With momentum on his side, Red Bull’s Verstappen could win his third race of the season in Hungary

The 21-year-old won his team’s home race in Austria at the end of June and then triumphed again in a chaotic and rain-hit thriller in Germany last Sunday.

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Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB15 on track during practice for the F1 Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring.
By Abhishek Takle

It would have been difficult to imagine any team getting two wins from three races in a season dominated by Mercedes, the reigning champions. But Max Verstappen could well make it three wins from four races for Red Bull at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

The 21-year-old won his team’s home race in Austria at the end of June and then triumphed again in a chaotic and rain-hit thriller in Germany last Sunday.

His Hockenheim high has certainly put a spring in his step, but the Dutchman would have been a contender for a Hungarian repeat even without the momentum given him by his German success.

“It’s certainly started to come together over the last few races,” Verstappen’s Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, who has hailed the 21-year-old as the best driver on the grid, better even than five-time champion Lewis Hamilton, told reporters on Friday.

“The win in Austria was a watershed moment, we were competitive at Silverstone, and obviously the race, the excitement of last weekend was a phenomenal performance by him, to keep his head, to have the pace in all varying conditions, and come out on top and win the grand prix.

“So, yeah, he’s in great form and you know, hopefully we can continue that form into the summer break and out of the other side as well.

“He’s certainly delivering at an extremely high level.”

The 4.3-kilometer long Hungaroring track, located on the outskirts of Hungarian capital Budapest, has traditionally been one of Red Bull’s stronger tracks, with its tight and twisting layout, often described as Monaco without the walls, playing to the strengths of the nimble Adrian Newey-designed cars.

The former champions scored only their second win of the turbo-hybrid era here in 2014 during a year of struggle when they were powered by Renault.

Now running Honda engines, the team has a much stronger chassis while Verstappen, who hasn’t finished outside the top-five all year, is in the form of his life.

Still, feet already back on the ground after his Hockenheim triumph, the son of former racer Jos was quick to play down expectations.

“I don’t think we are favourites, but we’ll try to do a good job,” Verstappen told reporters on Thursday.

“Mercedes have been the most dominant so far this season, after last weekend, I’m sure they will come here trying to bounce back from that.

“We know they have a good car. “We need to make sure we have a good set up in the car, and then hopefully we can be close to them.”

Mercedes endured a dismal home race at the Hockenheim.

Celebrating 125 years of motorsport involvement with a special livery and one-off team-kit, the Brackley-based squad found little to raise a toast to.

Valtteri Bottas crashed out.

Hamilton, laid low by a bug, could finish no better than 11th, the Briton eventually moving up to ninth at the expense of Alfa Romeo drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi who were demoted by post-race penalties. Winners of nine of this season’s 11 races, they go into the weekend determined to hit back and restore their dominance.

Hungary has generally not been among the team’s stronger tracks. But that could change this year with their challenger stronger through the corners than on the straights.

“It was just a difficult weekend and these things happen,” said Hamilton, who put in an uncharacteristically error-riddle performance that included a smashed front wing, a penalty of a pitlane offence and a spin, of the race in Hockenheim.

“But there was a multitude of things that contributed to it.

“But the team has always reunited and come together and had very, very open and honest discussions,” added the Briton who took a record sixth win in Hungary last year.

Ferrari can also boast a strong recent run of form in Hungary, with the Maranello-based team winning two of the last four races, including scoring a one-two finish in 2017.

The last race in Hockenheim, where they appeared to be in the fight for pole until two unrelated power unit penalties sidelined Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc from qualifying, suggested they have made up ground on Mercedes.

Still hunting for their first win of the season, a victory in Hungary would come as welcome relief heading into Formula One’s monthlong summer break, even if their car, stronger through the corners last year, is now better suited to straights.

“I think we’ve made progress over the past few races,” said Vettel, who went from dead last to second in Germany.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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