EU Slams Hungary, Poland In Rule Of Law Report

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology


The European Union criticised Hungary and Poland in its first report on democratic standards across the bloc on Wednesday, as tensions soar between Brussels and Budapest.

The report on the “rule of law” in all 27 EU countries comes a day after the bloc rejected hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s demand that a senior official resign over criticism of his government.

The assessment prepared by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, voices “serious concern” about judicial independence in both Hungary and Poland.

Budapest and its ally in Warsaw have long been at loggerheads with Brussels over issues like civil freedoms and immigration, with Orban accused of persecuting opposition media and forcing the closure of foreign-owned universities.

On Tuesday, Orban demanded the resignation of Vera Jourova, a commission vice-president responsible for defending EU values and transparency, for calling Hungary an “ill democracy” in an interview.

The commission rejected the call but the row with Budapest sets the stage for a difficult summit of EU leaders on Thursday, where the rule of law debate looks set to poison attempts to fine tune a major coronavirus recovery package.

Asked about Orban’s criticism in an interview with AFP, Jourova refused to be drawn into “personal attacks”.

“But I want to reject strongly one thing: I never offended the Hungarian people,” she said, insisting she respected them and the choices they had made.

“But this does not mean we should not speak, also critically if needed, about actions of governments and elected representatives.”

“No-one’s actions are above criticism.”

The report examines four main pillars of democracy: justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom and other checks and balances.

It lists a series of concerns over judicial independence in Hungary and warns of a lack of action to tackle graft related to top officials.

“Deficient independent control mechanisms and tight interconnections between politics and certain national businesses are conducive to corruption,” the report says of Hungary.

Polish legal reforms, a major point of contention between Warsaw and Brussels, “have increased the influence of the executive and legislative powers over the justice system and therefore weakened judicial independence”.

– ‘Absurd and false’ –

The EU has an “Article 7” procedure probing whether Hungary is undermining European legal standards and democratic values.

This could ultimately lead to them losing EU voting rights, though the hurdles for this are high.

Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga condemned the EU report as “absurd and false”.

“The concept and methodology of the Commission’s rule of law report is flawed, its sources are unbalanced and its content is unfounded,” she said in a statement.

The rule of law dispute has hampered protracted negotiations about the EU’s long-term budget and is likely to spill into this week’s summit.

The European Parliament and several member states want to see funding for countries like Hungary tied to respect for democratic legal values.

But Hungary and Poland, accused of a slide into populist authoritarianism, fiercely oppose this and have threatened to veto Europe’s coronavirus recovery plan.

Germany’s Angela Merkel has been working to negotiate a compromise arrangement to protect EU funds from being misspent, but diplomats warn the debate is “very polarised” and far from settled.

European diplomats representing member states voted to back the German plan on Wednesday and to begin negotiating with parliament, but seven countries opposed it, including Hungary and Poland.


COVID-19: Hungary Bans Travel From Africa, Most Of Asia

File photo: Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a press conference following a Visegrad Group (V4) meeting in Warsaw on July 3, 2020.


Hungary’s government said Sunday it was barring travel from Africa, most of Asia apart from China and Japan, and restricting entry from several European countries after worldwide spikes in coronavirus cases.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Chief of Staff Gergely Gulyas said that Hungarian health officials have placed 154 countries into three risk categories based on numbers of coronavirus infections.

“We need to protect our security so that the virus is not introduced from abroad… the level of active infection cases at home is falling, and we want to keep it like that,” he told reporters in Budapest.

Entry into Hungary would be barred for citizens from countries assessed as “red” from Tuesday midnight, including all African and Asian countries apart from China and Japan.

European countries in the red zone are Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Belarus, Montenegro, as well as Hungary’s neighbour Ukraine.

Hungarian citizens returning from “red” countries must pass a virus test and undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine, said Gulyas.

Citizens from countries in a “yellow” category — including the US, UK, Norway, Serbia, Russia, China, and Japan — will have to enter two-week quarantine unless they have tested negative for the virus within five days.

Four of Hungary’s fellow EU members — Bulgaria, Portugal, Sweden, and neighbouring Romania — will also face the same restrictions.

Countries in the “green” category can continue to enter without restrictions.

Hungary’s population of almost 10 million has been lightly affected by the pandemic in comparison with other parts of Europe, reporting just over 4,200 coronavirus infections and around 595 deaths so far.

