Track temperature was 45 degrees Celcius. The grandstands were packed. The front six drivers started on medium tires. Daniel Ricciardo, chirpy as ever, goes for the hard tires and a long first stint. The man on pole is from Holland and knows that this race could be his to win. Could.
Race start and Max Verstappen leads Lewis Hamilton and Valterri Bottas. Red Bull know that a good start has been Verstappen’s weak point in 2019. Valterrie Bottas gets squeezed by his team mate, Hamilton, and looks like there is a touch. Such is what can happen inside the first lap. Pierre Gasly finds out lap 1 can be painful as traffic balks him, and he’s immediately down to P9. Bottas has also tangled with Leclerc and gets called for a change of wing from a minor impact, and tires as he’s had two or three brake lock-ups inside the first lap. he holds off and comes in on lap 6.
Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc are looking at the rear of the silver cars and soon it’s apparent Leclerc is off the pace albeit still a little quicker than Vettel, who’s making up room. Sergio Perez makes up some room from the rear of the field and Ricciardo also manages some passing. Up front it’s Verstappen increasing his lead by a tenth here, a tenth there, and loses a tenth here, a tenth there, as Hamilton’s superbly analytical brain finds those crucial points in the track. Lap 9 and Robert Kubica and Lance Stroll, caught in tail end traffic, duck and dive around Antonio Giovinazzi. A hapless Bottas is in 20th and 52 seconds from the lead.
Lap 12 and Hamilton is just two seconds shy of the race leader. Perez continues to improve and he’s looking at the top ten by lap 15. Ricciardo is 15th, and Nico Hulkenberg is reporting engine issues of an unspecified nature. Perez is closing, and Ferrari’s Vettel is 16 seconds ahead of Carlos Sainz in 5th. Lance Stroll and George Russell tangle down in 16th and 17th, racing as hard as if they were in the top five. The Toro Rosso duo of Alexander Albon and Daniil Kvyat also race hard, going side by side in 12th and 13th.
Kimi Raikkonen is hunting down Lando Norris, eyeing off his P6 position. Hamilton’s pace has increased and he’s inside 1.5 seconds from Verstappen. Max radios in and says in a nervous tone his grip levels are decreasing. Ricciardo has his missiles loaded for Kevin Magnussen in his bid to move to 12th and seek a run to the top ten. McLaren’s Sainz and Lando Norris are looking good as the team’s mid season resurgence continues.
Lap 23 and the Mercedes garage prepares for Hamilton, but may have been duping the opposition. Leclerc’s early pace loss hasn’t really hurt him as he’s still in 3rd and still over two seconds ahead of Vettel. Hulkenberg’s also doing ok and he’s in 9th, over two seconds ahead of Albon. Verstappen pits on lap 26, hard rubber gets bolted on. 2.6 seconds is the pit change and he’s out ahead of Leclerc, dropping to 2nd. However he’s got back marker traffic to clear as well. Hamilton’s been told to fire his rockets in order to make room for a pit stop and come out in 1st when he does.
Leclerc pits, and there’s extra breathing space for Hamilton. This triggers a flurry of mid-race stops, with Norris, Albon, and Gasly in, with a slow stop for Norris thanks to a recalcitrant left rear. Mercedes finally pit Hamilton, but it’s long at four seconds. he’s out, in second, but still ahead of Vettel who has yet to bring his car in. Bottas has climbed, meanwhile, to 13th. Ricciardo and Renault’s plan to go long sort of worked but now his hard tires are losing life, he’s falling through the top end of the second half of the field. Bottas takes advantage of this, he’s 11th, and Norris reacts to take 9th.
Hamilton’s fresher tires have launched him to inside a half second shy of Verstappen inside two laps. Verstappen has to react and he’s on rubber not quite as young.
