The Hungaroring Circuit that hosts the Hungarian F1 Grand Prix has been part of the calendar since 1986. It’s a relatively short circuit with a mix of fast and slow corners with two short straights thrown in. Despite its long and interesting history, two drivers have dominated here in the last 10 years with 8 wins between them of which 6 belonged to Lewis Hamilton. He was the favourite going into this weekend, but luckily for fans of the sport, the race was not as predictable as we feared.
The usual three had dominated the time charts through practice though Mercedes did seem like the quicker team. Ferrari was quick too, hoping to catch their 2021 rival McLaren in the constructor’s championship. However, the Scuderia’s hopes were a bit dashed after Carlos Sainz slid off into the wall in the final corner during Q2. The car was mostly intact but the front wing was under the wheels rendering it immobile and temporarily red-flagging the session. The high track temperatures on Saturday were forcing drivers to choose their gains and losses over the course of a lap. While using Medium tyres to get through to Q3 would be ideal for the race strategy, Red Bull opted to go the opposite way to Mercedes by having both drivers set their fastest Q2 laps on Softs. Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly weren’t far off the leaders in qualifying pace, and both Alpine drivers and Sebastian Vettel got through.
Drama begins on Saturday
Things got pretty spicy towards the end of qualifying. Mercedes were first and second in the timesheets with the Red Bulls right behind. As Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez were leaving the pits for their final run, Hamilton got out just ahead of them both. There wasn’t a lot of time left for the drivers to do their out-lap, and Hamilton pounced on the chance to make them suffer for it. He drove at the slowest permissible speed through the pit lane and till the end, where it rejoins the track at Turn 1, holding up the Bulls behind him. He wasn’t driving at the pit lane speed limit but quick enough to get away without being penalised. The reigning champion then proceeded to drive in a manner where it would be difficult for both Red Bulls to pass him on their out-lap without having to compromise their qualifying lap, and that’s what happened. Max was unable to set an ideal lap to challenge the times set by Mercedes drivers on their first run, and Sergio didn’t even get to start his last run. Understandably, Hamilton was greeted with booing from the grandstands for his unsportsmanlike behaviour, but he is no stranger to being unpopular among non-Brit, non-Merc fans.
Most of the fiercest champions in F1 history have been sore losers so don’t expect Hamilton to be any different on a race weekend. He took his 101st Pole position and would line up alongside Valtteri Bottas while Max and Checo would line up behind them. Gasly was fifth fastest and would start from the third row alongside Norris. Charles Leclerc was only 7th fastest which put him ahead of Esteban Ocon while Fernando Alonso and Vettel would share the fifth row of the grid.
Rain on Sunday
There were reports predicting rain on Sunday, but fans have grown sceptical after many false hopes for a wet F1 race. Luckily, it did rain and carried on long enough to overlap with the start of the main race. Of course, the track would dry out fairly quickly once the sun came out shortly after, but it was going to be a greasy and slippery start. These conditions level the playing field for many as no team or driver has the data advantage for the circumstances. The cars lined up on Intermediates for the start. The lights went out and Hamilton got off the line well while Bottas completely bogged down. Max was already ahead on the outside line towards Turn 1, as was Perez who was compromised in the middle lane. Norris had a brilliant start and took the inside line, along the pit wall, to pass Bottas before braking for the first turn. Then he got hit.
Bottas causes a clusterf*ck
The worst part of wet-weather racing is figuring out your braking points, especially into Turn 1. You’re going to be approaching it fast and under serious pressure, and the chances of a mistake are pretty high. But all the best and experienced drivers know that. It seems Bottas was in a bit of a panic to make up for his awful start that clouded the Finn’s judgement into Turn 1. He braked too late, locked up and buried his car’s nose into the gearbox of Norris’ McLaren, sliding straight as the track turned right.
Max Verstappen is lacking in one important area compared to his title rival: Luck. This guy can’t catch a break. As Bottas collected Norris down the inside, the McLaren got sent into Max’s Red Bull around the outside. Bottas also managed to collect Perez on his slide out of the race and gently into the barrier.
