Esteban Ocon won the Hungarian Grand Prix, grabbing his chance to put in a peerless performance for Alpine as the leading contenders were waylaid in dramatic fashion. The Frenchman saw off a fierce challenge for almost the entire race distance from Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel in second. Lewis Hamilton came back brilliantly to third after dropping to the back of the field while Max Verstappen was tenth after being hit on the opening lap. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was in fourth, with Ocon’s teammate Fernando Alonso in fifth.
It was a superb first career win for the 24-year-old Frenchman who had Vettel barely a second behind him for almost the entire race and a consummate display of controlled driving under pressure. But for Hamilton and Verstappen the race was about damage limitation. Hamilton had dropped to last after a restart where Mercedes did not pit their man for dry tyres as the rest of the field did so. He drove the wheels off his Mercedes to comeback for third in dramatic fashion. Verstappen took damage after being hit in turn one off the start line and could do nothing more with his stricken car.
The result ensures that Hamilton goes into F1’s summer break having retaken the lead of the championship by six points from Verstappen, having been 33 points behind the Dutchman before the last round at Silverstone.
It is Alpine’s first win as a constructor and for the parent company Renault their first since Alonso won in Japan in 2008. As a squad the Enstone-based team have not won since Kimi Raikkonen did so in Australia 2013.
Rain had begun to fall just 20 minutes before the start and the teams opened the race on the intermediate wet tyres. From a standing start Hamilton made it away cleanly in front but his teammate Valtteri Bottas went backwards from second to fifth. Going through turn one the Finn was too hot and slid into the McLaren of Lando Norris who collected Verstappen, taking them both off.
The safety car was immediately called as Verstappen dropped to 13th, having taken a big impact and sustained damage but Norris was ultimately retired. The race was stopped soon afterwards and Red Bull had the chance to make emergency repairs to Verstappen’s car doing their best with the duct tape to patch up the damage but it was extensive, to the floor, sidepods and bargeboards.
At the restart, as the safety car led the cars back to the start the entire grid dived into the pits to take dry tyres with only Hamilton not doing so, he took the standing start entirely alone. He was forced to pit at the end of the lap but with the rest of the field effectively having a free stop Hamilton emerged at the back of the field.
With the expected order thrown to the wind Ocon led for Alpine from Vettel while Hamilton was 14th with Verstappen in 11th.
Hamilton was calm on the radio and race engineer Peter Bonnington told him: “You can still win this”. He passed Antonio Giovinazzi on lap 10 to take 13 th and was 24 seconds off the lead. With an undamaged car he had the pace but the tricky part was making passes through the tight corners in Budapest.
Mercedes took a chance pitting Hamilton again on lap 20 to take the hard rubber and try and find him some clean air, put in some hot laps and undercut the rest of the field.
Red Bull duly pitted Verstappen a lap later to cover Hamilton but the world champion had done an immense out-lap and emerged in ninth in front of the Dutchman. His lap had been two seconds faster than that of the leaders.
Out front Ocon and Vettel had opened a 16-second gap to the field in a tense fight of their own while Hamilton continued pumping in fastest laps and had moved up to seventh by lap 27, then sweeping past Yuki Tsunoda in a fine move at turn four for fifth on lap 32.
He was 36 seconds behind the leaders with 38 laps remaining and two seconds from Sainz in fourth. Vettel and Ocon took their final stops on lap 36 and 37, with the Frenchman maintaining his lead and Hamilton in fourth after Alonso also pitted.
Verstappen could do nothing however with the damage to his car severely clearly curtailing his pace. Hamilton pitted again for fresh rubber on lap 47 looking for a tyre advantage to make passing more achievable with 23 laps remaining. He emerged in fifth behind Alonso and 25 seconds off Ocon but was immediately four seconds quicker than his rivals.
Mercedes had made the right call on both his stops to make up for their failure to pit him before the restart. On lap 54 he caught Alonso who defended brilliantly as Hamilton ducked and dived through turns two to four but the Spaniard would simply not yield until pushed to the limit he locked up through turn one and Hamilton made it stick on lap 65. Sainz fell two laps later but Ocon and Vettel were out of touch out front. Hamilton closed to within two seconds to secure an unlikely podium and the title lead with his second comeback drive in successive races.
Pierre Gasly was in sixth for AlphaTauri with his teammate Tsunoda in Seventh. Nicholas Latifi and George Russell were in eighth and ninth for Williams.