The Hungarian Grand Prix served up a treat for fans as it added another dimension to this most exciting of seasons. In a race that many predicted to be boring with its narrow slow-speed corners, the reality was anything but. It was the kind of race that could give us an unlikely winner, and it did so in style. The unlikely winner, this time being the very much deserving Esteban Ocon.
Like Vettel’s 2008 win for Toro Rosso in Monza and Pierre Gasly’s win for Alpha Tauri at the same venue in 2020, Esteban Ocon’s maiden win for Alpine at the Hungaroring was made possible by the wet weather conditions during the race on Sunday.
Rain is the greatest equalizer in Formula 1. It makes racing less about the speed of the car and more about one’s luck on that day and their ability to drive in the wet. And Esteban Ocon had plenty of both on his way to securing his maiden F1 win and becoming the 111th driver to win an F1 race since the championship started in 1950.
Esteban produced a mature and composed drive in the wet that impressed even his opponents. He held his nerve as he masterfully defended against Sebastian Vettel in the Aston Martin, who stayed within two seconds of Esteban for most of the race. This drive couldn’t have come sooner for a man whose boss had just declared “not world champion material.”
However, a lot had to happen in the race for Esteban to get the opportunity to win his first race in Formula 1.
First lap drama… again!
Just like it was two weeks ago at Silverstone, the first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix was characterized by a big crash, this time in Turn 1. And just like Silverstone, it was a Mercedes that caused the crash. However, while opinions were divided over who was at fault in Silverstone, all blame lies squarely on Valtteri Bottas this time around.
Having made a slow getaway off the line due to some wheel spin, Valtteri quickly found himself sandwiched between a fast-starting Lando Norris on his right and Sergio Perez’s Red Bull on his left.
As a result, he missed the breaking point and went straight into the back of Lando Norris, which created a domino effect that left Sergio Perez out of the race, and his Red Bull teammate and championship leader Max Verstappen limping with damage to his right-side barge board and floor.
In addition to that incident (and yet somehow unrelated), Lance Stroll sent his Aston Martin flying into Turn 1 and took out Charles Leclerc, who had done well to avoid the carnage up until that point.
This meant that Lewis Hamilton was out in the lead all by himself, followed by Esteban, Sebastian and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi. Max Verstappen was all the way down in 13th place. However, just as Hamilton’s fans were getting ready to celebrate his 9th win at the Hungaroring, karma would strike the Mercedes team in the form of a poor strategy call at the race restart.
Mercedes’ strategic blunder
Hamilton looked set to cruise his fifth win of the season after that first lap crash that took out his main rival and then championship leader Max Verstappen. That was until Mercedes dropped the ball on the restart.
All the teams chose to restart the race on Intermediate tyres, but everyone soon realized that it was dry enough for dry tyres during the formation lap to the grid. This prompted all the drivers to dive into the pitlane to change tyres instead of lining up on the grid to take the start. All the drivers, that is, except for Hamilton.
Lewis lined up on the grid by himself on Intermediates to restart the race with all his rivals in the pitlane with dry tyres. I had never seen a single car race start in all my years watching F1. Mercedes immediately realized their blunder and called Hamilton in for his stop, but the damage was already done by that time. He rejoined in last place (14th), thus handing the lead to Esteban Ocon.
Fernando Alonso with the assist
As much credit as Ocon deserves for winning the Grand Prix, his teammate, Fernando Alonso’s mighty effort to fight off Hamilton, sealed the win for Alpine in Hungary.
After Mercedes’ strategic blunder put Hamilton at the back of the field, Mercedes turned to him for another one of his textbook recovery drives. They almost pulled it off as Hamilton rallied from the back of the field to fourth on an alternate strategy. Hamilton pitted again on Lap 48 trying to re-enact his fantastic win in 2019, and he almost did, had it not been for the defensive masterclass put on by Fernando.
Alonso skillfully kept Hamilton behind him for 10 laps, a feat that reminded many of his glory days. Unfortunately, this hampered Hamilton’s charge to the front, who would surely have caught Ocon and Vettel had he made quick work of Fernando.
Lewis eventually managed to get past Fernando, but with only 5 laps left and Carlos Sainz between him and the leaders, all Lewis could do was make it to the podium. However, given that Lewis finished just a second behind Vettel and only 2 seconds behind Ocon, he was on for the win had it not been for Fernando’s intervention.
Fernando would go on to get Driver of the Day for his troubles and Ocon his first win in Formula 1.