Max Verstappen appeared completely untroubled as he romped to Red Bull's historic 12th win in a row with an easy victory in the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix, after dispensing with pole sitter Lewis Hamilton at the first corner.
The Mercedes also lost out to the Mclarens of Oscar Piastri and Lance Stroll. The Australian rookie was subsequently undercut by Norris who went on to claim second, while Piastri ended up being passed later in the race by Sergio Perez and then Hamilton.
It was a bad day for Alpine which saw both Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly taken out at the start by an accident triggered by the slow-starting Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu, with Daniel Ricciardo's AlphaTauri also incurring damage but still able to continue.
The weather was hot and sunny with barely a cloud in the sky over the Hungaroring as the 20 cars headed to the grid, with the somewhat unexpected sight of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes leading the way for the first time in 33 races after his dramatic success in yesterday's qualifying session over Red Bull rival Max Verstappen. McLaren's papaya livery was dazzling in the afternoon sunshine on the second row, with team mates Lando Norris lining up side-by-side ahead of Zhou Guanyu in fifth, the Alfa Romeo star's having secured his best career grid position to date putting him alongside Ferrari's Charles Leclerc for the start.
The top ten were all starting on the medium tyres, with the exception of Sergio Perez who was on the hard compound in ninth, and Carlos Sainz was starting on softs from P11. All the teams were lacking tyre usage data after a disrupted Friday practice, and a limited allocation of tyres this weekend meant teams were lacking fresh sets giving them a headache when deciding their pit stop strategies for the race.
When the lights went out to get the 70 lap race underway, Hamilton got a decent initial start but Verstappen went down the inside into the first turn to take the lead. Norris and Piastri immediately took advantage to ambush the Mercedes through the opening corners, dropping Hamilton to fourth. Zhou had badly lost out with a dreadful launch from the grid, allowing Leclerc and Sainz to move up to fifth and sixth with Fernando Alonso now seventh ahead of Perez.
Pierre Gasly was into the pits at the end of the first lap, with a rear puncture and heavy damage forcing his retirement. Joining him - and also out of the race - was the second Alpine of Esteban Ocon, who had been pushed into the back of his team mate by AlphaTauri's Daniel Ricciardo after the Aussie had in turn been hit from behind by the stuttering Zhou, in a very expensive game of carbon fibre dominoes. The Chinese driver ended up plummeting to 16th and suffered the further ignominy of a five second penalty for causing the conflagration.
At the front Verstappen was already pulling out a comfortable lead, and by lap 7 his advantage was over two seconds from Piastri who had come out of the start in second place from Norris and Hamilton. Hamilton was being told "front right brake is running hot, see what you can do" by the Mercedes pit wall who were also concerned about George Russell's car overheating, the Briton having moved up from P18 to 13th. Elsewhere Perez was applying pressure on Alonso who was at the head of a DRS train and managing a used set of mediums. On lap 8, Perez finally pulled off the pass for seventh and was on his way.
Perez now had Sainz in his sights, who was dropping off the back of Leclerc as the softs started to degrade. He was offered the chance to pit for a fresh set, but Sainz initially declined. Instead it was Williams' Alex Albon who was the first to come in for a scheduled pit stop, and that prompted a number of other drivers stuck in the DRS congestion to make the same move including Lance Stroll, Valtteri Bottas and Yuki Tsunoda, all of them moving to the hard compound for the second stint. It was looking like the optimal tyre to be on at this point, judging from the rapid lap times that ensued. Meanwhile by lap 15 Verstappen's hold on the lead had extended to more than six seconds - already an easy afternoon for the Red Bull driver.
Rather than fight an uneven battle with Perez, Sainz pitted on lap 16 for a fresh set of hards and came back out in 11th just behind Ricciardo. Hamilton was in next time by for a tidy 2.8s stop and the same tyre choice, and then it was Norris' turn to pit from third to protect against Hamilton. His stop was half a second quicker than Mercedes had served up for their man. Piastri's stop on lap 19 was even quicker - a neat two seconds in the box - but even so the undercut had handed the advantage to his team mate and Norris was now ahead on track. Leclerc had also stopped but it was an agonisingly slow service from Ferrari after a wheel gun issue.
Alonso was in on lap 21, leaving the two Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez at the front albeit neither having yet stopped - nor showing any imminent need of doing so. Norris was in third ahead of Piastri, with Russell still on his original set of hard tyres in fifth ahead of Hamilton until team orders requested they switch round, a sensible call given that Hamilton was on fresher tyres and needed to make use of them while they lasted. Then it was Sainz, Leclerc, Stroll and Bottas in the top ten, Alonso rejoining in 11th ahead of Albon, Tsunoda and Nico Hulkenberg.
