Esteban Ocon has capitalised on wet race start and first-lap mayhem to claim a maiden Formula 1 victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.
This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.
Max Verstappen was cleaned up in a seven-car crash at the first corner that forced five drivers into retirement and could score only a single point for 10th, surrendering his championship lead to Hamilton.
The race got underway in damp and slippery conditions, and into the first turn Valtteri Bottas misjudged his braking point and tapped the back of Lando Norris’s McLaren.
Norris in turn slammed into Max Verstappen, while Bottas rebounded off the McLaren to wipe out Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull Racing car.
All bar Verstappen retired from the race with terminal damage, and Bottas was slapped with a five-place grid penalty for the next race.
Further back Lance Stroll was making a similar hash of the start, overshooting the first turn and taking to the grass in an attempt to avoid a smash. Instead he slipped helplessly into Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, putting both of them out of the race and spinning around Daniel Ricciardo, damaging the McLaren.
Stroll too was served with a five-place penalty for the mistake.
The race was suspended for half an hour to clean up the debris, during which time the rain stopped and track dried. As Hamilton led the field around the lap to the grid for the standing restart, all bar the Mercedes driver changed to dry-weather tyres and begin the race again from the pit lane.
It was a costly error for Hamilton, who took to the grid on his own, the first time only one car has started a race under the gantry. He was forced to pit for tyres at the end of the lap, dropping to the back of the pack.
Esteban Ocon inherited the lead from Sebastian Vettel, and the pair engaged in an exclusive battle for the lead, dropping the rest of the field as the race went on. Vettel had the faster car and tried to undercut the Frenchman at the pit-stop window, but a slow tyre change meant Ocon was able to rejoin the race from his own stop fractionally ahead, neutralising the battle.
Further back Hamilton was making rapid progress after a slow start to his recovery. Mercedes decided early to run a two-stop strategy, bringing him in aggressively early, on lap 20, for his second set of slick tyres to jump his way past the struggling Verstappen and into the top 10, and by lap 32 the Briton had broken back into the top five.
A second stop on lap 47 dropped him to 25 seconds off the lead with 22 laps to run, but his pace on fresh rubber was ferocious. By lap 55 he was within 10 seconds of the leader and making good time, but in his way was Fernando Alonso, and the Alpine driver wasn’t about to let him through without a fight.
And the fight raged for 15 scintillating laps, the Spaniard absolutely determined in defence and Hamilton unable to find a way through. Several times they seemed certain to make contact as they swept through the fast first sector and its long corners, but they gave each other only just enough room to fight another lap.
In the end it was a small lock-up at the first corner that let Hamilton through on lap 65, and he re-engaged his pursuit, but time was tight. On lap 67 of 70 he passed Carlos Sainz for third, and on the final lap he was within a second of Vettel in second place, but that was as close as he could get to the front.
The chequered flag fell, and Esteban Ocon had held the lead for a maiden grand prix victory.
“What a moment!” he said. “It feels so good. It’s the first victory
“What can I say, it’s fantastic. Congrats to Fernando as well, because I think the win is also down to him.
“Just a big thank you for the trust that everyone is putting in me. In difficult moments when you are out of.”
Vettel was frustrated to be unable to make a move in a car he felt was quicker, but the German was magnanimous in defeat.
“I’m obviously a little bit disappointed because I felt I was a little bit faster of the majority of the race, but Esteban didn’t do a single mistake, and I couldn’t get close enough.
“Well deserved for him to celebrate his first victory. Obviously it’s a great result for us — but when it’s that close!”
Hamilton was visibly exhausted after the race, having been executed the most aggressive strategy of the race, including seven on-track passes at a circuit around which overtaking is notoriously difficult.
He checked up by the team doctor suffering fatigue and dizziness after the race as a precaution but was cleared shortly afterwards.
“Today was definitely tough,” he said. “We always make it difficult for ourselves.
“I gave it everything and I had nothing left in the end.
“We came here this weekend and definitely didn’t know how it was going to go. Considering the circumstances today, I’ll take it.”
Sainz hung on for fourth ahead of Alonso. AlphaTauri teammates Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda followed.
Williams scored its first points since 2019 with Nicholas Latifi and George Russell in eighth and ninth, while Verstappen slogged his way through the lower reaches of the field to score the final point for 10th.