How Ocon Pulled Off the Surprise of the F1 Season

Photo credit: Lars Baron - Getty Images
Photo credit: Lars Baron - Getty Images
  • Esteban Ocon won his first Formula 1 race in 78 tries on Sunday in Hungary.

  • A first-lap crash triggered by Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas took out four cars, including Bottas, Sergio Perez, Charles Leclerc and Lance Stroll.

  • Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton was the victim of a bad call from his pits and finished third, but he still left Hungary with the points lead.

Formula 1 celebrated a first-time winner for the first time in 2021 following a crazy opening phase to the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday.

A quarter of the grid was eliminated in two separate clashes in wet conditions at the Hungaroring in Budapest while world champions Mercedes misfired on strategy early. It all paved the way for Alpine’s Esteban Ocon to take his maiden victory, from eighth on the grid, in undoubtedly the shock result of the season thus far.

Ocon had entered the Hungaroring weekend 13th in the Drivers’ Standings, with Alpine seventh of the 10 teams in the Constructors' Standings.

It has been a roller coaster ride for Ocon. He first linked up with Alpine, under its Lotus guise, back in 2014, making his practice debut in Abu Dhabi. A second spell followed as tester in 2016 before two years racing with Force India. He was set for a 2019 seat with Renault until it swooped to recruit Daniel Ricciardo, leaving Ocon on the sidelines as Mercedes’ reserve driver. Ocon was eventually signed for 2020 and retained for 2021 through the squad’s transition into Alpine.

Ocon’s jubilation upon winning was such that he forgot to enter the pits, eventually stopping his car on the run to Turn 1, leaving him to run up pit lane towards the podium. He firstly embraced his press officer James before catching up with the Alpine mechanics, for whom many this was also the first taste of victory in Formula 1. The outfit’s previous win came in the opening event of 2013, when it competed as Lotus.

“What a moment, what a moment,” said Ocon, struggling to take in the situation. “It feels so good. It’s the first victory obviously since the Renault Group came back to Formula 1 [in 2016]. We had some difficult moments this season and we overcame them together with the team, came back to a fantastic pace in Silverstone. What can I say? I mean, it’s fantastic. You know, congrats to Fernando as well, because I think the win is also thanks to him, with the fights that he did. So yeah. I mean his teamwork, all that and I think it’s been a fantastic day.

“In difficult moments when you are out in Q1, when you are P17 you don’t know where you are exactly and the team kept a big trust.”

A band of showers doused the Hungaroring pre-race and prompted the drivers to take the start on Intermediate rubber, leaving them searching for grip on the downhill run to Turn 1. Front-row starter Valtteri Bottas bogged down and ceded positions before misjudging his braking point for Turn 1 with disastrous consequences.

Bottas rear-ended Lando Norris, who pinballed into title leader Max Verstappen, while Bottas’ trajectory took him into the other Red Bull, piloted by Sergio Perez. Behind, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll also erred, wiping out himself and Charles Leclerc, and spinning Daniel Ricciardo in the process.

Photo credit: PETER KOHALMI - Getty Images
Photo credit: PETER KOHALMI - Getty Images

Stewards placed the blame on Bottas and Stroll, who will both take five-place grid penalties into the next race in Belgium.

Ocon was the fortunate one to avoid the chaos, surging from eighth to second, with Sebastian Vettel third, behind pole man Hamilton.

The race was suspended due to the litter of damage at the first corners and as drivers prepared for the restart the circuit had dried. All 15 remaining drivers remained on the intermediate tires, but at the end of the formation lap the 14 behind Hamilton came into the pit lane.

It created the bizarre image of just one driver—Hamilton—lining up on the grid to take the start, under the normal procedure, with the other 14 drivers lining up at the end of pit lane on slicks. Mercedes immediately realized its mistake and Hamilton pitted at the end of the lap for slick tires, dropping to the rear of the pack.

That left Ocon up front for the first time in his Formula 1 career, pursued by Vettel, with Hamilton mired down the order.

Aston Martin attempted to use the undercut by pitting first, but a slightly aggressive brake bias use upon entering pit lane cost Vettel crucial time. Ocon pitted one lap later and emerged with a reduced margin over Vettel, but critically retained track position at a venue where passing can be tricky.

Ocon kept Vettel at arm’s length but still faced a threat from the resurgent Hamilton. Mercedes ran an aggressive tire strategy to bring Hamilton back into play, at times lapping three seconds faster than the leaders, but he met his match in Fernando Alonso. Ocon’s Alpine teammate used his defensive skills expertly to keep Hamilton at bay for 10 laps —costing Hamilton crucial time in his recovery. Hamilton eventually overhauled Alonso, and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr., to take third, just 2.7 seconds behind Ocon when the checkered flag fell.

F1 Hungarian Grand Prix

Final Results

  1. Esteban Ocon, Alpine, 70 laps

  2. Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, +1.8 seconds

  3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, +2.7

  4. Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari, +15

  5. Fernando Alonso, Alpine, +15.6

  6. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, +1:03.6

  7. Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, +1:15.8

  8. Nicholas Latifi, Williams, +1:17.9

  9. George Russell, Williams, +1:19.0

  10. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, +1:20.2

  11. Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo, +1 lap

  12. Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, +1 lap

  13. Mick Schumacher, Haas, +1 lap

  14. Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo, +1 lap

  15. Nikita Mazepin, Haas, +67 laps

  16. Lando Norris, McLaren, +68 laps

  17. Sergio Perez, Red Bull, +70 laps

  18. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, +70 laps

  19. Charles Leclerd, Ferrari, +70 laps

  20. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin, +70 laps

Updated Points Standings

Through 11 of 23 races

  1. Lewis Hamilton 192

  2. Max Verstappen 186

  3. Lando Norris 113

  4. Valtteri Bottas 108

  5. Sergio Perez 104

  6. Charles Leclerc 80

  7. Charles Sainz Jr. 80

  8. Daniel Ricciardo 50

  9. Sebastian Vettel 48

  10. Pierre Gasly 48

  11. Esteban Ocon 39

  12. Fernando Alonso 36

  13. Lance Stroll 18

  14. Yuki Tsunoda 16

  15. Nicholas Latifi 4

  16. George Russell 2

  17. Kimi Raikkonen 1

  18. Antonio Giovinazzi 1

  19. Mick Schumacher 0

  20. Nikita Mazepin 0