Starting from 10th on the grid after an engine problem left him without power in qualifying, even Red Bull’s best strategy simulations estimated the world champion could only advance to fifth. .
But in the end, a perfect storm of circumstances – some due to the strengths of the team and the rider, and some due to external factors beyond their control – came together to put him ahead of the pack.
Here are the five key factors that helped turn damage control in the title fight against Ferrari and Charles Leclerc into a knockout blow.
George Russell, Mercedes W13, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari F1-75, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL36, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13, the rest of the field at the start
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Formula 1 has rarely seen an event where the temperature fluctuated as much as during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend.
From the scorching 34C sauna that Ferrari excelled in during Friday practice, a change in the weather left things cold at 21C amid clouds and drizzle on Sunday.
This turnaround, combined with the rain washing away the rubber to leave a very green track, completely transformed the performance of the cars and the tyres.
The Ferrari which had been so strong in the heat on Friday, struggled to warm up its tires on Sunday – and that pushed it back into the field.
On the other hand, the Red Bull came to life – especially since it seemed to have so much pace on the soft and medium.
Also, with the drivers quickly realizing that the hard was not going to be easy to engage, Red Bull opted to move away from its original plan of throwing Verstappen on the hard and opting for the soft aggressive, which s finally turned out to be the best way to go.
On a hotter day he might well have gone hard and been relegated to playing the long game which would have left him stuck in the peloton.
Instead, he had an early tire advantage which meant he could go on the attack.
2022 F1 rules allowing overtaking
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, George Russell, Mercedes W13, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18, Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-22
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
The Hungaroring has a reputation for being up there with Monaco as one of the toughest tracks of the year to overtake.
And indeed, that previous feature is exactly what Red Bull’s strategic predictions told the team: that the first quarter of the race at least was going to be spent stuck in traffic, losing time to the front runners.
However, with Verstappen having the weather-induced pace advantage over the softs, the strength of F1 2022’s new rules also played its part with much easier overtaking this time around.
Because rather than getting stuck behind the Alpine train, Verstappen had cleared both Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon on lap seven as he trailed behind Lewis Hamilton.
When the two ran through Lando Norris on lap 12, shortly before the first phase of the pit stop, it meant Verstappen was right behind the battling Mercedes and Ferrari cars – even though he had clutch problems.
Ferrari pace and strategy
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, makes a pit stop
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Cool weather on Sunday left Ferrari duo Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc struggling for race pace. And it was their struggles that further aided Verstappen’s cause.
Ferrari throwing its drivers on the mediums, on a day when hard was not a good tyre, also meant the team got stuck in a corner out of strategy – further compromising their effort.
With all the top teams only having two sets of mids available, this meant those starting on the compound would face a major headache, with the race turning into two stoppages.
The best way to do this was to stretch the middle two stints as long as possible and then move on to one final blast on the soft.
However, Ferrari, thinking track position was of the utmost importance against Verstappen in the title battle, opted to put Leclerc on the hard one lap after rivals Red Bull pitted for his second and final series of mediums.
With the tough so difficult to heat up, it left Leclerc a sitting duck as he fell forward and the door was open for Verstappen to advance.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Verstappen’s triumph in Hungary wasn’t just down to the weather, strategy and Red Bull pace that came to life on Sunday. It is important to add that Verstappen’s driving was also top notch.
In the past, many of his successes were due to incredible speed, aggressive moves and taking risks here and there.
But Hungary was the perfect example of a much more mature Verstappen, who can combine the above strengths with the ability to play the long game.
Verstappen’s start was perhaps one of the safest we’ve ever seen from him, as he got stuck in the first corner when he seemed unwilling to take too many risks.
As team-mate Sergio Perez circled the outside, Verstappen looked in danger of getting stuck behind Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen, before they lost momentum on the exit of Turn 1 as he passed them.
Thereafter, Verstappen remained calm amid the clutch issues, was happy to bide his time while the issue was under control, and didn’t get upset when he made that mistake with the spin after finding his way ahead of Leclerc for the first time. .
When asked how the win compared to other great Verstappen triumphs, team boss Christian Horner said: “It’s right up there.”
Lucky moment of his engine problem
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, at the Parc Fermé after qualifying
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
For every element of skill that came together in Hungary, the element of sheer luck also cannot be entirely ignored.
Because Verstappen only had to charge from 10th place on the grid because of an engine problem during qualifying.
Although the exact details of what happened have not been revealed, the team has confirmed that it was a broken component that triggered the problem – which could not be repaired on the circuit.
That’s why Red Bull has chosen to fit Verstappen with its new third engine for Sunday’s race.
But, as Horner reflected afterwards, it was probably a fluke that the part that broke did so on his final lap of Q3. Because if it had only lasted two more laps, it would have put him out of the race.
“Luckily we’re sitting here now, looking back 20/20, and thankful he broke. [in qualifying]”, said Horner. “Because 12 more kilometers, and he would have broken on the way to the grid.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool