Lewis Hamilton Runs Down Max Verstappen in Final Laps to Win Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix
Mercedes outfoxed Red Bull to manufacture a race win that otherwise looked impossible.
Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes-AMG won his seventh Hungarian Grand Prix after an outside-the-box strategy call decided a protracted battle with Red Bull Racing's Max Verstappen.
Breaking his habit of poor starts, Verstappen maintained track position through the first few turns, staving off a challenge from Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas scrapped with Hamilton for position, but ultimately conceded, losing enough speed for Scuderia Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to zip around him. As Leclerc wove back across the track, the overtake nearly complete, he tapped Bottas' front wing, causing just enough damage to cripple the Finn's car. Handicapped, Bottas lost position to Sebastian Vettel in the second lap's first corner, and his team eventually called him in to pit after lap five, changing out front wings and switching to hard tires.
Bottas immediately looked threatening on his hard tires, setting fastest laps and confirming hard as the choice compound. They were the tires Verstappen would use when he made his first (and only) pit stop on lap 25, releasing Hamilton into clear air and prompting the Brit's race engineer to order the infamous "Hammertime." Verstappen rejoined in third, but instead of his gap to Hamilton increasing, the hard tires proved a match for anything medium-shod Hamilton could manage. After Hamilton finally stopped to claim hard tires on lap 31, he returned to the race six seconds adrift of Verstappen, the "overcut" having failed.
Yet track conditions proved to be in Hamilton's favor and he reeled in Verstappen's lead by as much as two seconds per lap. Right on the Dutchman's rear axle, Hamilton saw an opportunity on lap 38 when the pair lapped Renault's Daniel Ricciardo in the third sector, forcing Verstappen into DRS range. Hamilton drew alongside Verstappen and plunged into turn one, starting a multi-corner fight for the race lead, but the Brit had to concede after running wide, and finding himself unable to make a pass stick.
An anxious Verstappen called on lap 47 for DRS notifications so he may better defend against Hamilton, but he had bigger problems on the way. Bottas, who was expected to finish the race on his hard tires, stopped for a set of mediums. Mercedes had figured out that hard tires didn't want to be pushed any longer than about 40 laps, and realized that in the closing laps of the race, Verstappen would be easy prey to Hamilton, had he fresh tires. Thus, Mercedes pulled Hamilton in on lap 48 for a new set of mediums, which confused and frustrated both Hamilton and Verstappen.
Both drivers thought they were on the wrong strategy and as the gap failed to close quickly enough throughout the 50s, Hamilton seemed incapable of chasing down Verstappen. But Mercedes remained adamant that Verstappen would be on "zero rubber" by race's end, and its prophecy was fulfilled when Verstappen exclaimed on lap 64 via team radio, "These tires are dead!"
And dead they were; Verstappen had nothing in the tank when Hamilton came at him along the pit straight on lap 67 before slinging his Mercedes around the outside of turn one. An alarmed Verstappen reported that his tires couldn't safely finish the race, and Red Bull gave him one more pit stop, whereupon he took a set of soft tires to set the fastest lap of the race.
Hamilton shared the podium with Verstappen and Vettel, another beneficiary of strong race strategy. Verstappen took home an extra point for clocking the race's fastest lap, along with the consolation prize that was the Driver of the Day poll victory.