Earlier this month, Orban said Hungary would not follow an EU recommendation to lift coronavirus travel restrictions for more countries outside the bloc, citing a risk to health.

The EU’s border relaxation, announced June 30 and left to member states to implement, was a bid to help rescue the continent’s battered tourism sector, which had been choked by a ban on non-essential travel in place since mid-March.

The number of infections and deaths has risen relentlessly in many of the world’s biggest nations, with the United States crossing three million confirmed cases.

In Europe, where many nations had successfully suppressed their outbreaks, spikes have occurred in recent weeks.


Hungary Set To End Disputed Emergency COVID-19 Powers

Miguel MEDINA / AFP.


Hungary is set to revoke Tuesday anti-coronavirus emergency powers that triggered international criticism amid fears of a power grab by Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Dominated by Orban’s ruling Fidesz party, parliament is expected to approve the lifting of a “state of danger” and related special powers to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.

The state of danger would then be formally lifted later on this week when the text of the legislation is published.

However, several prominent government-critical NGOs have warned in a joint statement that revocation of the special powers would be an “optical illusion” leaving the authorities with enhanced powers.

A “coronavirus protection act” adopted by parliament on March 30 had enabled the cabinet to rule by decree until it decided to end the state of danger.

Orban, who implemented a relatively early lockdown to halt the spread of the virus, said that ruling by decree allowed him to respond quickly and effectively during the emergency.

Hungary’s population of almost 10 million has been lightly affected in comparison with other parts of Europe, reporting just over 4,000 infections of the novel coronavirus and around 560 deaths.

But critics at home and abroad who fretted that the law had no time limit and was vulnerable to abuse accused Orban of using the crisis to steer EU member Hungary toward authoritarianism.

In April the European Parliament approved a statement saying Hungary’s measures were “incompatible with European values”.

Governments that used the crisis to mount executive power grabs would be “politically dangerous, and morally unacceptable,” said Donald Tusk, leader of Europe’s EPP conservative political grouping, which Fidesz also belongs to.

Budapest dismissed the criticism as “fake news” and said the legislation was proportionate and could be rescinded at any time by parliament or reviewed by the constitutional court.

READ ALSO: Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

Previously when looking forward to the end of emergency powers, Orban has said that critics “will get a chance to apologise to Hungary for unfounded accusations about the law”.

– Weakened controls –

Hungarian opposition parties and rights groups at home and abroad called the extra powers “dictatorial” and said Orban abused them to cement his rule rather than combat the virus.

They feared the powers would feed into the whittling away at independent institutions since Orban came to power in 2010 and launched a centralisation drive that has transformed the judiciary, media landscape, and education system among other sectors.

Some of the more than 100 decrees issued since April stripped opposition-run municipalities of power and finances.

The emergency powers also included potential jail terms for “scaremongering” over the pandemic, sparking concern for press freedom.

Police opened more than 100 cases of suspected scaremongering and temporarily detained several people, although no cases came to court.

Agoston Mraz, director of the Nezopont Institute in Budapest, which is seen as close to the government, told AFP that “Orban realised that he can profit from the false criticism on the international stage and he used the situation”.

“Now he is the absolute winner, in Hungary a large majority is satisfied with his crisis management, while abroad he won his fight against the critics,” he said.

However, according to a note from the Political Capital research firm “the government exploited the opportunities created by the special legal order and the political environment to the fullest extent”.

Changes ushered in by Orban’s government during the pandemic and which will remain in place weaken constitutional and parliamentary control over the government, while new financial measures increase the influence of Orban’s oligarch allies at the expense of opposition-led municipalities, said the note.


Hungary Bars Citizens From Legally Changing Gender


Hungary’s parliament voted Tuesday to bar nationals from legally changing their gender, defying protests at home and abroad and warnings that transgender citizens will face greater discrimination.

The text of the new law as passed says gender would be defined as “biological sex based on primary sex characteristics and chromosomes”.

The law makes it impossible to change a person’s sex recorded at birth and therefore also prevents changing one’s legally recognised gender.

Hungarian LGBT rights organisation Hatter called the move “sad and outrageous” and said it ignored “practical and human rights concerns raised by dozens of civil society organisations and international bodies.”

