For the second time in 2015, Sebastian Vettel managed to spring a surprise on the Formula 1 world by charging to victory in Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
The German driver made a superb start from third place on the grid to seize the lead of the race before controlling proceedings from the front as Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton both came unstuck at the Hungaroring.
A poor start for Hamilton was then compounded by an off-track excursion, leaving him tenth at the end of the first lap. Despite putting up a spirited battle, the Briton’s race fell apart following a safety car period and a penalty that eventually saw him finish sixth at the end of the race.
Vettel had been on for a straightforward victory, but the safety car also made his life difficult, resulting in a breathless fight to the line with Rosberg and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
However, when they made contact late on, Rosberg dropped back down the order, allowing Daniil Kvyat to score his first F1 podium in second place ahead of Ricciardo, who recovered from the incident to finish third.
After the first start was aborted due to a car being out of position on the grid, the second getaway saw Hamilton bog down in pole position, allowing Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Rosberg all to sweep past into the top three positions. The British driver lost even more places when he went off track on the first lap after locking up, leaving him P10 and with a mountain to climb at the Hungaroring.
Having made a perfect start, Ferrari ran P1 and P2 in the early stages with Vettel leading the way, and the German driver quickly set about putting his foot down, opening up a two second lead over Raikkonen, who in turn had two seconds over Rosberg just behind after the first five laps.
Hamilton was left reeling by his mistake, but began to fight back by passing Felipe Massa and Sergio Perez ahead of the first round of pit stops. With a bit of clean air, he began to lap with a pace comparable to the Ferraris at the front, but still had an enormous amount of ground to make up.
Hamilton had risen to fifth place by the time he came in for his first pit stop on lap 20, taking on another set of option tires. Rosberg followed suit in the sister Mercedes, coming in one lap later for primes, and held a 17 second lead over his teammate on track.
At the front, Vettel left it late before coming in for his first stop, taking on options one lap after Rosberg and emerging ten seconds clear of the German driver. Raikkonen had a brief scare when he lost part a camera on his car, but he managed to retain second place ahead of Rosberg after pitting. After the first round of stops, the advantage still firmly lay with Ferrari.
Hamilton had managed to cut the gap to the leaders, but still found himself down in fifth place behind Daniel Ricciardo after stopping. On the option tire though, he did have a pace advantage over the Australian, and managed to move up into fourth place with relative ease.
Further back, Pastor Maldonado was hit with a drive-through penalty for causing a collision after making contact with Sergio Perez at turn one. Maldonado tried to squeeze Perez out in a bid to hold onto position, only for the two drivers to make contact. After serving his penalty, the Lotus driver was running down in 18th place.
After passing Ricciardo, Hamilton put his foot down in a bid to cut the gap to Rosberg ahead in third place. With option tires, the Briton was able to reduce the gap lap by lap, piling the pressure on his teammate. Rosberg requested to be put on the same tire as Hamilton for the final stint of the race, but Mercedes remained keen for him to be on options late on.
Ahead of the final round of pit stops, the race took a dramatic twist as the safety car was deployed following a crash for Nico Hulkenberg at the first corner. The Force India driver suffered a front wing failure, causing him to slam into the barrier at high speed. Although he walked away unharmed, the safety car was sent out for the debris on the main straight to be cleared.
The leaders took this opportunity to pit, retaining the status quo at the front. Raikkonen had reported a loss of power on his car, but he managed to keep going in second place behind Vettel. However, the safety car did dramatically reduce Ferrari’s advantage, bringing Mercedes back into contention for the race win.
For the restart, Hamilton was told by Mercedes that he could potentially win the race still, only for his hopes to be dashed just seconds later. Ricciardo tried to pass Hamilton around the outside of turn one, but the two drivers made contact, leaving Hamilton with damage to his front wing and down in sixth place.
Rosberg was ready to take the challenge to Ferrari, though. The German driver eased past the ailing Raikkonen for second place, and now had only Vettel ahead. Ricciardo was able to follow Rosberg through, moving up into third as Red Bull set its sights on its first podium finish of the season.
Despite the team trying to reset his car and keep him in the race, the problem on Kimi Raikkonen’s car proved too grave for him to continue. The Finn ultimately had no choice but to bring his car in and retire.
Hamilton was running in P12 after stopping for a new front wing, but his day got even worse when the stewards handed him a drive-through penalty for causing a collision. After serving it, the Briton sat in 13th position.
Entering the final ten laps of the race, Ricciardo had latched onto the back of the leading pair, giving Rosberg more than just Vettel ahead of focus on. However, there was another late twist when Ricciardo tried to pass Rosberg for P2, only to give the German a puncture and give himself front wing damage. Both drivers had to pit, handing second place to Daniil Kvyat.
Vettel managed to keep his cool at the front of the field to cross the line after 69 breathless laps and win for the first time in Hungary. Despite being handed a ten second time penalty for exceeding track limits, Kvyat retained second place to claim his first podium finish in F1, whilst Ricciardo recovered to finish third and cap off a good day for Red Bull.
Max Verstappen made the most of the drama to finish fourth in just his tenth grand prix, whilst Fernando Alonso gave McLaren plenty to cheer about in fifth.
Remarkably, Lewis Hamilton managed to recover to sixth place ahead of Romain Grosjean and Nico Rosberg, meaning that the British driver extends his championship lead in spite of a disastrous grand prix. Jenson Button and Marcus Ericsson rounded out the points.
The win marked Vettel’s first victory at the Hungaroring, but the 41st of his F1 career, drawing him level with Ayrton Senna in the all-time win standings. Speaking over the radio after the race, the German driver dedicated his win to Jules Bianchi following the Frenchman’s death last week.