Behind them, many drivers could take some advantage of being able to see the chaos ahead of them. Not Lance Stroll. He was on the inside line towards Turn 1 as well and didn’t time his braking well enough for the greasy conditions. The Aston Martin speared Leclerc’s Ferrari at Turn 1 and ended up collecting and spinning Daniel Ricciardo as well.
Hamiton was well clear of the drama behind him and it was Esteban Ocon who had managed to carve a path through the carnage and move up to P2. Similarly, Vettel had made it to P3 and Sainz to P4. Gasly had survived the mess but in his bid to stay out of it, he had to go well off-track and rejoined at the back of the pack. There were four immediate DNF’s at Turn 1, all resulting from Bottas’ mistake. The race was red-flagged after the second lap. Thanks to the chaos, Yuki Tsunoda, Nicholas Latifi, George Rusell and Mick Schumacher would be running P5, P6, P8 and P10 respectively for the race restart.
While Norris was able to return to the pits but had to retire from the race due to excessive damage, taking the DNF tally to five. Max’s car had suffered serious damage to the floor and the right half of the barge board. Red-flag conditions allowed the Red Bull mechanics to repair as much of the car as possible in that time to try and keep Max in the race. It wasn’t perfect, but they did enough to get Verstappen back out on track.
The funniest race start in F1
From intense drama to comedy. That’s possible in F1 and that’s what happened at the 2021 Hungarian GP when it was time to restart the race after the opening lap accidents. You see, the delay from the session being red-flagged had allowed the rain to stop altogether and the sun to come out. The track was drying rapidly but it was unclear if slick tyres would be too dangerous in greasy conditions. By F1 rules, drivers and teams cannot communicate on the formation lap so they can’t plan a last-second pit stop while surveying the track conditions on their way to the grid.
All the cars were on Intermediates for the restart with many being advised to pit if they felt that the track was dry enough for slicks. The crew would be waiting. It was quickly evident that the track was quite dry and would be entirely dry in just a few minutes. Still, it was hilarious to see EVERY single car jump into the pitlane to change to Medium tyres for the restart. Every car except the one in front. And so, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes was the only car on the starting grid when the lights went out for the second time in this Hungarian GP and it was a sight that’ll give us giggles for years to come.
The rest of the field came pouring out of the pit exit in a single file with Russell at the front end. He’d jumped ahead of the traffic jam that had accumulated at the pit exit for the race restart but would be quick to return those positions on the track. Meanwhile, Hamilton was a long way ahead of everyone else but not far enough. He’d have to pit at the end of the lap for his dry weather Mediums while the others would be going much quicker having started on that compound. The race restarted on Lap 4 with Hamilton alone on the grid and by Lap 5 he was in last place.
The rest of the race
Esteban Ocon had taken the lead of the Hungarian GP with four-time world champion Vettel on his tail. Latifi had moved to P3 during the pit-lane dash at the restart with Russell in P7. Verstappen was running P11 with a heavily compromised RB16B.
It was the first time Ocon was leading an F1 Grand Prix but one couldn’t tell by the way he settled into that high-stress position. The Frenchman was dictating the pace of the race and making the most of the track layout where overtaking was extremely difficult unless the car behind had a significant pace advantage. Every time Vettel would mount an attack to pass for the lead, Ocon would stay ahead just enough to deny an easy opportunity into Turn 1 at the end of the main DRS overtaking zone. After each failed attempt, Vettel would have to back off for a couple of laps to keep the tyre temperatures in check and stay out of the dirty air from the Alpine in front of him.
Latifi being in P3 actually helped out the front runners a lot. Since overtakes at Hungaroring are quite tricky, the Williams driver was able to hold up the rest of the pack for a long time which allowed Ocon and Vettel to gain a comfortable lead over everyone else. By Lap 14, the front runners were nearly 10 seconds clear from the rest of the grid.
In these early stages of the race, we got to see Mick Schumacher hold his own against Max Verstappen for a lap or two. Their fathers were contenders and friends in F1 before them and now it was their turn to share the stage, albeit not on equal terms. The young Haas driver was running in the points for the first time, in P10, getting his elbows out to hold up the maimed Red Bull. On Lap 14, Max finally got ahead of Mick around the outside of Turn 2 and defended the inside line for Turn 3.