Critics fear nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government is pushing through parts of its controversial socially conservative agenda while attention is distracted by the coronavirus crisis.

“We will not give up the fight: we ask the president of the republic to send the law for review to the Constitutional Court,” Hatter said in a statement sent to AFP, adding that it would explore possible legal challenges to the law, both in Hungary and abroad.

Rights activists say the new law will expose transgender Hungarians to greater discrimination in employment, housing, access to goods and services and official procedures.

Earlier this month parliament — dominated by Orban’s Fidesz party — rejected the ratification of a treaty aimed at combatting violence against women.

The government opposes the Istanbul Convention partly on the grounds that it promotes “destructive gender ideologies”.

Since Orban came to power in 2010, his government has pursued several policies it says uphold traditional Hungarian values, including inserting a definition of marriage in the constitution as being between one man and one woman and a 2018 decree which effectively banned universities from teaching gender studies courses.

Hungary Eases Coronavirus Lockdown

Members of the Hungarian national swimming team, world champion Boglarka Kapas (R) arrives with her teammate Adam Telegdy (L) at Duna Arena, the base of the national team in Budapest, Hungary after their negative coronavirus COVID-19 test results on April 28, 2020. GERGELY BESENYEI / AFP.


Hungary announced Thursday that open-air restaurants and beaches outside the capital would be allowed to reopen next week as it eases its coronavirus restrictions.

But wearing a mask on public transport and in shops will be mandatory.

Neighbouring Slovenia also said outdoor spaces of restaurants and bars would be allowed to reopen from Monday, as long as they ensured safe distances between guests, while some school classes would resume from mid-May.

The lockdown will remain in place in Budapest, which has suffered about 70 percent of Hungary’s more than 2,700 COVID-19 declared infections, said Gergely Gulyas, a minister in Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s cabinet.

Nationwide, elderly people are advised to keep staying at home, but outside Budapest, stores, open-air museums and outdoor spaces of restaurants and hotels, and beaches and baths can all reopen from Monday.

It will be mandatory to wear a mask on public transport and in shops and keep a distance of 1.5 metres (six feet) from other people.

“We can try to restart life in Hungary, but we have to act gradually and on a strict schedule,” Orban said in a video message on Facebook late Wednesday.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Cases In Russia Surge Past 100,000

Testing will be stepped up, while schools will remain closed throughout May, and events of more than 500 people are banned until at least August 15, Gulyas said.

In Slovenia, kindergartens and school classes for younger, as well as final-year students will resume from May 18, while others may not be able to go back until the next school year starts in September.

But an inter-municipality travel ban has been lifted with immediate effect, according to government speaker Jelko Kacin.

Training for professional sports in both Hungary and Slovenia can restart from Monday.

Libraries and museums are also expected to largely reopen on Monday in Slovenia, together with hairdressers and stores of up to 400 square metres.

The small Alpine country of two million people has reported more than 1,400 novel coronavirus cases and 91 deaths.

Hungary, which has a population of nearly 10 million people, has reported 312 deaths.

Orban drew criticism at home and abroad last month when his government passed a law granting him powers to rule by decree without a fixed time limit to fight the pandemic.

Budapest has been run by a liberal mayor who is not from Orban’s nationalist party since last year.


‘I Am Very Proud Of You’, Buhari Congratulates Golden Eaglets

President Muhammadu Buhari at a meeting with APC governors at the State House in Abuja on September 13, 2019.


President Muhammadu Buhari has congratulated the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria for a fantastic beginning in the group opening match of FIFA World Cup Brazil 2019.

Nigeria Under-17 football team opened Brazil 2019 with a 4-2 win over Hungary, signaling their readiness to win the FIFA Championship for an unprecedented sixth time.

In a message to the team after the spectacular performance on Saturday night, President Buhari praised the boys for the determination to excel which they displayed throughout the match despite the brilliant performance of their opponents.

“It was a wonderful display that I am very proud of. You showed that there is nothing that cannot be achieved with determination and perseverance.

“I have followed your journey leading to your arrival in Brazil for the competition. I have equally noted your determination and confidence throughout your preparations.

“I have no doubt in my mind that you are determined to win the competition for an unparalleled sixth time,” the president said in a statement signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu.

Read Also: Nigeria Beat Hungary 4-2 In FIFA U17 World Cup

Speaking further, he assured them of his continuing personal support and that of Nigerians for the entire period of the tournament.

