A New Winner


The Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas caused an incident which took out several cars, including one of their main rivals in a race that saw the championship lead change hands.

Formula 1 finished off its first half of the 2021 season at the Hungaroring for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Coming into the race, the momentum was in favor of the defending champions Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton after winning the British Grand Prix and getting closer to the current championship leaders. Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s leads were reduced after a race to forget at Silverstone. With a first lap incident there, Verstappen was raring to fight back.

When it came time for qualifying, Hamilton got pole position with his teammate Valteri Bottas in second. Verstappen placed third in front of his teammate Sergio Perez. Like Monaco, Hungaroring is somewhat difficult to overtake, making the qualifying session especially vital in such a tight championship battle.

When it was time for the race, it started to rain, meaning everyone would start on the intermediate tires. Not only did this change the race strategies but also the driving style. Drivers need to brake earlier and get on the power even later because of the lack of grip. Rain is known as the great equalizer since it evens the car performance between the teams and it is down to the driver to make the difference.

When the lights finally went out, Hamilton got away cleanly. However, Bottas had a horrible start, overtaken by both Red Bulls and Lando Norris’ McLaren. When the field went to the first corner, Bottas broke too late and rear-ended Norris. Both Norris and Bottas then collected both Red Bulls in the incident. Bottas, Norris and Perez retired from the race while Verstappen was able to continue, albeit in a heavily damaged car. This suddenly became a damage control race again for Verstappen, who fell down the order. Another incident at turn one involved Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari. Stroll tried to overtake Leclerc on the inside but there was not any space. Stroll then hit Leclerc, taking both of them out of the race.

During that hectic turn one, Hamilton held the lead while Esteban Ocon’s Alpine navigated the mess and into second place, with Stroll’s teammate Sebastian Vettel in third. The race was immediately red flagged for the marshals to clear the track. During the red flag, the Red Bull mechanics attempted to repair Verstappen’s car but were unable to fully complete the changes required. The weather started to clear up and the question was now not if we would see dry tires but when.

When the race resumed, it was going to be a standing start, which meant that all of the cars had to leave the pits, complete one lap and stop on the grid for the start. All of the cars went out on the intermediate tires again but the drivers realized that the track was dry enough for them to make the switch. All of the drivers except Hamilton entered the pits on that lap to switch to dry tires, which meant that when the lights went off again, Hamilton was the only one on the track. The rest of the drivers had to wait in the pit lane until given the green light. 

This was a disaster for Hamilton. Since the track was dry, he had to make a pit stop while everyone else essentially got a free stop since it was a start. When Hamilton entered the pits, he fell to dead last while Ocon was now leading the race, followed by Vettel and then Leclerc’s teammate in third. 

At this point, the race was going to be won by either Ocon or Vettel. Vettel was putting the pressure on Ocon, who has never won a F1 grand prix. At the same time, Hamilton was using his vast experience to pass some and take advantage of the undercut. On Lap 50, he sat in fifth and was still gaining on the leaders. After a disaster at the restart, a podium and even a win was now on the cards.

Ocon’s teammate Fernando Alonso, a former two-time F1 champion and in 2007 Hamilton’s teammate, was in fourth place. Hamilton was a rookie then while Alonso was the reigning champion. That season was filled with team drama which resulted in Hamilton losing the championship by a single point.

In the present, Hamilton quickly caught up to Alonso and tried to overtake his former teammate. However, Alonso displayed his maturity and experience by keeping Hamilton behind him. Not only was this entertaining to watch as a fan, but Alonso was helping Ocon because Hamilton’s chance of winning decreased with each lap.

During the battle between two of the greatest drivers to ever race, Hamilton saw an opportunity going into turn four and moved alongside Alonso. Alonso shut the door and slight contact was made. However, the Mercedes was just too quick and on lap 65, Hamilton finally got past Alonso into fourth which quickly became third after overtaking Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz.

Meanwhile, Ocon was defending for his life amid constant pressure from Vettel. The four time champion tried everything but was unable to pass Ocon. After 70 laps, Ocon crossed the finish line to become the 111th driver to ever win a Formula 1 race, followed by Vettel in second with Hamilton rounding out the podium in third. Verstappen finished tenth, getting a solitary point in another race to forget.

After the race, Vettel was disqualified because he could not provide the race stewards with one liter of fuel, mandatory under the technical regulations. This meant that Hamilton was promoted to second and Sainz to third to claim another podium. Another thing to note is the Williams team. Both drivers, Nicolas Latifi and George Russell, finished in the points, ending the team’s scoreless drought since the 2019 German Grand Prix.

Mercedes now leads the Constructors’ Championship while Hamilton rose to the top of the Driver’s Championship. You can take a look at the full standings here. The next race is in a couple of weeks in Spa for the Belgium Grand Prix. Due to the incidents, Bottas and Stroll will both have five place grid penalties, which means they will start the race five spots lower than wherever they qualify. This title battle like we have not seen in a long time is still alive with each race.