Ocon scores maiden career victory at a chaotic Hungarian Grand Prix
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon became Formula One’s 111th race winner after the Frenchman secured his first win following an eventful Hungarian Grand Prix. Ocon held off four time world champion Sebastian Vettel for almost the entirety of the race, keeping the German behind in the DRS range; as Vettel went on to score his and his team’s second podium of the year with a solid second finish place. Lewis Hamilton, who fell prey to a strategic error by Mercedes, charged back through the field to round off the podium place. A podium place that was made sweeter given the fact his title rival, Max Verstappen could manage only a solitary point. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz finished in fourth, with Ocon’s teammate Fernando Alonso finishing a brilliant fifth ahead of the two AlphaTauris of Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda. Both Williams’ of Nicholas Latifi and George Russell also managed to score their first career points for the team, and Max Verstappen rounded off the point scoring places, with a disappointing 10th place finish.
A wet start meant absolute mayhem at the start. Although pole sitter Lewis Hamilton got a good launch off the line, his teammate Valtteri Bottas had a terrible start and was quickly passed by Verstappen, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc. Bottas tried to regain lost ground and going into turn one but broke extremely late, which saw him smash into the back of Norris, who in turn went into the side of Max Verstappen. Bottas’ momentum put him into the path of the other Red Bull of Sergio Pérez, while further back Lance Stroll crashed into the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, taking both of them out. With the amount of debris on the track, the race was red flagged and Bottas, Stroll, Leclerc and Perez were all out on the spot. As the rest of the cars were in the pits, waiting for resumption, McLaren retired Norris’ car which had too much damage to carry on while Verstappen, who fell down to P9 after that opening lap madness, had considerable damage on his Red Bull.
Racing resumed 20 minutes later, with the line-up being Hamilton, Ocon, Vettel, Sainz, Tsunoda and Latifi in the top six. With the weather clearing up and the track drying up, as the cars were finishing the formation lap, all of the cars except Hamilton dove into the pits for a change of tyre. The race restart was quite a unique one with only one car on the grid, that being Hamilton on the inters. As the lights went off, Hamilton managed to build a small lead of couple of seconds on his inters, which were now beginning to struggle on a dried up track. Mercedes pitted Hamilton in the second lap after the resumption and their gamble to leave Hamilton out for track position had back fired, with Hamilton rejoining last in 14th place, with the Haas of Nikita Mazepin being the latest retiree after a pit lane collision with the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Räikkönen that saw the 2007 world champion receive a 10 second penalty. Further up the track, it was Esteban Ocon who was leading the race, for the first time in his career, from Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel with the Williams of Nicholas Latifi in third place. Amidst all the chaos, Verstappen was struggling in 12th place with a severely damaged car but holding on to make sure he salvages whatever he can, in a bid to keep his championship fight going. By lap 11, Vettel was within DRS range of Ocon but the Frenchman was somehow just holding on to the race lead, but it was Nicholas Latifi in third place who was the one helping the top two. Latifi, being almost 10 seconds behind Vettel, kept Sainz, Latifi, Alonso all behind for a staggering 14 laps that would have definitely helped Hamilton in his bid to regain as many points as he could. By the time Sainz passed Latifi for third place on lap 25, Hamilton had already made easy work of the rest of the drivers in front of him, including Verstappen, to move up to eighth place. Halfway through the race, Ocon still lead from Vettel, Alonso and Sainz, with Hamilton having made it up to sixth place and was eyeing a race win, given the superior pace of his Mercedes. It would have been easy for Hamilton on any other orthodox racing track but not at Hungary, also known as ‘Monaco with Walls’.
Overtaking was extremely hard at the Hungaroring and Hamilton learnt that the hard way as he was involved in a lip smacking duel with his former teammate Fernando Alonso, which saw the double world champion hold off Hamilton with extreme expertise, skill and sublime race craft for almost 11 laps. Alonso’s superior defending and wheel to wheel skills meant he had held up Hamilton for long enough to make sure the Brit did not have enough laps to chase down Ocon for the win at the end. By the final few laps, it was still Ocon leading from Vettel, although the latter was hard done by a slow pit stop that let Alpine overcut Vettel, although the German almost passed Ocon on lap 48, when the German took full advantage of Ocon trying to clear a blue-flagged Räikkönen which saw the German dive down the inside of the Alpine but the Frenchman somehow managed to stay a car length ahead of the German. Heading into the final few laps of the race, it was relatively clear that Ocon would manage to hold off Vettel but the German himself was under pressure from a fast charging Hamilton in third place, behind him. As the chequered flag came, Ocon held off Vettel by 1.8s with Hamilton just 0.8s behind Vettel. Although Hamilton might have rued a missed opportunity, his fantastic recovery drive sees him head into the summer break with a six point lead over his title rival and Mercedes build up a 10 point lead in the constructors’ standings. Although both Hamilton and Verstappen’s teammates didn’t see the chequered flag, it will be Bottas who will suffer when racing resumes in three weeks time in Belgium, as the Finn has been handed a five place grid place penalty for causing the first lap collisions. Along with Bottas, even Lance Stroll will be taking a five place grid penalty for taking out Charles Leclerc in the opening lap, which will be crucial for Aston Martin, given the tight midfield battle with Alpine, Aston Martin and AlphaTauri being separated by 11 points. Williams’ double points finish sees the team score their first point since 2019 and move up to eighth place in the constructors table.
After what was the season’s most eventful race filled with action, the summer break will be something most of the teams will be looking for to recharge the batteries and come back stronger in the second half of the season. At point of stage, when Red Bull seemed to have been running away with the championship, their championship rivals have shown why they are eight time world champions, coming back to regain the lead. So as we head into the break, this season’s title fight seems to be shaping up as one for the ages and with the break also certain to shake up the driver market, the season is only going to get better once we resume racing at Spa on 29th August.