The Hungarian Grand Prix on Aug. 1 is the last race on the Formula 1 schedule until the Belgian GP on Aug. 29. Given what happened the last time Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen appeared on a track together, motorsports fans may need those four weeks to catch their breath.
The first 30 seconds of action from Hungaroring will capture international television interest on a par with the night the cast of Dallas told us who shot J.R.
Lewis Hamilton vs. Max Verstappen is must-see TV
The Formula 1 drivers went through the formality of racing for nearly two more hours, but last week’s British GP ended for all practical purposes on the opening lap as Hamilton and Verstappen collided while battling for the lead. Verstappen crashed hard into the barriers, but Hamilton continued on and triumphed to break the Dutchman’s three-race winning streak.
Radio chatter was intense, as was the lobbying of race stewards by the respective teams. Hamilton supporters faulted Verstappen on social media, and Verstappen’s fans assailed Hamilton. The stewards ultimately assessed Hamilton a 10-second penalty for his part in the incident, but he still held off Charles Leclerc by 3.8 seconds at the checkered flag.
The drama cut Verstappen’s lead in the season standings to 185-177, putting the English star back in contention for a potential eighth series championship, breaking a tie with Michael Schumacher.
There may be 18 other drivers in the series, but the season thus far has been about Hamilton vs. Verstappen. Nothing figures to change between now and Abu Dhabi on Dec. 12.
Red Bull has been cutting into the Mercedes advantage
The classic Formula 1 schedule calls for races every other Sunday during the season. Tearing down at one venue and setting up at another is a massive undertaking for the teams, and the technology grows more sophisticated every year. The drivers typically have some sponsor obligations and maintain a fitness routine in between races, but the ever-expanding technology also allows them to log seat time even when they are not sitting in the world’s most expensive racecars.
Today’s simulators offer drivers a feel for the twists and turns facing them in their next race. The equipment can interface with the actual in-car settings to the point that a driver can begin adjusting to the most subtle changes made in the vehicle’s setup.
Hamilton hasn’t had much use for the simulators during his time at Mercedes, for whom he has scored six of his seven season championships. He’s enormously talented behind the wheel, and Mercedes engineers have found horsepower that other teams have not been able to match.
That stopped being true this season. Verstappen and Red Bull have stormed to the forefront of the sport. And when Verstappen won both Austrian stops, Hamilton took notice.
Lewis Hamilton has been going to Formula 1 ‘Sunday’ school
With two weeks to prepare for the next race, at Silverstone in his native England, Hamilton availed himself of every advantage, and Mercedes team director Toto Wolff said that included spending more time in the simulator.
“Yes, the simulator wasn’t his most favorite tool in the past,” Wolff said, according to PlanetF1.com. “But I think we’ve developed it to a quite good level and made it best in class, and he’s started to see its benefits.
“This fight is so tough that you need to just grab every single marginal gain, and that’s why we’ve progressed together to better understand the car also with the tool of the simulator.”
Mercedes also tweaked Hamilton’s car. Wolff said there was no major overhaul, just various adjustments.
“But if you keep adding them up it can make a difference,” he said.
How much of what Wolff said is intended to deflect from the controversy of the previous race is open to debate. But the fact the Hamilton is back in contention for another championship makes Hungary and the 12 Formula 1 GPs that follow compelling viewing.