Lewis Hamilton Kicks Off Summer Break with Hungarian Grand Prix Win
Hamilton achieves his biggest championship lead of the season…But does this portend a challenge later on?
When the red lights went out at the Hungarian Grand Prix, the red cars reversed their order, Sebastian Vettel on soft tires inching past Kimi Räikkönen on ultrasofts prior to the first corner, and informing the team's running order for the race: behind Mercedes, Vettel in front of Räikkönen.
Normally-frontrunning Red Bull driver Max Verstappen recovered two places on the first lap, while teammate Daniel Ricciardo made contact with Marcus Ericsson, though the coming-together did not result in a puncture. Verstappen's day came to an early end on Lap 6 with an engine failure, after which Alfa Romeo Sauber pitted Marcus Ericsson for the first stop of the race, for medium tires.
The first pit stop by a frontrunner would not take place until Lap 15, after which Räikkönen would pit for soft tires, estimated to be capable of only 45 laps, forcing either masterful tire management on Räikkönen's part or a two-stop strategy. Valtteri Bottas would pit from second a lap later for the same compound, on the same lap that Ricciardo would pull past Carlos Sainz for seventh. Lewis Hamilton held off on stopping until Lap 25 when he made the switch to soft tires.
Räikkönen would stop again after Lap 38 for a second set of softs, Vettel the lap after for ultrasofts with the intent of rejoining the track ahead of Bottas. His stop was slowed by difficulties with the left front wheel, and he returned to the track, the pit mistake having allowed the Mercedes driver past, and into vitally advantageous track position.
Stoffel Vandoorne suffered a transmission failure on the leaders' 51st lap, prompting a virtual safety car and a response by the Mercedes pit crew. No cars were called in, however, and commentators speculated on whether it was a false flag and an attempt to make Ferrari respond by pitting one of its own cars. After the VSC lifted, the Ferraris pounced on Bottas, Vettel pushing past in the first corner of Lap 65, and Bottas' attempt at a position defense into the second corner failed, resulting in front wing damage, pushing the Mercedes wide, and allowing Räikkönen past too.
A recovering Ricciardo took a chance around the outside of Bottas in the first corner of Lap 68, but Bottas went wide, mulching Ricciardo's right-side bargeboards. Ricciardo used what was left of his tires and his special energy to close the gap to Bottas once again, and coming through turn one on the final lap, he finalized his overtake on Bottas, and likely his imminent nomination as driver of the day as well.
Hamilton crossed the line seconds later, winning the Hungarian Grand Prix and extending his championship lead to 24 points, but also making himself a possible target of the Hungarian Grand Prix "curse," wherein the driver to win in Hungary does not win the title, as it has been the case since 2005. A large portion of the remaining calendar will be at tracks which favor Ferrari's superior straight line speed, which will force Hamilton into damage control for much of the season to come. It may go down to the wire.