DRS comes into play as Perez is in Verstappen’s way. The Dutchman calculates and passes, leaving Hamilton to reconfigure for his pass. Then Ricciardo comes into play, a lap down from the lead and Hamilton closes to a side by side on Verstappen. Hamilton attacks and goes wide, losing pace and space. There are still 30 laps to go…and Ferrari finally pit Vettel who is in 4th but over 20 seconds from Leclerc in 3rd. Ricciardo is still to pit and is the only driver left to do so. News comes through that Hamilton needs to cool his brakes.
Romain Grosjean and Magnussen have been quiet and on lap 42 swap positions for P15. Bottas is next to be overtaken and makes plenty of room for Verstappen and Hamilton. Mercedes advise Hamilton his brakes are back to optimal temperatures, Hamilton responds with “This is way better”. Bottas goes for new rubber and finally Renault bring in Ricciardo. It’s lap 48.
Sensation! Mercedes pit Hamilton again, there’s just over 20 laps to go, and Verstappen needs extra space for another pitstop if he’s to take the checkered flag. Racing Point’s Sergio Perez is up into 9th and has Kvyat under a second behind. Bottas is in the hunt for a top ten finish still. Leclerc is still 3rd, Vettel is 4th, Sainz is holding down 5th. Gasly is the sandwish filling between Sainz and Raikkonen, Norris is 8th. Hamilton queries a call from the garage but is reassured that he’s on pace.
Unusually, there’s been no retirements…none, that is, until Grosjean is called in as sensors report water pressure has dropped dangerously. Verstappen leads by 16 seconds but it’s still not enough for a safe stop. Hamilton is told by his garage they feel Verstappen is on a “tire limit”, meaning they feel his tires are fading. Hamilton responds with “Maybe I am too.” Ricciardo continues his efforts to climb higher but Magnussen holds the door closed. 13 laps to go and Verstappen is 15 seconds ahead of Hamilton. Leclerc is 33 seconds adrift of the Briton, and 4th is still Vettel by 11 seconds.
Gasly radios in, he’s still 6th, and says power in his Red Bull is feeling like it’s dropping off. Bottas? He’s an incredible 9th. Ricciardo’s called in, he’s explicitly frustrated by Magnussen’s weaving across the track. Ten laps to go and Hamilton puts down a quickest lap. The call from Mercedes to their man is that they predict Verstappen will be on zero grip in ten laps. Race end. Hail;ton is taking something like two seconds a lap out of Verstappen as his tires struggle to keep breathing and with just five laps to go there is under three seconds between them. Bottas has finally rounded up Lando Norris and is well inside the top ten. Red Bull call Verstappen to let him know he has four seconds worth of overtake power. But his tires have nothing left to give. Lap 67 and Verstappen’s anguish is palpable as Hamilton goes wide and passes.
The gap seconds later is already 2.5 seconds and Verstappen pits for new rubber. This will give him a tilt for the fastest lap as a consolation. And somehow, Vettel has come from the clouds, and with two laps left passes Leclerc for a podium! Checkered flag and it’s an exhilarated Hamilton for the win, Vverstappen gains an extra point for a fastest lap, Vettel takes 3rd and is a massive 61 seconds from the lead. Leclerc manages to hold on for 4th ahead of Sainz who started 8th.
Gasly, Raikkonen, Bottas, Norris, and Albon finish the top ten. Perez, Hulkenberg, and Magnussen have finished ahead of Ricciardo, Kvyat, Russel, Stroll, Giovinazzi, and Kubica. Hamilton says:
[I feel] tired which is how it should be but I feel really grateful for the day and really for the team for continuing to believe in me and continuing to push to the limits and take a risk and a chance on me. For a race to be able to push like that, I’m telling you I was on the limit all the way.” The win has him taking Hungary seven times and equalling Michael Schumacher’s record at the track. Verstappen’s 2nd placing takes him to 3rd in the drivers’ championship. He’s on 181 points, just seven shy of Valtteri Bottas. It’s break time and F1 reappears in Belgium for the last weekend of August.