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Ocon claims Hungarian Grand Prix as Hamilton gets promoted to second

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: David W Černý/Reuters</span>
Photograph: David W Černý/Reuters

The Formula One world championship is far from decided but, if Lewis Hamilton claims it again this season, he might rightly reflect it will have been his hardest fought success. He finished third on track at the Hungarian Grand Prix, won brilliantly by Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and it would have felt almost a victory, so unlikely had it seemed when he had to claw his way back from last place. This was the world champion at his best, relentless, with a steadfast refusal to accept his lot in a fight that left him floored by the effort.

The outcome, a reversal of fortune on track managed it seemed almost by force of will, has ensured a similar volte face in the championship fight. Five hours after the race Hamilton was promoted to second after Aston Martin were unable to supply the required one-litre fuel sample from Sebastian Vettel’s car and the German was disqualified from second place, pending an appeal. With Red Bull’s Max Verstappen taking damage after being hit by Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s title rival could manage only tenth, promoted to ninth.

Before the last round at Silverstone Verstappen had a 33-point lead over Hamilton. As F1 goes into the summer break the world champion now has an eight-point advantage. He earned each one of them pass by torturous pass over a draining challenge through the twisting corners of the Hungaroring.

Related: F1 Hungarian GP: Esteban Ocon takes victory after eventful race – live!

For Ocon this was an equally impressive display. The Frenchman saw off a fierce challenge from Vettel. It was a superb first career win for the 24-year-old Frenchman who had Vettel barely a second behind him for almost the entire race and a consummate display of controlled driving under pressure. He was nerveless as the German harried him to the flag.

It was an unlikely win but one he will treasure while Hamilton and his team demonstrated a resilience that gave notice that, if the title is to be wrested from them by Red Bull, it will be only after a titanic struggle.

What turned into a gripping and thrilling race had opened in chaos and then turned, for Hamilton at least, to what must have seemed like farce. Rain had begun to fall 20 minutes before the start and the teams opened the race on the intermediate wet tyres. From a standing start Hamilton made it away cleanly in front but Bottas went backwards from second to fifth. Going through turn one the Finn was too hot and slid into the McLaren of Lando Norris who collected Verstappen taking them both off. Verstappen raced on but had taken damage that fatally compromised his pace.

The race was stopped and on the formation lap for the restart with the track drying as the safety car led the cars back to the start the entire grid dived into the pits to take slick tyres with only Hamilton not doing so; he took the standing start entirely alone. Forced then to pit at the end of the lap with the rest of the field effectively having a free stop, he emerged in last place.

“It was definitely tough. We always make it difficult for ourselves,” he said. “It is strange to think we were the only one on the grid at the restart but these things happen.”

Mercedes had made the wrong call and, with the expected order thrown to the wind, Ocon led from Vettel while Hamilton was dead last.

There was an understandable sense of urgency to Hamilton’s reaction as he took in his position but a fearsome stoicism as he set about reversing it. “We can still win this,” his race engineer, Peter Bonnington, advised him, although afterwards Hamilton conceded at the time he wanted “some of what they had been smoking”, so great was the task.

The Mercedes had the pace of the field but at the Hungaroring passing is key. They had to go aggressive and took a chance pitting Hamilton again on lap 20 to take the hard rubber to undercut the rest of the field. Red Bull pitted Verstappen a lap later to cover Hamilton but the latter had done an immense out-lap to emerge in ninth in front of the Dutchman. His lap had been two seconds faster than that of the leaders.

Chaos at the first corner.
Chaos at the first corner. Photograph: Peter Kohalmi/Reuters

He exploited the pace. Up to fifth by lap 32 he was 36 seconds behind with 38 laps remaining but, as his rubber wore, passing became increasingly difficult and Mercedes rolled the dice again. They pitted him again for fresh tyres on lap 47 looking for a grip advantage with 23 laps remaining. He emerged in fifth behind Fernando Alonso and 25 seconds off Ocon but was immediately four seconds quicker than his rivals.

Mercedes had made the right call on both his stops and on lap 54 Hamilton caught Alonso and Budapest was treated to the battle F1 has long waited to see, two of the best drivers of their generation going wheel to wheel. It was breathtaking as Alonso defended brilliantly while Hamilton ducked and dived through turns two to four but the Spaniard would simply not yield until, pushed to the limit, he locked-up through turn one and Hamilton made it stick on lap 65. Alonso was ultimately classified in fourth.

Carlos Sainz, who was fourth and promoted to third, fell to the world champion two laps later but Ocon and Vettel were out of touch out front, although Hamilton closed to within two seconds.

The effort had drained him to the extent that he was taken to the team doctor suffering from fatigue. It added up to a demanding day in what is likely to be a relentlessly demanding season that may yet be defined by these moments, the one where Hamilton makes the difference.

Bottas was given a five-place grid penalty at the next round in Spa for causing a collision.

Pierre Gasly was in fifth for AlphaTauri with his teammate Tsunoda in sixth. Nicholas Latifi and George Russell were in seventh and eighth for Williams and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen in 10th.

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