The President also urged the team to continue demonstrating the resilient spirit of the Nigerian, and bring the cup home, adding that he will personally be monitoring their progress in the tournament.

President Buhari equally congratulated the handlers of the team, urging them to be sensitive to the needs of the youngsters in their burning desire to bring victory and honour to their fatherland.

Nigeria Beat Hungary 4-2 In FIFA U17 World Cup


The Golden Eaglets of Nigeria have begun their campaign for a record sixth title at the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup on a winning note.

The five-time champions fought from a goal down to beat Hungary 4-2 in their opening Group B game played at the Olympic Stadium in Goiana.

Hungary looked to be holding on to their 2-1 lead from the first half before Usman Ibrahim drew Nigeria level in the 79th minute.

Oluwatimilehin Adeniyi put the Eaglets in front for the very first time when he nodded home from the far post.

Skipper, Samson Tijani, completed a superb comeback with a wonderfully crafted free-kick five minutes from time.

The Golden Eaglets will face Ecuador on Tuesday, October 29 in the same venue.

Seven Dead, 21 Missing As Budapest Tourist Boat Sinks In Hungary

A Diver and technical teams are seen in a boat on the Danube river on May 30, 2019, in Budapest during the operations to pull out of the water the “Mermaid” sightseeing boat that sank overnight after colliding with a larger vessel in the pouring rain. / AFP


Seven South Korean tourists died and 21 others were missing after a sightseeing boat capsized and sank on the Danube in Budapest, Hungarian and South Korean officials said Thursday.

The accident happened near the parliament building in the heart of the Hungarian capital after a collision with a larger river cruise boat during torrential rain at around 09:15 pm (1915 GMT) on Wednesday, according to officials.

A total of 33 South Koreans were on board, Seoul’s foreign ministry said, confirming the seven dead were Korean.

The 26-metre tourist boat, called the “Mermaid,” was also carrying two Hungarian crew members.

“Our services have recorded the death of seven people,” Pal Gyorfi, a spokesman for Hungarian emergency services, said early Thursday morning.

“Seven people have been taken to hospital in a stable condition with hypothermia and shock symptoms,” Gyorfi added.

“A further 21 people are missing,” a Hungarian police spokesman Kristof Gal told AFP.

“Police are searching the river throughout the entire length of the Danube in Hungary south of where the incident took place,” he said.

Local media reported that one of the bodies was found several kilometres south of the collision location, although Gal declined to confirm.

The temperature of the river water is between 10 and 15 degrees, according to local media.

The search for the missing with the help of divers and police shining lights continued through the night, said an AFP photographer at the scene.

A film crew working from a bridge south of the accident site also used reflector lights to help light up the water through the gloom and pouring rain, reported local media.

Heavy rainfall since the beginning of May has led to high water levels and a fast-moving river current, complicating rescue efforts.

The accident happened on a popular part of the Danube river for pleasure trips, from where passengers can view the city and parliament building illuminated at night.

The boat was regularly serviced and had no apparent technical faults, Mihaly Toth, a spokesman for Panorama Deck that owned the vessel, told the Hungarian news agency MTI.

“It was a routine sightseeing trip,” said Toth.

“We know nothing about how it happened, the authorities are investigating, all we know is that it sank quickly,” he said.

An eye-witness told the news-site that the Mermaid, which could hold 60 people on board, had been hit from behind by a large cruise boat.

Web camera footage from a hotel rooftop posted on local news-sites appeared to show the bigger boat colliding with the Mermaid.

The wreckage of the Mermaid was found on the riverbed after several hours of searching near the Margaret Bridge, one of the main bridges connecting the two parts of the Hungarian capital, local media said.

Access to the river has been blocked by the authorities, according to public television.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in instructed the government to “deploy all available resources” for the rescue, the presidential office said.

Seoul planned to send a team of 18 officials to assist the Hungarian authorities in Budapest, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

Embassy staff have also been assisting the emergency services in the identification of victims.

The Hungarian interior and health ministers visited the scene to express condolences to the families of the victims.

EURO 2020 Qualifier: Croatia Slump To Hungary Defeat

Croatia’s forward Ante Rebic (L) vies with Hungary’s defender Tamas Kadar during the UEFA Euro 2020 football 1st round Groupe E qualification match between Hungary and Croatia on March 24, 2019 in Budapest.


