Sebastian Vettel has won a thrilling Hungarian Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull duo Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo after snatching the lead from a hapless Lewis Hamilton off the line.
As was the case in Silverstone, both Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg suffered underwhelming starts, surrendering the lead to the fast-starting Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen.
The race almost immediately started unravelling for Mercedes when Hamilton ran wide at turn one as he and Rosberg tussled for position, dropping the Briton to tenth.
Rosberg moved up to third, closely followed by Valtteri Bottas and Nico Hülkenberg, but the uneasiness with which he drove around the Hungaroring during practice and qualifying persisted into the race and left him unable to mount a credible challenge against the Ferraris.
Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, meanwhile, had fallen behind Daniil Kvyat, but damage to the Russian’s front wing sustained on lap one forced the team into ordering the Australian through, and he passed Hülkenberg for P5 on lap 10.
As the first pit stop window opened earlier than expected, Hamilton continued to charge back towards the front — reminiscent of his scything through the field from pit lane to third at this race last season — reaching a distant fifth place before the leaders made their first tyre changes.
The pit stop shake-up put Ricciardo, on the medium compound tyres, into fourth, just half a second ahead of the soft tyre-shod Hamilton.
The Red Bull driver resisted the faster car for seven laps until a brief loss of traction at the last corner opened the door for the Mercedes to steam pass at the end of the pit straight.
Hamilton then set about chasing down his teammate, also on the medium tyres, and closed the gap by almost two seconds per lap, threatening to duel Rosberg on track before the second set of stops.
Rosberg, who had grown no more comfortable in his car 37 laps into the race, panicked that his practice troubles on the soft compound tyre wouldn’t allow him to retaliate against Hamilton in the final stint against his teammate on more durable rubber.
The German convinced the Mercedes pit wall that he should be stopped before Hamilton for another set of mediums, allowing him to hold track position and force Hamilton to make a move rather than putting the onus on himself. A battle with Ferrari was out of the question.
The championship-leading team was poised to stop for two sets of mediums when the race took — Nico Hülkenberg’s Force India, entering the braking zone on the pit straight, had a catastrophic front wing failure that had him career into the barriers.
A virtual safety car, soon evolving into a regular safety car, was deployed, bunching up the cars and eliminating the 37-second advantage Ferrari had eked from its silver rivals over the previous 43 laps.
Rosberg suddenly appeared to have missed a trick given the tyre life gained on the soft rubber behind the safety car would have given him and advantage over both Vettel and Räikkönen ahead of him and Hamilton behind him, all of whom had no choice but to switch to the mediums.
As it transpired, Daniel Ricciardo, running in fifth, had switched to softs and made himself a contender for victory — Red Bull being able to do so after saving an set of the grippier tyres during qualifying.
The restart on lap 49 was ugly. Sebastian Vettel pulled away and started rebuilding his lead, but Kimi Räikkönen had lost his ERS-K shortly before the safety car period, making him easy prey for the rest of field and making him to a bit-player for the race before retiring on lap 57.
Rosberg zipped past the Finn into turn one, but Ricciardo and Hamilton clashed at the first turn. Both took damage — Ricciardo’s marginal to the sidepods, Hamilton’s significant to his front wing — and the FIA later penalised the championship leader with a drive-through for causing a collision, relegating him to the lower points-paying places.
Ricciardo suddenly found himself in an identical position to that which he faced at the end of the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix, with faster tyres behind a slower Ferrari and Mercedes, and looked likely for victory.
The Australian was lapping between 0.5 and 0.9 seconds per lap faster than his leading rivals, but he toiled for 13 laps without being able to close on Rosberg thanks to the Mercedes’ superior speed down the straight.
With time running out, and after noting that Vettel was not pulling away in the lead, Ricciardo went for a move on lap 64, diving down the inside of Rosberg and cutting across the turn one apex.
He ran too deep, however, and allowed Rosberg to cut back underneath him on the exit — but it was messy. Rosberg cut across Ricciardo’s bow, but the Australian unrelentingly held his line. The Mercedes took a rear puncture and the Red Bull lost its front wing. Vettel’s success was assured.
Ricciardo was forced to pit for a new nosecone, dropping him to third and allowing Daniil Kvyat up to second place, but Rosberg’s race was lost — he emerged from the pits behind Hamilton, who was apologising profusely to his team for an error-riddled afternoon, and ceded further ground to his teammate in the championship standings. The pair finished an immensely disappointing sixth and eighth.
The race settled in for its final five laps. Kvyat was handed a 10-second penalty for passing Lewis Hamilton off the track after Ricciardo swept past at the safety car restart, but his buffer to third place was significant enough to absorb it, winning the Russian his first Formula One podium and the team’s highest race finish of the year.
Behind Max Verstappen finished Fernando Alonso to record what is easily McLaren’s best result of the year, with teammate Jenson Button claiming a similarly impressive ninth place.
McLaren spent most of the afternoon running on the fringe of the top 10, but Alonso and Button’s experience made the difference at the safety car restart, with the Spaniard doing particularly well to gain six places in 17 laps in the all-in melee.
Romain Grosjean earnt himself six points in P7 despite heralding as much as tenth place in qualifying on Saturday as a “miracle”, while Marcus Ericsson finished tenth to take home his first point since the Chinese Grand Prix in April.
Formula One heads into its midseason break off the back off two exciting races, and with Lewis Hamilton leading the drivers championship by 21 points over Rosberg, who is himself 21 points ahead of Sebastian Vettel.
Mercedes remains dominant atop the constructors championship table with a 147-point lead over Ferrari while Williams, scoreless in Budapest, remains third and adrift of the Scuderia by 55 points.
2015 HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX: CLASSIFICATION