Verstappen finally surrendered his medium tyres for hards on lap 24 but without having to give up the race lead. That meant only Perez and Russell - having started on the hards - were yet to frequent pit lane. Of the pair, Perez was first to blink on lap 25, the switch to mediums dropping him to eighth between the two Ferrari cars; very quickly he successfully went wheel-to-wheel with Sainz for sixth. The Mexican then struck at Russell at turn 3, and when the Mercedes tried to counter the attack the pair came close to contact. In the end, Russell's ageing tyres forced him to back off and cede the spot, before pitting for mediums on lap 28. That dropped him to 14th behind Hulkenberg whom he quickly picked off, soon followed by a chaser of Tsunoda for 12th.
Up ahead, Perez and Sainz were gaining on Hamilton, who was worried about his apparent lack of speed: "Where are we losing all the time, we are just so slow?" he demanded over the team radio. The pit wall denied they had turned down the engine, while at the same time admitting they were taking measures to tackle overheating on the W14 - which rather suggested that was exactly what they were having to do. In contrast to these fevered exchanges, Verstappen was having a leisurely chat with his race engineer about "Initial thoughts on this compound?" which, in summary, were that everything was absolutely fine, cheers, thanks for asking as his lead extended to nearly nine seconds on lap 33.
Verstappen now got to work picking off the backmarkers, the first of which was his former team mate Ricciardo whose AlphaTauri had clearly been compromised by that first lap contact. Ricciardo was among a flurry of cars including Stroll, Albon and Logan Sargeant to make second stops before the halfway point of the race - but could they reach the end without another trip to see their pit crew? It seemed unlikely, but in the meantime the fresh tyres made it easy for Stroll to pass Kevin Magnussen for 13th on lap 37 before the Haas likewise pitted again.
Perez had finally pulled within DRS range of Hamilton, but his progress had stalled in the dirty air of the Mercedes having by now used the best of his medium tyres. After a few foiled attempts to strike, Red Bull decided to use strategy instead and called him in for his second stop on lap 43 to try the undercut on Hamilton. Piastri was also in, but his stop was was much slower. Both went for mediums in their respective battles against Hamilton and Norris. Leclerc was next in on lap 44 with no sign of the problems of the first service this time, and then it was Norris on lap 45. Sainz was also in, and Alonso had come in too, although his stop wasn't the swiftest with the Aston Martin's tyres still spinning while up on the jack.
Perez had now got within DRS range of Piastri, and the Red Bull soon made a move down the inside of turn 1 on lap 48; Piastri forced him as wide as possible but it wasn't enough to hold on to the spot. The rookie counter-attacked going into turn 2 but was forced wide in turn, earning himself a track limits warning while a brief stewards review of the incident concluded that no further investigation was required despite Mclaren's grumbles. That left Perez running in fourth, and moments later the man ahead of him - Hamilton - was on pit lane on lap 50 for more mediums, Mercedes having already called in Russell one last time two laps earlier.
Verstappen came in for his second stop on lap 52 with acres of time to get back out in the lead from Norris, Perez, Piastri, Hamilton and Leclerc - although the Ferrari had now incurred a five second penalty for speeding on pit lane. Sainz was seventh ahead of Russell and Alonso, with the final points position currently in the hands of Stroll ahead of Albon, Bottas and Ricciardo. Bottle-blond Hulkenberg was the last man still on the lead lap but not for too much longer, as Verstappen continued to march his way through the lower ranks.
Hamilton suddenly found a welcome burst of speed to catch and pass Piastri on lap 57. Norris was also feeling the heat as Perez gained a half a second per lap on him in the battle for second, and he assured his race engineer "I'm pushing mate" while complaining about backmarkers failing to move aside. "They have to get out of the way when they see blue flags!" he cried. Meanwhile Verstappen's main preoccupation was the amount of marbles building up on the track, but there seemed little concern over the Red Bull team radio: "Everything okay, just checking in?" he was asked, just in case he'd nodded off. Everything was, he replied laconically.
Time was running out for any final twists and turns in the story. As the chequered flag neared it was Verstappen by a country mile from Norris who had succeeded in keeping Perez at arms length. The Red Bull seemed to have overcooked its tyres in the chase and now dropped back, coming under late pressure from Hamilton but ultimately able to do enough to hold on to third, meaning Hamilton and Piastri both just missed out on the podium.
Meanwhile Russell had put in a late burst to pile the pressure on Sainz, culminating in the Mercedes sweeping round the Ferrari on the outside of the last corner with five laps to go, as the SF-23 struggled for rear end grip on its worn set of hard tyres. Russell then got close enough to Leclerc to take advantage of the Monegasque's five second penalty to snatch sixth in the final classification - not a bad achievement given his P18 starting spot, on a track where overtaking is notoriously difficult. The final points positions went to Aston pair Alonso and Stroll, with Albon, Bottas, Ricciardo just missing out.