World Cup finalists Croatia slipped to a 2-1 defeat to Hungary in a Euro 2020 Group E qualifier on Sunday when Mate Patkai notched a 76th minute winner in Budapest.

Croatia had struggled against Azerbaijan in their opening qualifier last Thursday before escaping with a 2-1 win, but they made the perfect start in the Hungarian capital when Ante Rebic put them ahead on 13 minutes.

READ ALSO: Reus Calls For Patience From Fans As Germany Battle Netherland

But Hungary pulled level through Adam Szalai’s fifth goal in as many games and with a quarter of an hour left, 31-year-old Patkai scored his first international goal to pull off a famous victory.


Hungary PM Hails ‘Icon’ Trump’s Isolationist UN Speech

File photo of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban  Christof STACHE / AFP

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban hailed Friday US President Donald Trump’s isolationist speech at the United Nations as marking a welcome end to American interference in other countries’ affairs.

In a robust address to the UN General Assembly, Trump denounced Tuesday a “globalist” view of the world and signaled his commitment to following an “America First” foreign policy.

“In the last few decades the US took on some kind of role of making the world better than in fact was contrary to American interests, that’s what President Trump spoke about,” Orban said on Hungarian public radio.

The leader of the world’s most powerful country had now “declared the end of that policy,” according to the Hungarian premier, one of Trump’s biggest supporters in Europe.

Under previous administrations, the “US thought it knows what is good, moral, just, and how the world should be, but we felt that… it wanted to impose its will on the whole world, for example on Hungary too,” Orban said.

Trump’s approach means the US can now be viewed differently, the prime minister added.

“We don’t have to defend ourselves against it, or its incompetent attempts to wield cultural influence, but rather can now try to build a partnership on the basis of interests.”

The fiercely nationalist Orban was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Trump after his shock election victory in 2016 and has regularly praised the US leader’s immigration and security policies.

Trump is increasingly regarded globally as “a phenomenon, an icon… someone who represents something much more than himself,” he said Friday.

After coming to power in 2010, the maverick Hungarian was often accused by Washington of steering his country away from democratic norms.

Former President Barack Obama and Trump’s defeated election rival Hillary Clinton both warned Hungary against clamping down on the judiciary, press, and civil society organizations.

Orban said Friday that US policy towards Hungary in recent decades had often been “unfavorable”.

“I suffered so much with (Clinton) that I cannot even tell you,” he said.


Hungary To Mount Legal Challenge To ‘Invalid’ EU Vote


(FILE) Photos of the European Parliament




Hungary said Thursday a European Parliament vote to launch an action that could ultimately strip Budapest of its EU voting rights was “invalid” and vowed to mount a legal challenge.

Adopted by 448 votes for to 197 against and with 48 abstentions, the motion in Strasbourg on Wednesday marked the first time the parliament has initiated steps under Article Seven of the European Union’s treaty. An earlier action against Poland was initiated by the EU executive.

But Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas claimed that the motion did not receive enough support as only the votes cast for or against were taken into account.

“Abstentions should have been counted in the vote, but were not, thus the report failed to get the two-thirds majority necessary to carry,” Gulyas told reporters in Budapest after a government meeting.

“Hence the government is taking the necessary measures,…and will decide Monday on concrete legal steps,” said Gulyas.

The “most likely” option is a challenge of the result’s validity at the European Court of Justice, he added.

Other EU governments could halt any further action, however, and Poland has warned it would do so.

“If it comes to the discussion in the Council, we will be against it. We will veto the decision if it comes to the sanctions,” Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said.

“I think that the EU is trying to exert pressure on countries of our region and we have to demonstrate solidarity in this case,” Czaputowicz added.

When asked about the relevant procedure earlier this week the European Parliament’s legal service said that traditionally abstentions had not counted as votes cast.

A government document seen by AFP Thursday that lays out Budapest’s legal opinion on the issue said that the vote’s result was “a serious and manifest breach of essential procedural rules”.

“Therefore the resolution adopted is deemed to be legally non-existent or void,” it said.

Hungary’s ambassador to the EU has also sent a letter to the parliament’s secretary-general raising the same points.

