By Neil Leverett
- Esteban Ocon claims stunning maiden Formula 1 win after chaotic Hungarian Grand Prix
- Opening lap incident sees Valtteri Bottas take out both Red Bull drivers and Lando Norris; Hamilton salvages second
- Sebastian Vettel comes home runner-up initially but disqualified after race for fuel infringement; Carlos Sainz promoted to third
HUNGARORING – On the heels of Esteban Ocon’s thrilling maiden Formula 1 win this past weekend, what can we take away from the Hungarian Grand Prix?
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Well where do we start after that?
The 2021 Formula 1 season has seen some remarkable races, but to pick the mere bones from this past weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix will take some considerable time.
Ocon claims extraordinary maiden win
Not least for Esteban Ocon, who held on to claim his first win in F1 in his sixth season in the sport.
After another chaotic start to a race this term, the Hungaroring track looked more like a bowling alley than a GP circuit after Turn 1, when late braking on the part of Valtteri Bottas brought about mayhem.
With Mercedes locking out the front row for the first time since Portugal, the Finn came up behind Lando Norris into the bend, but grossly misjudged the greasy surface after intermittent rain, taking out the McLaren from behind.
The Briton careered off the track, but not before collection Max Verstappen also, who in turn took out teammate Sergio Perez. It was a veritable domino rally.
With cars strewn across the gravel like stray pins, Perez, Norris and Bottas himself were all forced to retire, whilst Verstappen limped back to the pits with floor damage and struggled for pace for the remainder of the race without downforce.
As the restart then saw Lewis Hamilton‘s Mercedes the only car on the track as the other drivers flocked to pits as rain fell again, the Briton was left to rue his faux pas and forced to box last, then finding himself at the back of the field.
It all fell kindly for Ocon meanwhile who despite being on the fourth row of the grid, exited the pits in the lead, albeit still with 68 laps to go. Holding Sebastian Vettel and the charging Hamilton at bay late on, the Frenchman clung on to take the chequered flag.
It was a special moment for Ocon who looks to have found his feet after a difficult run with Renault for the past few years.
The Frenchman may not win another single race as long as drives an F1 car, but for now at least, Ocon will not care one jot.
Seconds from remarkable victory
In 14 years of Formula racing, there have been very few occasions where Lewis Hamilton has been left a picture of both emotional and physical exhaustion. The Hungarian GP however, saw the Briton fully empty the tank.
After taking his first pole since Barcelona, a Mercedes lockout of the grid would have left the 36-year-old with a wry grin, but by the time race day was out on Sunday, Hamilton was to be a broken man.
Having somehow avoided the carnage provided by his teammate, Hamilton would have been quietly confident of his chances from the restart, but after another unpredictable dousing of rain on a slippery afternoon, the Brit was left just a little high and not at all dry.
Such are Hamilton’s now intrinsic battling powers though, the Stevenage driver managed not only a lack of pace, his tyres but above all himself, and almost pulled out what would have been up there with his very finest of wins.
But with ‘Hammer Time’ in top gear, Hamilton lost critical laps as his old rival Fernando Alonso rolled back the years with a stubborn show of defence.
Overtaking the Spaniard with six laps to go, his compatriot Carlos Sainz was dealt with swiftly but as the Briton chased hard, Hamilton could only watch in vain as both Ocon and Vettel took the chequered flag mere seconds before him.
Clutching his customary bottle of bubbly on the podium, Hamilton was barely able to stand on his lower step, as both Ocon and Vettel – in the case of the German prematurely – celebrated as a tandem.
Though Hamilton will begin his summer break with a slight sense of frustration, having opened up a now 12-point lead over Verstappen, the 18 points he took this past weekend – after being bumped up to P2 – may yet prove a significant step in his quest for an eighth world title come December.
Alpine earn day in sun
Not only was this a huge weekend for Ocon, but also for his Alpine Racing team.
Recording a sensational top-four double on Sunday, their Hungarian GP result was reward for what has been a very steady campaign so far.
Whilst Ocon has endured a rather tricky four-race spell between Baku and Austria however, teammate Alonso meanwhile, has barely missed a beat on his return to F1 this season.
Now finishing in the points for six races in a row, the veteran has also shown all the old grit that won him two F1 titles.
It is was that same ruggedness that surely denied Hamilton what would have been a remarkable eighth victory at the Hungaroring.
Since rebranding at the end of last season to from Renault, Alonso and Ocon are molding into a consistent tag time during a new era for Alpine and on the back of a second weekend with a double points finish, the French manufacturer will be looking to hold the position of fourth-best constructor in the paddock, for the remainder of the campaign.
In any event, the Hungarian GP was Alpine’s day in the sun (or rather, rain). It has been well earnt.
Red Bull in tailspin
How the picture in F1 has changed for Red Bull after a dramatic fortnight.
Having led the battle for both Constructors’ and Drivers’ honours by some margin only two rounds ago, the Milton Keynes outfit have, quite unfathomably, been able to add just a single point to both individual and team tallies across both Silverstone and the Hungaroring.
Indeed, seeing both Perez and Verstappen spinning off the track once more this past weekend was a rather apt metaphor for how the last two races have gone for boss Christian Horner‘s team.
Arriving on British shores on the back of five successive race wins, it scarcely seems possible that their prior lead is now a deficit of some 12 points to bridge after Verstappen could only take P10 on Sunday, when at one stage it seemed Red Bull were set to drive off into the distance, such was their recent dominance.
How welcome a four-week long summer break is then, before F1 resumes at Spa at the end of August. Red Bull need a recharge.
Vettel hunger has returned
No sooner was Sebastian Vettel glowing in his second runners-up finish of the season, his joy was doused mere hours after the race, as late on Sunday evening, the German was disqualified after a fuel infringement.
A requirement in F1 regulations for fuel samples to be taken in the pits after a race, Vettel however, did not initially return to pits on this occasion, instead stopping on the track as he reveled in his latest podium finish.
For Vettel, that resulted in his later DQ, with officials unable to take a required sample.
Robbing him of what would have been his 123rd career podium, Aston Martin said they will appeal the decision with the loss of big points, but regardless, it appears Vettel’s hunger has returned.
Having rediscovered his desire once more after becoming something of a gooseberry at Ferrari for the last two seasons, Vettel again looks a happier individual and the results do not lie either.
Disqualification for an entirely preventable issue will rather sting notwithstanding, but as F1 goes into hiatus, Vettel will be eager get back in the driver’s seat in Belgium.
Formula 1 resumes after its summer break with the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps, over the weekend of 27 and 29 August.
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