Shock and Awe
The 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix
translation | Thomas Lam
EDIT | Henry Lau
text | Richard Kelley

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon captures his maiden Formula 1 victory in the extraordinarily unpredictable Hungarian Grand Prix.


Esteban Ocon scored a shock victory for Alpine at the Hungaroring after taking advantage of two Turn 1 crashes and a Mercedes strategy faux pas to vault into the lead. Once there, the rejuvenated Frenchman cooly controlled the pace to hold off Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin over the remaining 65 laps.

Lewis Hamilton looked set to put Ocon under late pressure, having fought back to fifth place after running in last place five laps into the race.

However, the Brit hadn’t counted on Ocon’s Alpine teammate Fernando Alonso. The now 40-year-old twice World Champion delivered ten laps of fierce defence that delayed Hamilton’s charge, leaving the Brit 2.8 seconds short of Ocon at the chequered flag.

Back in the lead

Nevertheless, Hamilton regained the world championship lead for the first time since May after taking third place after finally passing Alonso and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. Hamilton and Sainz later moved up to second and third after second-place finisher Sebastian Vettel’s disqualification due to Aston Martin’s fuel sample issue.

Hamilton’s title rival Max Verstappen was a victim of the incident- strewn wet start but salvaged two points for 9th place after Vettel’s penalty.

The 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

The had-to hand combat at the Hungaroring will go down as one of the most remarkable ever witnessed.

Taking the start on a wet track, pole sitter Lewis Hamilton made a textbook start, as did Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas botched his braking point and cannoned into McLaren’s Lando Norris, who violently speared Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. Bottas then careened into the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc briefly looked at second place behind Hamilton, only for Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll to also brake too late, smashing into the Ferrari, which then tipped McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo into a spin.

Situation hopeless

With two inches of debris covering the pavement, the race was red-flagged, and the cars returned to the pits, where the Red Bull squad swarmed over Verstappen’s car. The situation looked hopeless.

The damage was extensive, with chunks missing from the floor and his entire right-hand barge-board gone, causing significant loss of downforce, which would immediately reduce his ability to brake in a straight line and point the car toward an apex.

Verstappen would take the restart in 13th place, facing a long afternoon battling a cross-balanced car with no front grip. But he never gave up and snatched Ricciardo’s final points place at the end.

Dry, dry, dry!

By the time the race restarted, the rain had stopped, and the sun was out, but all the drivers remained on intermediate tyres as they exited pit lane for the formation lap for another standing start.

Hamilton told Mercedes the track was dry enough for slicks, but he did not come in – whereas everyone else did.

“I kept telling them it’s dry, dry, dry and they said to me ‘stay out’. I don’t understand it, said the Brit. We don’t make it easy for ourselves. It’s a mistake from us.”

That created the bizarre spectacle of just one car on the grid for the start of the race.

The slick tyres gave the rest of the field significant pace, so when Hamilton pitted for his slicks next time around, he rejoined in 14th place even though six cars had retired.

How much ground could Hamilton recover on a track notoriously difficult to overtake?

Undisturbed Air

He had made three places when he pitted again on Lap 19 for fresh hard tyres, Mercedes’ theory being to run in undisturbed air and then capture spots from cars on older tyres in front of him.

By Lap 23 of 70, Alpine and Aston Martin were pulling away. Who would pit first?
Hamilton was flying by Lap 27, passing Latifi’s Williams with DRS

on the pit straight to take seventh place. Meanwhile, Ocon led Vettel by 1.6s, as both remained in the 1:22 and 1:23s.

Mercedes told Hamilton he’s “fighting for a podium”. Sainz has pitted and is 1.9s ahead of Hamilton, but Sainz has tyres fresher by 13 laps. Will Mercedes need another tyre stop to taste the champagne?

Alpine 1-2

Vettel stopped from second on Lap 37. It’s a slow stop, and his Aston Martin rejoins in third, behind Alonso – it’s now an Alpine one-two – but ahead of Sainz and Hamilton.

That left only Ocon to take on fresh tyres. He’s in on Lap 38, allowing Alonso into the lead. Could Ocon keep the lead? Yes, barely. The Alpine stayed ahead, but Vettel, with hotter tyres, closed considerably into Turn 4 but didn’t attempt a move. Without the slower pitstop, Vettel would have taken the lead.

Hamilton was up to fourth place behind Ocon, Vettel and Sainz when he pitted again for fresh tyres on Lap 46. The move dropped him further behind Alonso, but Mercedes hoped he could pass all the cars in front to take an unlikely win.

You Can Win This

Once up to speed, Hamilton asks how many cars he has to overtake for the win. It’s now Toto Wolff in his ear. “Lewis you can win this,” he says calmly. Hamilton’s last lap was 3.5sec quicker than Ocon.

By Lap 62, Hamilton closed on Alonso with DRS heading into Turn 1. There’s no opening, and even with DRS into Turn 2, he’s too far behind to make a move. He’s also losing time, now 9.3s off the lead with just nine laps to go.

Hamilton forces Alonso to defend on Lap 63. The Brit runs wide at Turn 2 but gets a better run through Turns 3 and 4. Hamilton considers a move around the outside at the quick left-hander, and they nearly touch! Alonso has all his experience on display, and Hamilton is not happy.

Alonso Shrugs

On Lap 64, Hamilton is on barking into the radio,” At that speed it’s so dangerous, man.” Inside his Alpine, Alonso shrugs.

Then, Alonso’s Alpine locks up a tyre going deep into Turn 1on Lap 65, and Hamilton is through on the inside!.

Hamilton jumped into third two laps later when he outbrakes Sainz in Turn 1, but he knew he was out of time. Closing to 2.8s at the checkers, Hamilton settled for 15 points on a wild day that saw Verstappen score just two.

Further down the order, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda take fifth and sixth, with Nicolas Latifi and George Russell scoring their first points for Williams in seventh and eighth. Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen took the final two spots.

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