Eight points is all that separates Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton at the top of the F1 drivers’ championship as the title duel between the two drivers rolls into the Hungaroring for this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. The sport hasn’t witnessed a contest like this for years, since Nico Rosberg went toe-to-toe (and wheel-to-wheel) with Hamilton in 2016 and won.
— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) July 30, 2021
The duel between Hamilton and Verstappen that is unfolding in 2021 is also starting to gain some of the same heat. Just like Rosberg, Verstappen is unwilling to play second fiddle to Hamilton and has the natural aggression to match that of the seven-time world champion, as demonstrated by what happened at the British Grand Prix.
Red Bull are still unhappy about the incident which saw Verstappen’s race end in the opening lap at Silverstone, with Christian Horner protesting that Hamilton’s punishment for forcing his driver off the track was too lenient. The 10-second time penalty didn’t stop the Brit from recovering to take the chequered flag.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 27, 2021
The upgrades Mercedes made for the British Grand Prix appear to have made a difference, with the Silver Arrows much more competitive against the two Red Bulls of Verstappen and Sergio Perez. Having won the last three F1 races at the Hungaroring, Hamilton will be confident of backing up his Silverstone victory with another good showing.
Sunday, and Saturday qualifying before that, will be another test of Verstappen’s title credentials. The Dutchman has the technical ability to win a world championship, but he is still capable of letting his youthful exuberance get the better of him. A composed performance in Hungary would be proof that Verstappen has the maturity to go all the way.
Ferrari can be satisfied with their performance at the British Grand Prix, where Charles Leclerc finished second after leading much of the race. The Scuderia were also strong at their last high downforce race in Monaco, where Leclerc took pole and Carlos Sainz finished second, and so the Hungaroring could suit them.
“I mean it’s good to be an optimist, and I think we all want to be an optimist after such a good performance in the last three races to be honest,” Leclerc said after his second-place finish at Silverstone.
“We are in a good mood, but I feel like going for the win in Budapest might be a bit optimistic. So realistically I think I will be happy if we are just behind the two top teams.”
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) July 29, 2021
Leclerc is wise to be primarily concerned by the midfield fight with McLaren who have brought online some significant car upgrades for this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. Lando Norris continues to enjoy an impressive 2021 season while Daniel Ricciardo finally looks to be getting to grips with his new MCL35M car following the off-season switch from Renault.
Norris currently sits in third place in the drivers’ championship having finished in the top five in all but one race this season and there is a feeling that the 21-year-old has reached another level in his development in 2021. With a competitive car beneath him, Norris is surely targeting a race victory at some point this year.
After a difficult start to the season, there is a sense that Valtteri Bottas is finally starting to find some consistency in his race form. Indeed, the Finn has finished on the podium in each of his last three races and is doing his bit for Mercedes in their constructors’ championship contest against Red Bull.
Perez was doing similar for Red Bull, but after winning in Azerbaijan the Mexican driver has struggled for podium finishes, crossing the line in a lowly 16th place at Silverstone. Red Bull abandoned their usual second seat strategy to hire Perez to deliver regular points as a steady hand, but the 31-year-old has been somewhat erratic in 2021 so far. Horner, one of the most demanding team principals around, will want more from him in Hungary.
Mercedes expect a response from Red Bull after their poor showing at Silverstone. “Red Bull are going to be good at a high-downforce circuit – frankly they’re going to be good at every circuit at the moment – and they’re going to be a bit bruised after the experience here,” said Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin.
“So I’m sure they’re going to come back really strong.”
These remarks follow a consistent pattern for Mercedes in 2021, with Toto Wolff, Hamilton and the rest of the Silver Arrows staff quick to play down their chances of success. However, the winning mentality was been evident in the fight they put up at the British Grand Prix. Mercedes know they have a real fight on their hands, but it’s a fight they still believe they can win.
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) July 29, 2021
With Wolff recently revealing that he will make a decision on Bottas’ future in the summer break, with Hamilton already tied down for a further two years, these are critical races for George Russell, who is the favourite to take the second seat at Mercedes for next season. The 23-year-old once again excelled in qualifying at Silverstone, but is still searching for his first points in a Williams.
This, therefore, could be Russell’s last chance to impress Wolff, who he already appears to have established a level of trust with as a Mercedes-contracted driver. After this, the 10 team principals will have three weeks alone with their thoughts and Wolff will have plenty to consider between the Hungarian Grand Prix and Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August.
2021’s predominant storylines are now established, with the title duel between Hamilton and Verstappen the sort of contest F1 has longed to see for years. Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix will be another must-watch event, just as the British Grand Prix was. Hamilton kept his title chances alive by winning at Silverstone, but Verstappen is still the bookies’ favourite and can reassert himself with revenge of some sort at the Hungaroring.