Hamilton may have had the fastest car on the track that weekend, but he also struggled to follow other cars too closely. This made it hard for him to overtake on track. The kind of stuff F1 wants to change with the new car coming in 2022. He was only able to pass Antonio Giovinazzi and Schumacher on track before pitting on Lap 20 to switch to the Hard tyres. Hamilton was running P11 and Max was P9 at the time.
Verstappen had been struggling to pass Daniel, the McLaren offering much more of a challenge to the injured bull than the Haas. Red Bull pitted him on Lap 21 in response to Hamilton’s stop but so did Ricciardo. Hamilton’s excellent out-lap brought him out in front of both drivers as he was braking for Turn 1 and they were exiting the pit lane. The Mercedes man was now in P10 and had just under 50 laps to make up the 50-second gap to race leader Ocon. At this point in the race, Latifi was still in P3 and around 14 seconds behind Vettel who was in P2.
Ocon, Vettel and Alonso were going for a longer first stint than most. Hamilton had moved up to P5 by Lap 34 while Verstappen was still stuck behind Ricciardo. Sebastian tried to undercut the race leader when he pitted on Lap 37, and Esteban pitted the following lap. However, the German’s out-lap wasn’t as good as the Frenchman’s in-lap and so Ocon exited the pitlane just ahead of Vettel as they reached Turn 1. Alonso stayed out for an extra couple of laps, pitted, and rejoined behind Hamilton in P5. Carlos Sainz was ahead of Hamilton this whole time and was running in P3 by this point in the race.
Hamilton still had the potential for a race victory ahead of him, partly thanks to having the fastest car on the track. In a repeat of the 2019 Hungarian GP, Mercedes switched to a two-stop strategy and pitted their driver on Lap 48 for a fresh set of Medium tyres that would allow him to push till the chequered flag.
The top 5 had a comfy lead over the rest so Hamilton’s stop only cost him one position as he dropped to P5 with Alonso ahead of him. Even though we know that Fernando is one of the fiercest driver’s in the sport’s history, we could not have predicted what followed when Hamilton caught up to his former teammate on Lap 55. The two-time champion was able to hold off the seven-time champion for a fair few laps, driving the best possible defensive line in his Alpine and not giving the Mercedes driver any room to pass. Alonso held onto the inside line through the first sector every time, braking late as possible, getting good traction on exit, and as long as his nose was ahead, he never let Lewis pass him around the outside.
The Alpine was on older Hard tyres compared to the Mercedes’ fresher Mediums and it was a matter of time before the former reached their limit for grip. Alonso’s defence forced Hamilton to recuperate and cool his car’s temperatures between attacks, which allowed race-leader Ocon to maintain his distance at the front and focus on defending against Vettel.
Alonso and Hamilton’s battle concluded on Lap 65 of 70. The Brit got a better exit out of the final corner and was closer to the Spaniard as they headed down the main straight, the Merc’s DRS wing wide open. Fernando had to brake really late for Turn 1 to defend and accidentally locked up his front right which forced him wide despite having the inside line. Hamilton cut to the inside to get ahead and still had DRS for the short run towards Turn 2 and managed to keep Alonso behind him. In a battle of such high skill, it’s those tiny mistakes that make all the difference. This was the best track battle we’ve seen between championship-level drivers in a long time.
Third place runner Sainz was already in sight of Hamilton and Alonso with Vettel being seven seconds ahead of them. Hamilton was able to catch Sainz pretty quickly and was on the Ferrari’s tail as they started Lap 67. With backmarker Ricciardo ahead of them, both cars had DRS but the Merc was simply quicker. As they both passed the McLaren towards Turn 1, Sainz was unable to defend properly with his former team’s car in the way and left the inside door open for Lewis to overtake him at the corner. The Ferrari driver tried to hang onto the back of the Mercedes but just didn’t have the pace, especially on Hard tyres that were 15 laps older.
Vettel was 9 seconds clear of Hamilton with just three laps left but that was cut down to just over a second as they started the final lap. In the end, it was Esteban Ocon who took the chequered flag to claim his and the Alpine team’s first-ever win in Formula 1. Vettel crossed the line in P2 and Hamilton took third being less than a second behind. Sainz and Alonso finished P4 and P5 respectively, more than 12 seconds behind Hamilton.