Wednesday’s vote in Strasbourg was based on a report that voiced concerns about judicial independence and corruption in Hungary, as well as freedom of expression, academic freedom, religious freedom, and the rights of minorities and refugees.

Gulyas said the government firmly denied all of the concerns listed in the report, which was written by Dutch Green MEP Judith Sargentini.

The result triggers the launch of Article Seven, known by some in Brussels as the “nuclear option”, which could remove Hungary’s EU voting rights


Hamilton Wins In Hungary To Build Championship Lead

Mercedes’ British driver Lewis Hamilton reacts ahead of the Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix race at the Hungaroring circuit in Mogyorod near Budapest, Hungary, on July 29, 2018. Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP


Lewis Hamilton strengthened his push for a fifth world title by increasing his championship lead to 24 points on Sunday as he claimed a convincing victory for Mercedes in the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The defending world champion came home 17.123 seconds ahead of title rival and fellow four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari after the German had survived a collision with Valtteri Bottas, in the second Mercedes.

That came on lap 65, of the 70, when Vettel finally passed Bottas, the Finn’s right front wing touching his rear left tyre under braking, wrecking Mercedes’ hopes of a one-two finish.

Kimi Raikkonen finished third, his fifth podium finish in a row, in the second Ferrari ahead of Daniel Ricciardo who surged from 12th on the grid to fourth for Red Bull ahead of Bottas, who finished fifth after a late pit stop.

It was Hamilton’s record sixth win in Hungary, his fifth this season and the 67th of his career.

“We came here knowing that the Ferrari would be really quick this weekend,” said Hamilton. “But to come out with these points, we’ll definitely take as a bonus. What a beautiful day and a great crowd – and a great job from the team.”

Hamilton now has 213 points to Vettel’s 189 after the 12th of 21 races this year and before the championship takes a European summer break.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly came home sixth for Toro Rosso ahead of Kevin Magnussen of Haas, Fernando Alonso of McLaren, on his 37th birthday, fellow-Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso and Romain Grosjean in the second Haas.

“P2 is not what we really wanted, but the maximum we could get today,” said Vettel.

The race, preceded by a minute’s silence for former Ferrari boss Sergio Marchionne, began in sweltering conditions with a track temperature of 57 degrees Celsius and air at 34.

After Saturday’s rain-lashed qualifying, the teams had a free choice of tyres, which saw Ferrari split their strategy – Vettel, like Sainz, choosing softs, while Raikkonen and the rest started on ultra-softs.

Verstappen forced out 

The Mercedes men made perfect getaways, Hamilton streaking clear and Bottas staying close to resist attacks as Vettel swept inside into third.

Verstappen, who had moved up to fifth, made an early exit, his Renault engine grumbling into retirement on lap six.

After one lap under Virtual Safety Car (VSC) conditions, Hamilton resumed his charge. He was 4.5 seconds clear of Bottas by lap 10 and 5.7 by lap 14 when Raikkonen pitted, followed immediately by Bottas, both switching to softs.

This left Vettel in pursuit of Hamilton, but despite some swift laps, he remained seven seconds adrift of Hamilton before the champion pitted after 25 laps. He rejoined second between the German and Bottas.

In clear air, Vettel pushed to extend his lead to more than 12 seconds by lap 36, with Bottas further adrift and, in turn, ahead of Raikkonen by just 1.2 seconds.

Held by traffic and still on his original worn softs, Vettel began to struggle and his lead tumbled to 9.5sec by lap 39 when he pitted. A slow stop cost him two seconds and he emerged third behind Bottas.

Raikkonen had pitted a lap earlier, falling to fifth behind Ricciardo, who had yet to stop. For Ferrari, it was not an encouraging position given their raw speed advantage in practice. The Australian pitted, finally, after 44 laps, switching to ultras.

By lap 45, Hamilton led Bottas by 10 seconds with Vettel a further three seconds adrift and making little impact, despite fresher tyres.

On lap 51, Stoffel Vandoorne slowed and retired from an encouraging ninth at Turn One. A VSC was deployed. On resumption, Vettel closed to within a second of Bottas, but despite tyres that were 24 laps younger, he was unable to find a pass as Raikkonen closed in.

For Hamilton, it was a dream scenario and, with 10 laps to go, he was 18 seconds clear of the unyielding Bottas, who had both Ferraris bottled up behind him, within a second, until Vettel lunged by with five laps to go.