From the Austrian Red Bull Ring to the Hungarian Hungaroring, F1 is traveling this weekend on a circuit where Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes are used to shining.
“A great way to bounce back.” This is how last Sunday Lewis Hamilton commented on his victory over the Red Bull Ring. After coming back inside a fortnight ago in Austria, sanctioned by two penalties and only a fourth place, the Briton set the record straight the following week by offering himself with ease pole position and success on a circuit which , however, is not one of his favorites. On the Budapest Hungaroring, however, it’s a whole different story. Since his debut in 2007 (thirteen seasons), the six-time world champion has won there seven times – a record – and has signed six poles. Only Michael Schumacher did better with seven leading positions, but this is another record from German legend that the Mercedes driver is aiming for this year: that of seven world titles.
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Hence the enthusiasm of the British to the idea of chaining a third grand prize in three weeks. “I love these races which are linked together every weekend, we could do the whole championship like that.” A continuity that the six-time world champion would also like to see with regard to the fight against racism, even if he wonders: “What to do next?” I really do not know. I learn, like all of you. All I can say is that it’s not over. Getting down on the knee before the start of a race, having a black car, that doesn’t solve the problem. It helps to keep awareness, but we have a whole season, a whole year ahead of us, and for me, it’s a constant battle to fight. ” A fight that is close to his heart.
Winner of the first Grand Prix in 2020 and second in the following, his Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas occupies first place in the championship, with six points ahead, but the paddock almost unanimously expects to see this situation quickly reversed after the third round of the season, still run behind closed doors because of the new coronavirus pandemic. While waiting to yield or not, his throne, the Finn enjoys his excellent start to the season, which should allow him very quickly to extend his lease with Mercedes in 2021. Toto Wolff would be in a hurry to see this file come to fruition so that he can then devote himself Hamilton’s thorny contract extension.
Max Verstappen seeks speed
To stand on the road of the Briton, it will also count on Max Verstappen, even if the Dutchman estimated at the end of the two Austrian races that his Red Bull was “just not fast enough” to beat the Mercedes. On a route that uses aerodynamic downforce more than engine power, can the outcome be different? It is in any case here that Verstappen offered his first pole position in F1 last year, before being beaten in the race by Hamilton on a strategic stroke. Another strong image of the last GP of Styria, much less glorious, however, than the arch-dominance of Hamilton: the clash from the first lap between the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel.
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After receiving an apology from his Monegasque teammate, the German assured that the two were “mature enough” to put the incident behind them. Even if they succeed, the Scuderia has not left the inn: especially in qualifying, its SF1000 is outdistanced not only by Mercedes and Red Bull but also by Racing Point, McLaren and Renault. “We know that the performance level of our car is not up to our expectations or those of our fans,” admits the main team Mattia Binotto. But we are working very hard at all levels to progress as quickly as possible. ” This is essential so that Leclerc’s second place during an inaugural GP enamelled with abandonment does not remain exceptional.
Beware of fatigue
Fatigue, finally, could make the difference this weekend. Not so much that of the pilots but that of their teams, on the bridge for almost three weeks. The first “triple header” (three races in as many weeks) in the history of F1 in the summer of 2018 had left the staff of the teams bloodless, but it was another time. The season had started several months ago and it had been necessary to swallow many kilometers between France, Austria and Great Britain. This time, the championship started more than three months late due to the Covid-19 and only 400km separate the Red Bull Ring from the Hungaroring. A distance which should not pose any problem to Mercedes, already firmly installed at the head of all els classifications.