The Ferrari driver led from start-to-finish after a stunning getaway from third on the grid saw him nose in front from turn one, the former champion proceeding to stay well out of trouble as chaos persistently broke out behind him at various points of the race.
On a weekend that has seen Mercedes exert dominance over the opposition, Ferrari’s stunning turn of pace in race conditions was as surprising as it was unexpected.
Indeed, with Kimi Raikkonen slotting in second place after an equally rapid getaway from fifth place – and after some boisterous jostling through the first turns -, Rosberg and pole sitter Hamilton found themselves third and fourth, only for Hamilton to run off at the turn six chicane to leave him tenth at the end of the opening lap.
Kicking off an eventful afternoon for the championship leader, with Hamilton out of the picture, at least for the time being, Vettel and Raikkonen proceeded to gap Rosberg behind them, followed by Valtteri Bottas, Nico Hulkenberg – up from 11th on the grid -, Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian losing time through contact with Bottas in turn one.
From here, the race settled down, Vettel steadily increasing his margin over Raikkonen, who in turn was lapping faster than Rosberg in third. Behind them, Ricciardo – after his early tangle – was showcasing impressive form as he scythed through the order, the Australian fourth by the first round of pit-stops.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was making steady – if not rapid – progress back up the order, falling half-a-minute off the lead in just a few laps as he struggled to make the Mercedes’ pace advantage work in traffic.
With Rosberg opting for medium rubber on his second stint – with a view to making a push for the win in the third and final stint –, Vettel and Raikkonen continued to pull away out front, raising hopes of a first Ferrari 1-2 since the 2010 German Grand Prix.
However, those dreams would begin to splutter on lap 40 when Raikkonen came onto the radio to complain of a lack of power. Traced to an issue with the MGU-H, Raikkonen was already haemorrhaging time even before the safety car was deployed on lap 43 as a result of Nico Hulkenberg suffering a dramatic front-wing failure down the home-straight whilst running sixth, the German ending up in the barriers but unhurt.
With debris strewn across the circuit though, the necessity of the safety car suddenly brought the race to life, as the leaders dived for the pit-lane for tyres before being bunched up line astern, Vettel leading the crippled Raikkonen, Rosberg, Hamilton – who had earlier passed Ricciardo for fourth -, Bottas, Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat.
At the restart, drama immediately unfolded as Rosberg quickly dispatched of Raikkonen, before Hamilton paid the price for a slow exit out of the final turn as Ricciardo sensed his opportunity and dived down the outside. With Hamilton reluctant to yield the position, contact was inevitable, with both cars sustaining damage, but Hamilton really losing out with front-wing damage.
With the hobbled Hamilton proceeding to bunch up the cars behind, Kvyat quickly passed – albeit off track, a misdemeanour he would later cop a ten second time penalty for -, while Verstappen would get crossed up with Bottas, causing the Williams to sustain a puncture and putting it out of the running.
Significantly though, Hamilton could not continue with the damaged wing, pulling into the pit lane on lap 54 and returning to the circuit well outside the top ten. Worse was to follow for Hamilton though when stewards judged him to be at fault for his collision with Ricciardo, slapping him with a drive-thru penalty as a result.
Ricciardo, meanwhile, despite carrying evident damage himself, was otherwise flying in third position now, the Australian benefiting as Raikkonen finally withdrew his slowing Ferrari.
With Vettel and Rosberg on medium rubber and Ricciardo pushing on soft tyres, the top three would be circulating in line astern with just ten laps remaining. Indeed, though Rosberg initially worked on challenging Vettel, he would instead find himself fighting a rear guard action against Ricciardo as the race entered its closing stages, allowing Vettel to escape.
Their battle would come to a head with five laps remaining though when Ricciardo made a daring move up the inside into turn one. However, with Ricciardo running wide on the exit, Rosberg attempted to come back across but failed to leave enough room, the Red Bull clipping the Mercedes and causing front-wing damage to the former and a puncture to the latter.
All of this was of little concern to Vettel up ahead though, the German keeping himself out of trouble to come across the line for an emotional second win with Ferrari, the four-time champion instantly dedicating it to the late Jules Bianchi.
With Ricciardo forced to pit to replace his front-wing, Kvyat came through to finish a surprise second – despite his ten second post-race time penalty -, with Ricciardo still able to come back out in time to finish a hard-fought third. Marking Red Bulls first podiums of the season, it also marks a first rostrum for Kvyat.
Whilst drama may have reigned amongst the leaders, controversy would play out across the field, with Verstappen finishing a remarkable fourth place for Toro Rosso, this despite being forced to serve a drive-thru penalty for speeding under the safety car.
On a busy day for the stewards, Verstappen was one of several drivers to earn the wrath of the powers that be, penalties that would do their bit to allow Fernando Alonso to claim a surprise fifth place finish from 15th on the grid, the Spaniard keeping himself out of trouble to secure a much appreciated top five finish for the struggling McLaren team.
It would also allow Hamilton to make a rapid ascension back up the order, the nose change allowing him to go onto soft rubber and scythe through the field to come across the line in sixth place. Rosberg, meanwhile, paid the price for his puncture, desperately attempting to make up ground but falling short in eighth, less than a second behind the seventh place Lotus of Romain Grosjean.
It means, despite his eventful afternoon, Hamilton leaves Hungary having swelled his championship lead to 21 points, though it does end his and Mercedes’ consecutive podium record.
Complementing Alonso’s fifth place, Jenson Button made it two McLarens inside the top ten in ninth position after a similarly error-free race, while Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson notched up his third points’ finish of the year in tenth.
Elsewhere, Williams endured a dismal afternoon, with Felipe Massa never quite recovering from a pit-stop penalty for failing to line up correctly in his pit box, while Bottas never returned to contention following his late puncture. They finished 12th and 14th.
Elsewhere, Pastor Maldonado took three penalties for various indiscretions – including spinning Sergio Perez -, though the Force India driver would go on to be retired shortly after Nico Hulkenberg as precaution following front-wing break.