Esteban Ocon wins chaotic Hungarian GP as Hamilton takes the F1 lead

Posted in REVIEWS on August 1, 2021
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BUDAPEST, Hungary  — Frenchman Esteban Ocon won a chaotic Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday while an exhausted Lewis Hamilton finished third to take the Formula One championship lead from Max Verstappen by six points heading into the midseason break.

Hamilton needed a check from the Mercedes team doctor after the race.

“Had really big dizziness and everything got a bit blurry,” he said. "I have been fighting all year really with the health, staying healthy after what happened at the end of last year (with coronavirus).”

Verstappen placed 10th after being taken out early in the race by Hamilton's Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in a first-lap crash that caused him and four others to retire.

It was only the 24-year-old Ocon's second podium, following a second-place finish at the Sakhir GP in Bahrain late last year.

The Alpine driver finished ahead of Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel, with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz Jr. fourth ahead of Ocon's teammate Fernando Alonso.

“What a moment, feels so good,” Ocon said, patting his heart.

The crash in the rain was caused by Bottas, who retired as a result.

The race restarted in absurd fashion with only Hamilton on the grid, while others were changing their tires because the track had dried. Hamilton did the same a lap later and came out in last place, a couple of spots behind Verstappen.

But a clever second tire change by Mercedes for hard tires on Lap 20 outwitted Red Bull and Hamilton moved ahead of Verstappen after he came in for new tires.

With 30 laps to go, the top four was Ocon-Vettel-Sainz Jr.-Hamilton.

To give Hamilton a shot at victory, Mercedes made a third tire change with a little more than 20 laps remaining.

But he had to get ahead of the 40-year-old Alonso first, a driver with 32 wins and 97 podiums, and among the most talented of his generation.

Alonso held off a first attack on Lap 55 and blocked him two more times on Lap 57 with stellar defending on the inside.

Alonso's nous was enough to repel two more attacks.

“He is one of hardest drivers but fair," Hamilton said. “I would say today was a little bit on the limit, but I totally get it and I would do it for my team.”

When Hamilton finally got past there were only five laps left and Sainz Jr. just ahead. He overtook him but by then the front two were too far ahead.

Hamilton's bid for a 100th win resumes on Aug. 29 at the Belgian GP in Spa, where Bottas will start that race with a five-place grid penalty.

Alonso’s brilliant defensive driving helped Ocon secure the victory and they hugged after the race, with Alonso lifting him up in the air.

“We are forming a great team and pushing the team in the right direction," Ocon said.

Hamilton was again loudly jeered by sections of the crowd, as he was after taking pole position on Saturday. He won the British GP two weeks ago despite a 10-second penalty for taking Verstappen out on the first lap.

Heavy rain fell shortly before Sunday's race and the track was soaked. Hamilton got away from pole but Verstappen shot ahead of Bottas into second.

McLaren’s Lando Norris also overtook Bottas, who bumped into the back of him — sending Norris sliding into Verstappen and both off track. Bottas went into a tire wall and took out Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez on his way.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was jammed between Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo. After a red flag halted the race to allow stewards to clear the wrecked cars, Leclerc, Stroll, Norris and Perez also retired.

When the race restarted, Hamilton was alone on the grid while others were ditching their wet-weather tires to suit the now drying track.

Hamilton had to do the same on the next lap and came out in last place with Verstappen 11th, while Ocon led from Vettel. Nikita Mazepin was the sixth to retire after colliding with 2007 F1 champion Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo in the pit lane.

The sinewy and tight 4.4-kilometer (2.7-mile) Hungaroring circuit is arguably the hardest track to overtake on after Monaco.

“I can’t get close to people,” said Hamilton, who fell short of winning the race for a record-extending ninth time.

Ocon was once part of the Mercedes development program and the team's reserve driver two years ago after losing his F1 seat.

He showed the talent Mercedes saw in him with a composed drive under pressure from Vettel, a four-time F1 champion with 53 wins.

“Esteban didn't make a single mistake,” Vettel said. “It’s his day and his moment.”

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