Verstappen rebounds from qualifying issues to take Hungarian GP victory

Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Verstappen rebounds from qualifying issues to take Hungarian GP victory

Formula 1

Verstappen rebounds from qualifying issues to take Hungarian GP victory

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Max Verstappen won the Hungarian Grand Prix and extended his championship lead again after a Ferrari strategy blunder cost Charles Leclerc another victory.

Verstappen started 10th but made strong progress in the opening stint to run fifth after 15 laps in time of the first pit stop window, when he undercut his way past Lewis Hamilton into fourth and within striking distance of the podium.

Meanwhile, at the front of the field pole-getter George Russell’s lead came under siege from the Ferrari drivers, with Carlos Sainz leading Charles Leclerc.

Neither Ferrari could find a way through in the first stint, and Russell pre-empted the undercut with an early stop. Sainz responded, but a slow stop kept him behind the Mercedes. Worse, Leclerc ran longer and overcut his way into second, demoting the Spaniard to third.

Leclerc and Russell sparred, particularly into Turn 1, where DRS delivered the Ferrari teasingly close to a pass. It took Leclerc until lap 31 to make a sweet late-braking move around the Mercedes’s outside to seize the lead.

An early undercut got Verstappen rolling, and the world champ never looked back. Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

But the real threat was coming from behind, where Verstappen, now around seven seconds off the lead, was preparing for another undercut at the second stop window, on lap 38.

He came in for a new set of mediums, but Ferrari couldn’t reply in kind with Leclerc, who needed to use a different compound to satisfy the rules. He was put onto a set of hards instead and held position, but it was a crucial error.

The white-walled tire offered no pace — as should’ve been obvious from the few other drivers who’d already sampled the compound in the race — and by lap 41 Verstappen was easily through and into the net lead of the race.

The Dutchman then spun 360 degrees out of the penultimate corner while managing a clutch issue and ceded the lead, but he had performance enough to snatch it back from the struggling Leclerc just four laps later regardless.

In fact, Leclerc was so slow he was forced into a third stop for softs, dropping him to a despondent sixth and costing him a devastating 17 points.

Sainz and Russell made their stops and fell into line behind the Dutchman, though neither had the pace to match the leader.

But the race had one more curveball, with Hamilton switching to softs for his final stint and making a late podium charge. The Briton dropped to net fourth with his final stop but made quick work of the slower Sainz before beating teammate Russell in a lively duel for second.

His pace was more than a match for the leading Verstappen, and he briefly harbored hopes of an unlikely ninth Budapest victory when light rain intensified in the final laps, but ultimately he ran out of laps, and the reigning champion was able to stroke his car home to a comfortable seven-second victory.

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“I was hoping I could get a podium,” Verstappen said. “I think we had a really good strategy — we were really reactive and always pitting at the right time. I was battling a lot of guys, so it was a lot of fun out there.”

Hamilton finished an enthusiastic second, up from seventh on the grid, with late-race speed even he struggled to understand.

“I honestly don’t know [where the pace came from],” he said. “I was definitely struggling at the beginning of the race and wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to catch the guys up. I really want to acknowledge my team, who’ve continued to push and never give up.”

Russell spent the final stint defending against Sainz to deal Ferrari the bitter blow of a podium-less result, beating the Spaniard by just 1.1s to record Mercedes’s second double podium in succession.

“Amazing job by the team,” he said. “Pole position yesterday, double podium — we’re definitely making progress.”

Sainz finished a dejected fourth ahead of Sergio Perez, who lost touch with the lead battle after a slow first pit stop.

Leclerc finished a catastrophic sixth after having led the race early, dropping to a mammoth 80 points off the title lead.

Ferrari has also fallen to 97 points behind Red Bull Racing, while Mercedes is just 30 points behind the Scuderia in the battle for second.

Lando Norris secured best of the rest in seventh ahead of Alpine teammates Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, the French team banking on a one-stop strategy with the hard tire that made them limited progress.

Sebastian Vettel had great pace from 18th on the grid to score the final point of the race ahead of teammate Lance Stroll.

Pierre Gasly was 12th ahead of Zhou Guanyu and Mick Schumacher.

Daniel Ricciardo was penalized five seconds for a colliding with Stroll, leaving him 15th ahead of Kevin Magnussen. Williams duo Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi were 18th ahead of Yuki Tsunoda.

Valtteri Bottas retired in the final laps of the race with a power unit failure.


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