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Lewis Hamilton swops tyres and douses Max Verstappen's fire

Defending champion defeats pole-sitter Verstappen after starting third on grid

Lewis Hamilton regained the momentum in the world championship with a memorable strategic victory yesterday, when he overcame young rival Max Verstappen with three laps to go in a tense Hungarian Grand Prix.

The 34-year-old defending five-time world champion started third on the grid in his Mercedes and, after stalking the 21-year-old Dutch tyro for most of a fascinating tactical contest, swept into the lead on lap 67 of a stirring 70-lap contest.

It was Hamilton's record seventh win in Hungary, his eighth this year and the 81st of his career, wrecking Red Bull's hopes of turning Verstappen's maiden pole position into victory, and increased his lead in the title race to 62 points before the sport's European summer break.

NO TIME TO REACT

Verstappen, who led most of the race before his tyres faded, had no time to match Hamilton's tactics when the Briton made his second stop, came home 17.796 seconds behind in second and clocked a record race fastest lap for the Hungaroring after a late pit-stop.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was third for Ferrari ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz of McLaren and Pierre Gasly in the second Red Bull.

"What a drive, what a strategy," said Hamilton's race engineer Peter Bonnington.

  • 1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes): 1:35:03.796

    2 Max Verstappen (Red Bull):+17.796s

    3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari): +61.433s

    4 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari): +65.250s

    5 Carlos Sainz (McLaren) : +1 lap

    DRIVERS' STANDINGS (Top 5)

    1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 250 points

    2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 188

    3 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 181

    4 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 156

    5 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 132

    CONSTRUCTORS' STANDINGS (Top 5)

    1 Mercedes 438 points

    2 Ferrari 288

    3 Red Bull 244

    4 McLaren 82

    5 Toro Rosso 43

"Only you could make that work today."

Mercedes matched Red Bull's strategy until gambling with a late additional pit-stop that left Hamilton with 20 laps to make up a 20-second deficit on fresh tyres - a move that worked as Verstappen's tyres faded away.

"They rolled the dice and it worked for them, unfortunately," Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told Verstappen.

"But you drove your heart out."

A week after his forlorn error-riddled exit from last weekend's tumultuous German Grand Prix, won by Verstappen, Hamilton had bounced back in style.

"It feels like a new win for us," the Briton said.

"I didn't know if I could do it and I am sorry I doubted our strategy - it was brilliant."

A crestfallen Verstappen admitted: "We just weren't fast enough. I tried everything I could to keep the tyres alive, but I couldn't."

Hamilton had earned a 1,000-euro (S$1,500) fine for Mercedes for speeding in the pit lane before the start on a hotter-than-expected afternoon with a temperature of 26 deg C.

Verstappen pulled clear with some aplomb as the two Mercedes' planned pincer movement failed.

Bottas, from second, had a poor start, losing position to Hamilton who squeezed through at Turn Three.

Hamilton trimmed the lead to 1.3 seconds and then dummied to pit on lap 22, but stayed out to avoid resuming amid the Ferraris.

Hamilton pitted after 31 laps, stopped for four seconds and resumed second, 5.5 seconds behind.

By lap 33, he had reduced it to 2.8sec. Vettel, in third, was 20 seconds adrift as the Englishman smashed the gap and attacked with venom.

Then, on lap 49, Hamilton pitted again, taking mediums in 2.4 seconds.

He re-joined second, 21 seconds adrift, Mercedes' tactic leaving Red Bull without time to respond.

With 12 laps to go, the gap was 14 seconds as Hamilton set successive race-lap records, slashing the Dutchman's lead on his way to victory. - AFP

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