After leading for 67 of the 70 laps in the Hungarian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen could be forgiven for thinking he was destined for victory.
But the Red Bull wunderkind was hunted down by Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in a late, strategic masterstroke.
The pace of Hamilton and Verstappen was such that they lapped all but the third and fourth-placed Ferraris of Sebastien Vettel and Charles Leclerc.
The race was just as exciting and as last week’s incident-laden German Grand Prix, with Hamilton closing in but still doubting that he’d be able to catch the Red Bull — and questioning the wisdom of a late stop for fresh tyres.
It was a thrilling game of cat and mouse with the two in very close company from the start, but Hamilton unable to pass.
The Red Bull, running on hard tyres, seemed secure until Mercedes pitted Hamilton for an unscheduled second stop and fitted medium compound tyres.
Hamilton emerged from pit lane more than 20 seconds adrift, and voiced his concern on the team radio.
But he was told by team strategist James Vowles that Verstappen’s tyres would be toast by race end and to just maintain his rapid pace.
He was right.
With three laps to go, Hamilton sailed past the Red Bull and went on to take his seventh Hungarian GP win.
The hapless Verstappen’s tyres were so worn that he had to make another pitstop, but was still so far ahead of the pack that he finished nearly 20 seconds ahead of Vettel.
The Ferraris had their own race, almost mirroring the leaders, with Leclerc leading for 95 per cent of the race before teammate Vettel got by.
As he crossed the line, Hamilton radioed: “James, I’m sorry I doubted your tactic.”
Red Bull’s weak explanation of their flawed strategy to Verstappen was that ‘they (Mercedes) rolled the dice.’
In 5th place was Carlos Sainz in the McLaren, ahead of Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who had to make a long pitstop for a new nose after a brush with both Hamilton and Leclerc at the start, recovered to claim 8th with McLaren’s Lando Norris and Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon completing the top 10.
Further back Renault’s woes continued.
“A poor result with both cars outside of the top 10,” team principal Cyril Abiteboul said.
“With Nico (Hulkenberg) we were targeting points, but with an engine having to run in safe mode we could not make our strategy really work.
“Daniel (Ricciardo) ran a good race, but starting last is always going to be a challenge at a track like Budapest.
“His attitude on track must be an inspiration for us as we head towards the summer break, with a first half of the season well below our objectives.”
Ricciardo had a dreadful qualifying session that had him banked up behind a string of other cars and relegated him to 18th.
The team then elected to fit a new power unit and take a penalty that put him last on the grid.
He finished 14th, Hulkenberg 12th.
Next grand prix is on September 1 in Belgium.
|2||33||RED BULL RACING HONDA||70||+17.796s||19|
|5||55||MCLAREN RENAULT||69||+1 lap||10|
|6||10||RED BULL RACING HONDA||69||+1 lap||8|
|7||7||ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI||69||+1 lap||6|
|9||4||MCLAREN RENAULT||69||+1 lap||2|
|10||23||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA||69||+1 lap||1|
|11||11||RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES||69||+1 lap||0|
|13||20||HAAS FERRARI||69||+1 lap||0|
|15||26||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA||68||+2 laps||0|
|16||63||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||68||+2 laps||0|
|17||18||RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES||68||+2 laps||0|
|18||99||ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI||68||+2 laps||0|
|19||88||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||67||+3 laps||0|
Note – Verstappen scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.