For Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, packing the bags for Formula One’s annual summer break will be a joy: buckets and spades and doubtless a spot of Scandi-noir crime fiction hurled in with abandon. They carry the joie de vivre of drivers who will take a deserved rest after claiming the top three places at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Ferrari, however, might regard the holidays canceled and consider just packing their bags to call it a day at the Scuderia after a woeful showing at the Hungaroring that has left Verstappen with one hand on the title.
On an afternoon of gripping turnarounds, Hungary was significant on several levels. For Verstappen, his win was a triumph. What had begun with the expectation of damage limitation led to an massive run from 10th on the grid as he and his Red Bull team pulled off an absolute coup.
Mercedes in turn produced their best performance of the year, while in stark contrast Ferrari wallowed, from leading the race to fourth and sixth for Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.
Verstappen’s touch and judgment in coming through the field was unquestionable and Red Bull’s race management and strategy calls were executed to perfection. So much so the world champion was even moved to reference the inexplicable decision that had cost Ferrari so dearly.
“Nobody expected this,” he said. “We had to remain calm and we made all the right calls. We had a few overtakes, we pitted at the right time and put the right tires on the car. That was most important today.”
The Dutchman had to make repeated passes but he is so confident, so dominant now, he seemed to almost be toying with the opposition, Leclerc the luckless mouse, allowed out of range of his claws but only for seconds.
Verstappen threw in a spin mid‑race, to lose a place to Leclerc he had just taken, only to settle and pass him once more, before marching down the road to take his eighth win of the season from 13 meetings. It was a body blow to Leclerc’s championship hopes. Verstappen’s lead over the Monégasque driver is now a chasm of 80 points, a seemingly insurmountable advantage with nine races remaining.
At Mercedes, while a win remains a way off, the pleasure from this was palpable. They scored a second and third last time out in France but here they did it with their car proving it could genuinely challenge. Enough indeed for Hamilton to move from seventh to second and for him and teammate Russell in third, to finish ahead of both Ferraris and Sergio Pérez’s Red Bull, which was fifth.
Their car, a mercurial beast this year, is a handful to set up, balance and put into the operating window. This weekend, right up until qualifying, it had been guarding its performance with petulant devilry. On Saturday they found the sweet spot as Russell took pole and on Sunday the car was quicker and more manageable than it has been all year. Hamilton believes a victory is genuinely achievable.
“This weekend there was potential for a win,” he said. “If we can take this space into the second half of the season we can start to fight. This is the first time we have been able to battle with Ferrari. That is huge for us.”
There was also, in common with Red Bull, well-managed decision making on the pit wall. Control, calm and class at the very front then but, behind, a baffling chaos from Ferrari.
Sainz and Leclerc had started in second and third, the race surely theirs to dictate. It started promisingly, their pace self-evident and after the first pit stops Leclerc took the lead with a bold move, late‑braking round the outside of Russell at turn one.
So far so good, the win, it seemed, was in his grasp – yet his team floundered once more.
On his second stop they fitted the slowest, hard tires for Leclerc, so he could make it to the end without another stop, expecting the rubber to come up to speed with track time. That was a calamitous miscalculation.
Those in his wake had stuck with the faster, medium tires and he was eaten up in no short order. First Verstappen shot past, spun with a clutch issue, before breezing by him again. Then Russell also found him a sitting duck.
The exasperation emanating from Leclerc’s cockpit danced in the air like heat haze. Ferrari were forced to pit him again for soft tires but the damage was done and he emerged in sixth, from which he could not come back.
Leclerc was as perplexed as the rest of us as to why the team chose the hard tires and bemoaned Ferrari’s failings. “A race like this is frustrating and we need to get better as a whole,” he said. “It’s always felt like there’s something going on whether it’s reliability, mistakes or whatever.”
The team principal, Mattia Binotto, said they had been misled by the data on how the tire would perform. Verstappen, Hamilton and Russell all confirmed that using the hard tires was not even considered by their teams.
A summer break of licking their wounds and some serious self-examination awaits. The Scuderia had boldly struck out in their own direction, one that led into a blind alley where they were soundly mugged by Red Bull.
Lando Norris was seventh for McLaren, Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon eighth and ninth for Alpine and Sebastian Vettel 10th for Aston Martin.