Lewis Hamilton admits he doubted Mercedes’ call to make an extra pit stop in the Hungarian Grand Prix but had to deliver one of the most consistent stints of his career to catch and pass Max Verstappen.
The Red Bull had led from pole position with Hamilton to stay close behind, but the championship leader was still second on the road after the first round of pit stops. As the front two had both opted for hard tires, it was expected they would run to the end but Mercedes opted to pit for a set of mediums with 22 laps remaining due to the margin to third place, and Hamilton duly closed a 22-second gap to overtake Verstappen with four laps remaining.
“Max really drove a sensational race today, as he has done particularly the last few races,” Hamilton said. “When I was behind him on the hard tire it didn’t look like he had particularly good pace — maybe he was managing to get to the end — but I had a lot of grip and I was thinking, ‘I can definitely make this tire go to the end,’ because the first one I got to go quite far.
“But the team said we were going to a two-stop and I was thinking, ‘How is this going to work out? I’m going to come out quite far behind…’. But you have to put complete faith in your team because they have different viewpoint to you, so we did the stop and I came out on the mediums and I thought, ‘Jeez, I don’t know if these are going to go the distance at the speed I am going to have to go.’
“Also, Max turned up the engine mode and they started doing mid-19s. I started thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m close this gap.’ I think the trajectory, they said I was going to catch him with nine laps to go and then that changed super quickly and went to last lap.
“So after that I had to put all doubt and all question marks out of my mind and go for the best laps I could do every single lap and not drop any time whatsoever. I had one of the most consistent period of laps that I’d had. I don’t know if he had traffic or mistakes or whatever but the gap started to chop down quite quickly.
“I think with four or five laps to go I had him four seconds ahead and I could see him in my sights, so maybe he’s struggling with his tires. So after that I was like ‘OK, we’ve got a serious race on here’. It felt like the steepest wall to climb when you come out that far behind but the team had relaxed faith that we would do it and I’m grateful for their hard work and the decision.”
Hamilton says there was added satisfaction in the way he had to hunt down Verstappen and put in constant qualifying-style laps in the final part of the race.
“I feel tired, which is how it should be, but I feel really grateful for the day and for the team for continuing to believe in me and continuing to push to the limits and to take a risk and a chance on me. We’ve been together for seven years and it never gets old — it always feels brand-new. It feels like a new win for us.
“If it wasn’t for these boys here and all the guys back at the factory this wouldn’t be even possible and I’m just grateful to be a part of it. For a race to be able to push like that, I’m telling you now it was on the limit all the way.”