only person more surprised than a seemingly dominant Carlos Sainz at George Russell’s shock maiden pole was Russell himself, and he chose to start his race on the soft tyres and attempt to leave the pouncing Ferraris behind, Sainz second and Leclerc behind, in the dust from the off. The weather, in spite of several gloomy forecasts, held up in the admittedly windy dust bowl of the Hungaroring. Where Mercedes celebrated, Red Bull found Sergio Perez knocked out in Q2 and championship leader Max Verstappen suffering engine problems that left him qualifying tenth for the race. Lando Norris resurgent in qualifying found himself fourth, last year’s winner Ocon behind and Lewis Hamilton behind him. The top half of the grid was filled out by Fernando Alonso, the other McLaren of Daniel Riccardo and an impressive Valtteri Bottas in ninth position.
George Russell had an impressive start to the race, holding off a Carlos Sainz storm early on to retain his position, his teammate being forced wide on turn but pushing on to fifth. A defiant Verstappen started strong too, reaching Fernando Alonso, Perez following close behind and planting Red Bull 8th and 9th respectively by Lap 2. Russell’s soft tyre strategy gave him an early race advantage over the Prancing Horses behind, even with as their great pace on mediums kept the duo competitive. Verstappen, also on soft tyres, was relentless with his pressure on the midfield, passing the Alpines in turn, and taking advantage of a Lewis Hamilton-swamped Lando Norris to push up to fifth by lap 11. Lando’s lap horriblis only continued as he was eventually passed by the other Red Bull soon after, the McLaren thenceforth isolated from the good point positions as the race continued. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen was unfortunate following an fantastic early drive through the midfield, damage forcing him to the back of the grid for the remainder of the race.
The Hungaroring is often described as a Monaco GP in disguise, and the race was to be decided by crucial strategy calls and frequent pit stops. Ferrari seemed to play the game well early on, as the chasing Sainz successfully baited an early stop for Russell and Verstappen before pitting later themselves, even as a slow stop eroded much of the advantage. As the grid ebbed and flowed as teams variously stopped, Charles Leclerc emerged as the front runner through much of the middle of the race, while the decision for Alpine to switch to hard tyres early would later seem as a grim omen for Ferrari’s strategy. That decision came following a Red Bull move that bamboozled the Scuderia, taking advantage of the calm and consistent Verstappen in fourth position to make a second stop at Lap 39, undercutting the Ferrari strategy and leading to a desperate pit for hard tyres for Leclerc. The Monagesque, who had raced superbly beforehand, was easily passed by Verstappen and was swallowed by the competitive front runners behind him. Lewis Hamilton eventually emerged as the closest competitor to the Dutchman as the race came to a close, a brief rain scare emerging to put a slight element of jeopardy to the end of proceedings but leaving Lewis still almost 10 seconds behind the winner by the close. George Russell acquitted himself well throughout, a strong P3 that must come bittersweet to the young driver.
Indeed, it may be Mercedes who emerge as the biggest overall winner in Budapest, coming through the congestion of the top half to end P2 and P3 on the day. For Max Verstappen, the other Red Bull finishing fifth notwithstanding, a line has surely been drawn in the sand in the wider championship battle heading into the long summer break. A colossal 80 points separate him from Leclerc and yet again, Ferrari found themselves short, on strategy and, unfortunately, on luck, P6 far from enough to retain significant pressure on Verstappen. Further down the grid, Sebastian Vettel crowned his retirement announcement with a tidy point in tenth position, while Alonso and Ocon in the Alpines finished fortuitously ninth and tenth after a fractious inter-team battle thoughout the race that would surely make for an interesting discussion in the Alpine debrief.