Lewis Hamilton won a tense strategic battle at the Hungarian Grand Prix to head into Formula 1’s summer break with a 24-point championship lead.
Ferrari appeared to blow their best chance to challenge the Mercedes driver, delaying a pit stop for Sebastian Vettel long enough to lose their advantage over Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas and emerge behind the Finn.
It was a critical error that could have cost Vettel second place – but he fought back and passed Bottas with five laps to go.
Bottas misjudged an attempt to defend from Vettel, who passed on the outside on the run to Turn Two. Trying to keep the place from too far back, Bottas locked a wheel, slid onto the kerb, hit Vettel and damaged the Mercedes’ front wing.
Vettel emerged unscathed and Bottas carried on, only to have another contact with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo when the Australian tried to pass around the outside at Turn One and Bottas locked up and slid into him.
Bottas’ troubles allowed Kimi Raikkonen to come through into third place behind his Ferrari team-mate, while Ricciardo passed him on the last lap to take fourth.
Mercedes went into the race pondering how best to maintain the first and second positions they earned thanks to rain in qualifying – had it been dry, they were resigned to the Ferraris being faster.
Mercedes accepted that Ferrari would be faster in the race, too, so it was a case of how best to play the strategy to try to keep Hamilton in the lead.
Hamilton and Bottas led from the start and Vettel passed Raikkonen to run third in the early laps.
The Mercedes were on the ultra-soft tyres, while Vettel was on the more durable softs, planning to run long and attack at the end of the race.
The plan was working well for a while. An early pit stop for Raikkonen on lap 14 triggered a response from Mercedes a lap later with Bottas, and now Vettel was in second behind Hamilton.
But the world champion’s tyres were hanging on better than might have been feared and he held an eight-second lead over Vettel until beginning to lose time shortly before his pit stop on lap 25.
And there was finally some good news for Fernando Alonso on the two-time world champion’s 37th birthday. McLaren made the same strategy as Vettel work beautifully, jumping Alonso and team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne ahead of Renault’s Carlos Sainz, Haas’ Romain Grosjean, Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg to take eighth.
Sadly for the under-pressure Vandoorne, after his best race for some time, the Belgian’s gearbox broke with 19 laps to go and he had to retire.