BUDAPEST – Lewis Hamilton won the Hungarian Grand Prix for the seventh time on Sunday after his Mercedes team made a superb strategy call allowing him to chase down pole sitter Max Verstappen.
A change to fresher, softer tyres with 21 laps remaining gave Hamilton the task of closing a 20-second gap which he set about with relish. With the rubber on Verstappen's Red Bull falling apart, he caught him with room to spare and won by around 17.796 seconds.
Hamilton's 81st career win leaves him in total command of the Formula One world championship as he now leads by 62 points from team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who finished a disappointing eighth having fallen from second.
Sebastian Vettel took third for Ferrari but the team were never competitive. Vettel's winless run will now extend a whole year to the Belgian Grand Prix, the first race back after the mid-season break on September 1.
The 21-year-old Verstappen celebrated his first pole position on Saturday but could not convert that into a third win from four races – thanks to the brilliance of Mercedes.
A lot of you didn't believe he'd get it - and maybe even Hamilton didn't
"We've been together seven years and it never gets old," Hamilton said. "It always feels brand new like a new win for us and if it was not for these guys and the guys back at the factory it wouldn't be possible.
"I was on the limit the whole way."
In stark contrast to the rain-induced drama of the German GP last week, this battle was fought under sunny skies and a bone dry track in Budapest.
Bottas locked up into the first corner and damaged his front wing being clipped by the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc. He pitted early for repairs and a long fight back through the pack on hard tyres.
Verstappen had moved away smoothly but had problems with his own rubber as Hamilton gradually closed in on him before the Dutchman pitted for hards on lap 24.
An incredibly deserved podium today for James, our Motorsport Strategy Director!
Mercedes left Hamilton, happy with his own tyres, out but in seven laps he could not get in front on the timesheets and emerged 5.6 seconds behind Verstappen when he eventually pitted.
The fresher tyres allowed the Briton to slash this lead though to set up a frantic mid-race duel. Hamilton had a nose in front in an outside passing attempt on lap 39 but couldn't make it stick and needed to hit the run-off area.
That was as close as Hamilton came in the stint before rolling the dice by changing to new rubber - a gamble he could take with no risk given the disappointing performance of Ferrari.
He moved within DRS range on lap 66 of 70 and with Verstappen defenceless made the winning pass at the end of the home straight a lap later.
"We were just not fast enough," Verstappen said. "I tried everything I could on that hard trye to stay alive. Still, second, fastest lap, a good weekend overall.
Here's how it all ended -
Hamilton, Verstappen and Vettel tasted the last of the pre-holidays champagne
"Congrats to Lewis, he was pushing me really hard. We were just lacking a bit of grip, we tried a one-stop, they had the opportunity for two and that worked out well."
Vettel completed the podium ahead of Leclerc, thanks to a late pass, in another poor showing from Ferrari. Leclerc has 156 points and Vettel 132, well behind Hamilton's best 250.
"I had one opportunity, which I took - happy to get some champagne now and a cool down," Vettel said.
"I think it's good for everyone to get a break, the guys have been working very hard. There will be tracks where we'll be better, we need to get stronger."
Verstappen, who claimed the extra point for the fastest lap after pitting having lost the lead, is third on 181 with Bottas on 188.
"I feel really grateful for the day and for the team for continuing to believe in me and for continuing to push the limits and to take a risk, a chance on me - we've been together seven years and it always feels like a new win"#F1 🇭🇺#HungarianGPpic.twitter.com/ATUCfrLByX
Carlos Sainz (McLaren), Pierre Gasly (Red Bull), Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo), Lando Norris (McLaren) and Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso) also finished in the points.
Romain Grosjean's Haas was the only car retired as Sergio Perez (Racing Point), Nico Huelkenberg (Renault), Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Daniel Ricciardo (Renault), Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso), George Russell (Williams), Lance Stroll (Racing Point), Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) and Robert Kubica (Williams) all finished.