Lewis Hamilton says the 20-second gap that he overhauled to snatch the Hungarian Grand Prix victory off Max Verstappen felt like the “steepest wall to climb”.
It was the 81st win of his career, and his seventh at the Hungaroring, as he led home Verstappen in second and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in third.
It also means he now sits on 250 points in the driver’s championship, 62 clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas on 188 as the Finn finished a lowly eighth with Verstappen only seven points behind on 181.
The Brit tussled with Verstappen earlier in the race but was unable to make his way past the Red Bull. His Mercedes team then opted to switch to an alternative strategy in the hopes that fresher, faster tyres would be the enabler he needed to make an overtake stick.
However, before he could do that, he had to claw back the 20-second deficit created by the late pitstop.
“It felt like the steepest wall you could climb when you come out that far behind,” Hamilton explained. “But the team had relaxed faith that we would do it so I’m grateful for their hard work and for the decision.
“I had one of the most consistent periods of laps; the gap started to come down quite quickly. I think with four or five laps to go I had him four seconds ahead and I could see him in my sights. After that I thought ‘okay, we’ve got a serious race on here’.”
Mercedes’ decision to pit Hamilton boxed Red Bull into a corner; by the time they were in a position to react, Hamilton had already made up enough time to take the lead should Verstappen have also pitted.
The Dutchman initially rued his team’s reluctance to call him in but later agreed it was the right decision.
“It wouldn’t have made sense [to pit],” Verstappen said.
“We would have been behind then and then you know the race is lost anyway.
“The only option was to continue so that’s what we did. Of course, I started to run out of tyres. Trying to keep up with Lewis’ pace on the medium tyres, keep him within a second was almost impossible.
“You could see it coming so it wasn’t a big disappointment when he passed me.”
Vettel may have finished in the final podium spot in third, after a last-gasp lunge on teammate Charles Leclerc, who finished fourth, but he was a clear minute behind Hamilton.
To some, such a large gap may be surprising but Vettel believes it was to be expected.
“I think we saw our limits yesterday and we got a confirmation today,” Vettel said.
“We had some bits that were a small step forward but what it shows is that it’s not enough.
“I was fairly open-minded but looking after yesterday and today, we simply didn’t have the pace of those two so there’s obviously work to be done.”
Further back, Carlos Sainz shone for McLaren once again as he netted fifth place, holding off Pierre Gasly in the sister Red Bull in sixth.
Kimi Raikkonen also put in a good performance in his Alfa Romeo to finish seventh, ahead of the recovering Mercedes of Bottas in eighth.
Lando Norris was resigned to ninth in the other McLaren after a slow pitstop whilst Alexander Albon scored his fifth points finish of the season to complete the top ten.
F1 now heads on its annual summer break with Hamilton and Mercedes both strengthening their grip on a sixth world title apiece.
The championship will return in Belgium at the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit on 30 August-1 September.