BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — More used to other drivers chasing him, Lewis Hamilton turned predator on Sunday to hunt down Max Verstappen and win the Hungarian Grand Prix.
When Hamilton had tried and failed to get past Verstappen midway through the race on the Hungaroring — one of Formula One’s hardest tracks for overtaking — it seemed that Verstappen would secure a victory from his first pole position for an eighth career win and third in four races.
But then Mercedes showed the strength in depth of its team, making a risky but ultimately brilliant strategy call to bring Hamilton in for a second tire change on Lap 49 of 70. In the pit wall battle, Mercedes sucker-punched Red Bull and unleashed Hamilton on fresh tires.
He chased Verstappen like a silver bullet around the 4.4-kilometer (2.7-mile) track, at times shaving two seconds per lap off Verstappen’s 20-second lead. Red Bull decided against giving Verstappen new tires and left him to rely only on his wits to fend off Hamilton — a five-time champion considered among the greatest drivers in F1 history.
“Lewis was on fire today,” Verstappen said. “I was pushing flat out.”
The remarkably adroit Verstappen — who has great composure at 20 years old — could not hold off Hamilton. By Lap 67, Hamilton moved menacingly alongside and flew to the 81st victory of his F1 career to move only 10 wins behind Michael Schumacher.
“I honestly didn’t know if I could (reduce) the gap,” a jubilant Hamilton said. “I kept pushing and pushing. They were like qualifying laps every lap.”
Verstappen, who took a bonus point for the fastest lap, acknowledged Mercedes made the right call.
“We were just not fast enough. I tried everything I could,” Verstappen said. “Congrats to Lewis, he was pushing me really hard. I like that.”
Hamilton looks headed for a sixth F1 title so far. He sits 62 points ahead of second-place Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas going into the midseason summer break, which is when Mercedes decides whether to give Bottas a new contract for 2020.