BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Formula One champion Max Verstappen took a spin and his worst starting position of the season to win the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday. His eighth win of the season pushed Verstappen’s lead over Charles Leclerc to an 80-point lead in his midseason break as F1.
Verstappen is not looking forward, even though his advantage continues to grow.
“It’s definitely a great leadership,” he said. “But if you want to fight for the championship, you can’t make too many mistakes.”
Mercedes put both of its cars on the podium for the second straight race; Seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton worked his way up from seventh to second, with teammate and pole-sitter George Russell in third.
Carlos Sainz Jr finished fourth in another disastrous day for Ferrari. Leclerc was sixth, one place behind Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.
Verstappen’s eighth win of the season was the 28th of the Dutchman’s career.
“Who would have thought we would get this result when we woke up today? Amazing,” Verstappen told his team with a laugh. “I was battling a lot of people and there was so much fun. It was a crazy race but ( We) remained calm and we won.
He qualified a season-worst 10th on Saturday due to a power outage, then in Sunday’s race Verstappen did a 360-degree spin.
“Incredible Max, who is right there with your best,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner replied. “fantastic.”
Russell, who started from pole for the first time in his career, led 30 laps until Leclerc delivered him from outside as dark clouds rolled over the Hungaroring circuit and it started to rain lightly.
With Leclerc leading, Verstappen undercut for faster tyres. Ferrari made a mistake in choosing a more durable hard tire for Leclerc.
“These are the tires (expletive),” Leclerc said.
He later explained that he thought it was the wrong call.
“I made it clear that I wanted to keep (the medium tyre) for as long as possible, but we pitched in for the hard work very quickly, which we need to understand why. I think stopping for the hard one The turning point was,” Leclerc said. “Before thinking about the championship, to be honest, as a team we need to understand what we need to do to get better. Because otherwise it’s going to be really difficult.”
Moments later, Verstappen lost grip and turned around on the track, allowing Sainz to take the lead from Hamilton. Leclerc passed Verstappen, only to lose the position shortly thereafter because Verstappen had faster tyres.
“There were very difficult conditions there but we had a really good strategy,” Verstappen said. “We were really responsive, always standing at the right time. Even with the 360 we won.”
Recalling the spin, Verstappen said: “I went on the throttle and completely lost the rear, it caught me.”
The woes of Ferrari’s strategy are not yet over. Leclerc has seen him missing two nail-on victories at the Monaco GP and the British GP – after a team call dropped him from a leading position to fourth.
The Ferrari failed Sainz’s front tire stop on lap 47, taking too long to fit his rear left tyre.
“It always seems like there’s always something going on, credibility, mistakes, whatever,” said a clearly disappointed Leclerc.
Hamilton stayed out but was losing time to Verstappen as the rain increased.
Leclerc, who had crashed while leading the French Grand Prix last week, came in for a third tire change on lap 55.
Ferrari’s strategy also confused Verstappen.
“I think Ferrari chose to put their wrong tyres on again in their last stint,” Verstappen said. “Ferrari was too fast, they just made the wrong call with the hard tyres (for Leclerc).”
For McLaren, Lando Norris finished seventh, Fernando Alonso eighth and his Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon ninth. Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel finished 10th.
By the time Vettel, who won his four F1 titles with Red Bull from 2010–13, is retiring at the end of the season, Verstappen would have well beaten his F1 record of 13 wins in a season since 2013.
F1 said 290,000 took part in the three days of racing in Hungary. On Saturday, F1 released a video condemning all forms of abusive behaviour.
The outrageous behavior of spectators overshadowed the Austrian Grand Prix three weeks ago, where fans – especially women – made F1 aware of rampant harassment, sexism, racism and homosexuality.
Verstappen was asked to comment after winning Sunday’s race on a video posted on social media this weekend that showed an orange-clad fan burning what appeared to be some Mercedes merchandise.
“It’s certainly not acceptable,” said Verstappen, who called for increased security in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday. “I certainly don’t agree with that, because it’s just disgusting.”
After a month-long break, the season resumed with triple headers in Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy.
“It’s really special for us to have both cars on the podium. Others have the edge but we are clearly closing the gap,” said Hamilton. “Hopefully we’ll get more in the second half of the season. Will bring and start fighting with the people in front.”
Russell explained how, not too long ago, Mercedes was lagging Red Bull.
“We were a minute behind, and now we’re 10 seconds behind,” he said.
Verstappen also has good reasons to welcome the revival of Mercedes.
“It’s good that they are competitive,” he quipped. “That means they can steal more points from Ferrari.”
Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri started from the pit lane and finished 12th after being penalized for multiple engine-part changes.
McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo showed off some of his old form with a brilliant double overtake on Ocon and Alonso was coming midway through the race, celebrating with an exuberant euphoria.
But Ricciardo was not laughing later as the Australian driver received a five-second penalty for clipping Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin and sending him off the track. Ricciardo placed 15th.
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