Fernando’s incredible drive had secured the win for Ocon and his team and it was amazing to see the two driver’s embrace each other in celebration. Ocon even forgot to follow podium protocol, not parking his car in the winner’s spot at parc ferme. It was the first time since Alain Prost’s era, that a French driver had won an F1 Grand Prix with a Frech team. Ocon is now the second French driver since 1996 to win a race in F1, following Pierre Gasly’s triumph at Monza in 2020.
The 2021 Hungarian GP podium was certainly unexpected, thanks to the chaos brought on by the wet-weather start (which is why we love wet races so much). A first time F1 winner in Alpine colours joined by four-time champ driving for Aston Martin and the reigning champion. We need more races like these… the sport needs more races like these. These make the overall championship a bit dull but the individual race is more exciting as a result.
Pierre Gasly scored a respectable P6 finish and was able to steal the extra point for the fastest lap. The AlphaTauri driver made an incredible recovery after getting caught up in the melee at the start of the race but was fortunate to escape without damage. He pitted on the penultimate lap for Softs and didn’t lose track position thanks to the massive gap he had over his teammate behind him. Yuki Tsunoda had a much better weekend than he was expecting, finishing P7 after starting 16th.
It was a great day for Williams as both drivers finished in the points for the first time since Italy 2018. Nicholas Latifi crossed the line in P8 with George Russell right behind him. The iconic team has had a rough few years in the sport and has been making a lot of progress since they got the much-need financial backing under their new owners. This is Russell’s first point for Williams and Latifi’s first F1 points finish. We hope to see Williams as a team that fights for points regularly in the 2022 season.
The final point was scooped up by Max Verstappen. It was the best he could manage with what has left of his car after the Lap 1-Turn 1 incident but every point matters in the championship battle. The result allowed Lewis and Mercedes to retake the lead in both standings but it’s still quite close. Red Bull needs to keep applying pressure on Mercedes for the rest of the season and this title battle could easily go down to the final race.
Bottas’ mistake ruined the race for many drivers and teams, but worst of all, it could seal his exit from Mercedes at the end of this season. Team boss Toto Wolff has also been apologetic for his driver in the media following the race which isn’t easy for a team that has also been facing flak from the public for Hamilton’s actions at the British GP. The Finnish racer has not been happy with his lack of form, and lack of team support, in the season so far. He would likely benefit by moving to a customer team where drivers are allowed to race more freely. Since most of the 2022 seats are already spoken for, we might not see Valtteri on the grid until 2023 but it could be the break the Finn needs to rejuvenate himself.
The 2021 season will be on hold for the following weeks with the racing action slated to resume at Spa-Francorchamps for the last weekend of August. Wish you all a good break and charged up for the second half of this awesome 2021 season!
Post-race update:- Vettel was disqualified from the results due to a breach of technical regulations. Race officials were unable to take the required 1-litre fuel sample from his AMR21 following the race and only got 0.3 litres instead. As a result, Hamilton moved up to P2 and Sainz inherited P3. The Aston Martin team appealed the decision to try and reinstate Vettel’s result but after the first part of their appeal got turned down, they withdrew it entirely. The official classification for the 2021 Hungarian GP is as follows:
- E. Ocon Alpine Renault — 2:04:43.199
- L. Hamilton Mercedes +2.736
- C. Sainz Ferrari +15.018
- F. Alonso Alpine Renault +15.651
- P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +63.614
- Y. Tsunoda AlphaTauri Honda +75.803
- N. Latifi Williams Mercedes +77.910
- G. Russell Williams Mercedes +79.094
- M. Verstappen Red Bull Racing Honda +80.244
- K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 lap
- D. Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes +1 lap
- M. Schumacher Haas Ferrari +1 lap
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 lap
- S. Vettel Aston Martin Mercedes DQ
- N. Mazepin Haas Ferrari DNF
- L. Norris McLaren Mercedes DNF
- V. Bottas Mercedes DNF
- S. Perez Red Bull Racing Honda DNF
- C. Leclerc Ferrari DNF
- L. Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes DNF