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Hamilton’s iron grip on Hungary
After three races of the 2020 Formula 1 campaign, it appears as if business for the moment at least is very much usual for Mercedes with three wins on the bounce. Not least for Lewis Hamilton, who has emphatically bounced back from being penalised in Austria on opening weekend with successive victories.
Indeed, his annual jaunt to Budapest is proving to be quite the enjoyable one for the 35-year-old, as after the Briton claimed an historic 90th pole, then won his third successive race and took a remarkable eighth chequered flag at the Hungaroring – now double the tally of Michael Schumacher, whose history he chases this season.
Locking out the front-row on Saturday with teammate Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton romped home from lights out – after negotiating an early greasy track – as Bottas came home in third, with Max Vestappen as the Mercedes sandwich filler in runners-up spot.
As race day threatened to turn the Hungarian GP into something of a lottery, the storm clouds by and large drifted past however, allowing Hamilton to be at his dominant best.
Having won in his rookie year with McLaren here thirteen years ago and having picked up his very first win for Mercedes on the same circuit in 2013, the Briton – like at many other venues across the F1 calendar – has not relinquished his vice-like grip on the Hungaroring yet, and will take some shifting.
Pieces falling for Briton?
Heading toward double duty at Silverstone in two weeks’ time, Hamilton once more holds an early World Drivers’ Championship lead of five points, but with a thirty-point gap over Verstappen in the standings.
After the Dutchman’s freak formation lap incident that saw both front wing and suspension damage to his car, Bottas then also suffered a jump start that saw the Finn endure a nightmare start in Hungary in tandem. So, are the pieces falling into place for Hamilton’s dash to immortality?
For the moment, Ferrari seem more consumed by in-house problems as Scuderia prepare for post-Vettel era next season, and while the chasing pack are now growing in potential, Hamilton is still a class of his own.
Should greater fortune come his way for the British GP and 70th Anniversary double on home tarmac next month, Hamilton could be looking at a 19-plus-points advantage with five races down.
Posers for Red Bull
For Red Bull meanwhile, though Verstappen may have bounced back from retirement in Round 1 with a third and second finish in the last two races, another top five finish for Alex Albon rather belied his struggles after qualification, again playing relentless catch-up throughout the weekend.
Picking up 18 points after his car was barely race-able after damage, Verstappen’s latest drive of heroism would have been a tonic for Team Principal Christian Horner, however after pre-season hopes of being able to compete with Mercedes on a consistent bass, Red Bull have questions to answer.
Hungary greatly exposed the Austrian manufacturer’s shortcomings and as their number one admitted to BBC Sport even before Sunday’s race, Verstappen acknowledges both his and their car are still falling short:
“We just don’t have a good balance through the corner. Understeer, oversteer, lack of grip. Not having a lot of top speed as well. Everything together just makes us slow.
Clearly so far this year it has not been the easiest car to drive. A car is never easy to drive, because if you drive it on the limit it is always going to be easy to spin or lock up. But this one, as soon as you get to that point when you are close to having a moment, it just goes. It’s not easy to catch.”
Lance no longer on ‘Stroll’
The opening three races of the season for Racing Point has been something of a passage of evolution for the ‘Pink Mercedes’, and Lance Stroll in particular has capitalised on the manufacturer’s greater performance – leaving behind months of F1 frustration in the dust.
Taking fourth spot in Hungary, the Canadian – whose father Lawrence owns RP F1 – took up an early passenger seat to Hamilton off the grid on Sunday, before being caught as a result of a double tyre change and both Mercedes and Red Bull’s superior engine.
Stroll however, can be mighty pleased with his early-season form and together with his number two Sergio Perez are building the foundations to challenge for podium places in their second season together.
Exchanging fourth and seven finishes over the past fortnight, the 21-year-old Montreal native has moved on from his enforced retirement in the Austrian GP, and after qualifying third this weekend in Hungary has hinted at more to come.
After a string of DNFs last term, Racing Point are now are giving one of F1’s fastest-developing drivers the platform to make waves this season. Stroll is no longer making up the numbers, that is for certain.
As F1 goes into into its first week off since the season began, one particular corner of Northamptonshire is readying itself for a frenzy of socially-distanced activity as Silverstone hosts Round 4 and 5 of the campaign beginning in 11 days.
Whilst the British Grand Prix keeps its’ place as one of the jewels of the British sporting crown, its’ celebratory 70th running the weekend after will again test the paddock’s growing reliability issues.
Often characterised by tents, hot dogs and swathes of mud, Silverstone will look a very different venue for racers in the coming fortnight, and car performance will be as certain as the British summer weather.
Though Hamilton will be eyeing the chance for an unprecedented and glorious two weeks, even the Mercedes has struggled in the cooler conditions in recent years. That and the yet-untested off period for all the teams involved, will give hope for two weekends of of greatly unpredictable and thrilling sport to come.
The 2020 British Grand Prix takes place at Silverstone between 31 July and 2 August.
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