As Formula 1 closes for the usual summer break after a 13-race run from mid-March to the end of July, Max Verstappen must be wondering what all the fuss is about. New regulations designed to tighten the pack? Nine out of 10 podiums in a row suggest otherwise.
Last year’s controversial world champion is sailing for a title this year in a race that doesn’t have much of a cause. With the aura of a man on cruise control in the cockpit and a circus off the track, the two-time world champion is not far from anointed.
While the actions of the challengers around him only helped to facilitate rather than hinder his tenth-to-first triumph, Sunday in Budapest was the move of the year so far, taking victory by eight seconds, which, with no late sprinkles. rain, it would be bigger. A fearsome combination of flawless strategies and complex overtaking maneuvers – alongside impressive control of his Red Bull during an impressive 360 – saw the 24-year-old extend his Championship lead to 80 points with nine races remaining.
Insurmountable? Almost certainly.
The Hungaroring was not meant to suit Red Bull, so the build-up said. And indeed, an action-packed qualifying session saw the constructors’ leaders drop to a lowly P10 and P11, giving rare moments in the sun to Mercedes and Ferrari at the top. But amid a 70-lap battle where tactics trumped skill behind the wheel, chief strategist Hannah Schimtz’s decisions were spot on to a tee as Red Bull thrived while the front of the pack faltered.
That might be harsh on Mercedes, who were slow to react to Verstappen’s initial undercut on Hamilton, but then recovered to see off their all-British duo for a second consecutive double podium. As for Ferrari? Deja Vu.
Somehow with the fastest car of the lot this year, the Scuderia finds itself a mammoth 96 points off the pace heading into August. In fact, team manager Mattia Binotto better start looking over both shoulders. While in one way the nearest competitor has now switched to Mercedes who are just 30 points behind, in another the under pressure Italian may want to start looking closer to home.
His post-race defense of the strategy team alongside him was admirable, instead focusing on the car’s stunning lack of performance but fooling no one. Only at work three years, if he does not make a change soon, the change may greet him sooner.
Here’s a simple fact that sums it up pretty well: with his second place in Hungary, Lewis Hamilton secured his sixth podium of the season. However, without a win, the seven-time world champion remains sixth in the drivers’ standings. And yet, the Brit now has more podiums than Charles Leclerc’s five, such was the misfortune and impulsiveness of the Monegasque.
This time, the man tasked with guiding Ferrari to a first World Championship in 15 years received no favors from his colleagues on the pit wall. Comfortable on a set of medium tyres, the Scuderia inexplicably dropped Leclerc onto a hard compound tire that was already faulted in the Alps. Leclerc’s subsequent lapses were inevitable as he fell to Verstappen, before a forced pit stop brought him back to sixth.
Then in the pen, Leclerc had the veneer of a beaten man written all over his face, the sheer frustration of the previous two hours. Ten races after taking a 34-point lead after the Australian Grand Prix, Leclerc can concede the Championship now – and he may have to start resetting his aim to consolidate second place.
Because that is under threat from a Mercedes team who are surprisingly reveling as this season unfolds, relishing the unusual role of the chaser. Dominant for eight consecutive years, a ninth constructors’ crown will not follow in 2022.
But Toto Wolff – particularly after Russell’s maiden pole position on Saturday, the team’s first of the season – appears to have rediscovered his mojo, entering the media with a smile that the Formula 1 world has become accustomed to, in stark contrast. to the displeasure of the “seal age”.
Hamilton, too, seems to have regained his love for racing. Certainly, results are the main trigger – although a win still refers him to 16u season – but even in his interviews, the Brit is focused on accepting the card he’s been dealt and bringing it. Every week, essentially, W13 takes a step forward in correlation.
As for the rest of the pack, McLaren’s battle with Alpine for fourth place is perhaps the biggest source of on-track entertainment amid changes that come with news on Monday that Fernando Alonso will replace Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin on next season. Lando Norris continues to be the best of the rest, placing himself firmly in the top six, only for McLaren’s racing pace to abandon any hope of retaining track position. The popular Brit continues to maximize all the car’s potential to his credit. but a first Formula 1 victory is no closer to fruition.
However, as 20 on the grid and hundreds in the garage dust off their trunks and head for a well-earned recovery period, the unflappable Verstappen is the man of the moment and the champion in waiting. His reputation and maturity has never been higher. his consistency and calmness never more apparent. With home games in Belgium and the Netherlands first up after the break, the chasers will have to tweak their targets. It is no longer a matter of who for the 2022 top spot, but rather when.