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F1: Ocon, Hungary for success, gets maiden win after chaotic start.

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

It would be easy, after all the negativity from Red Bull and Verstappen to see the Dutchman's first corner crash at the Hungaroring as karma but nothing could be further from the truth; nor could any implication that it was caused by a Mercedes to further undermine his title challenge. The simple fact is that a near-inevitable chaotic start to the race nearly put out half-the field of which Verstaapen was one of the entirely innocent pins in a high-speed game of skittles.

Valerti Bottas has a five place penalty for the start of the next race. Does he deserve it? Yes. But not because he did anything bad; he was a victim of circumstances that caused him to drive into the back of Norris' McLaren who then speared into Verstappen and then it all went horribly wrong for everyone except Estaban Ocon and Vettel.

Hamilton had scampered off while cars scrabbled for grip and some found it, seemingly unexpectedly. Bottas had a poor start, then gained traction and rocketed towards the corner with a good line. But by then he'd already been overtaken by Norris who was a good car's length in front as they entered the braking zone. Norris had grip to slow down; Bottas didn't. He locked up and on the greasy surface that no one had driven on, beyond the formation lap, he slid hard into Norris' gearbox. Norris, was punted into Verstappen who was minding his own business going around the outside far enough from everyone to stay out of trouble. Or not, as it turned out. As Bottas' Mercedes reduced itself to its component parts, the Red Bull kept all four wheels on straight but had chunks of the side torn away.

LeClerc's Ferrari, further down the field, had the engine cover ripped open like it had been attacked with an old-fashioned can opener as Stroll came down the grass, had no control and bounced over the Ferrari's rear wheel, shredding the side of the red car with the Aston Martin's green front wing.

A red flag brought everyone into the pits while the huge amount of debris was cleared up.

Hamilton, by dint of a situation that suggested that the rules might need a looking at, was the only car that started on the grid. After the red flag, there was to be a start from the grid: after all, there had only been about 750 metres of racing. As the cars came around for the formation lap, the embargo on pit-to-car radio meant no discussions. But further back, Russell, speaking car-to-pit, told his crew that "everyone is coming into change tyres." And they did - all except Hamilton. And so with all the field that was still mobile in the pit-lane having a tyre change, Hamilton sat waiting for the lights to go out. When they did, off he scampered again but this time on what was clearly the wrong tyre.

One has to have sympathy with Mercedes and with Hamilton. If he'd gone into the pits, he'd have gone to his box which would have lost him his position at the front of the pack. It was not an entirely unreasonable gamble: after all, who was to say that there would not have been another crash causing, say, a safety car in which case Hamilton would have gained. Russell jumped the queue in the pit lane and suddenly found himself in second place, and looking like he might actually lead, until the FIA told him to give back five places he should not have taken.

It was Ocon who made the most of the position; having slotted through the carnage, he was in second place when the race was stopped and therefore in a strong position when it restarted, even though it restarted from the pits. What no one expected was that he would spend the next 50 odd laps fending off Sebastian Vettel having inherited the lead when Hamilton pitted at the end of the first lap and went to last.

"Am I last?" he asked? Yes, his engineer, Bono, sighed. So, with Ocon under pressure at the front, Hamilton got his head down and went to work from 15th.

No one made it easy for him - and there was no reason that they should. Everyone is racing for points in a season in which more people are scoring points than we are used to seeing. By the end of this race, we would see Williams with both their cars in the top ten, a real surprise as their qualifying pace had been, at least by Russell's standards, rubbish. It would be wrong to say that the Williams inherited their positions because all the fast cars were out, or because rain is a great leveller for the simple reason that their lap times were good, Latifi was ahead of Russell and they battled for much of the race, winning and defending places.

Verstappen's car was walking wounded but still functioning but the scale of the loss of downforce from the first corner collision became apparent when Hamilton caught him up. Verstappen didn't exactly wave him through but he didn't get stupid to try to keep Hamilton back. Later, they would fist bump and, seemingly, reconcile after the war of words in the previous two weeks.

It was Alonso who held Hamilton up and while taking nothing away from Ocon, if Alonso had not been so defensive for so long, Hamilton would have been on Vettel's rear wing with perhaps two laps to go and Ocon would have been within easy range. But Alonso, both for his own points and acting as rear-gunner for his young team-mate, mounted a superb defence for more than five laps despite the obvious superiority of the Mercedes in Hamilton's hands.

Ocon, who has had sustained criticism after a poor run that started immediately he signed a two-year contract with Alpine, did not "luck in" to his lead and he kept it by sheer brilliance, proving that the team's decision was not ill-founded. Alonso was one of the first to congratulate him as he recovered from the only mistake he made all afternoon: he drove down the track instead of into parc firmee and had to run back.

He was not the only one running around: Vettel ran out of fuel, or very nearly so. He parked the car and ran back. His spirited drive to P2 had proved surprisingly thirsty for his car.

Hamilton's third place was marred by his physical condition. As soon as he was out of the car it was clear he was in trouble and during his interview he was unsteady on his feet and his eyes were unfocussed. He made it to the podium which was back the usual platform but was clearly in distress, so much so that at one point Ocon held Hamilton's arm to steady him. The obvious question is whether he is suffering the after-effects of his CoVid-19 bout last year when Russell deputised for him at the beginning of December. There were concerns that Hamilton went back to work too soon as he looked shaky at the next race. But that was far less obvious than his condition at the Hungaroring.

This race had everything we could wish for except the worries about Hamilton's health.

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