As the summer break nears and the silly season gets into full swing, Max Verstappen is the man of the moment while Mercedes will be looking to get things back on track at the Hungaroring. Here are the talking points as we head to the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix!
Max: man of the moment
Max Verstappen is very much the main star in Formula 1 at the moment, having won two of the last three Grands Prix. His wheel-to-wheel racing with Charles Leclerc in Austria was followed by his wet weather masterclass last weekend in Germany, both witnessed by huge numbers of Dutch fans in attendance. Verstappen is on an impressive 20-race streak of top five finishing positions, with last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix being the last time he failed to finish a race.
Despite his recent successes, Verstappen’s championship aspirations for 2019 have not ramped up, with him saying Mercedes are “miles ahead” and “still the dominant team”. But with Honda expected to continue improving throughout the season, is it too premature for Verstappen to write off his title chances? While a 63-point deficit to Lewis Hamilton is a large one to overcome, given his recent form it seems nothing is impossible. His 22-point gap to Valtteri Bottas for second place certainly seems more manageable.
Can Bottas save his Mercedes seat?
Arguably, Valtteri Bottas’ future with Mercedes has never looked as uncertain as it does now. At a crucial time in contract negotiations, Bottas crashed out of the German Grand Prix, losing what could have been a haul of 18 points in the title race.
Bottas’ seat is unconfirmed for 2020 and both parties were coy on negotiations ahead of the German Grand Prix. The Finn’s misdemeanours in Hockenheim surely won’t have helped his chances. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says a decision on next year’s line-up will be made in August at the earliest. The battle for the second Mercedes seat is widely expected to be between Bottas and Mercedes protégé Esteban Ocon.
Bottas will therefore be searching for a strong result at the Hungaroring, a circuit at which he has finished on the podium only once previously. Last year, his Hungarian Grand Prix weekend was curtailed by a series of late-race crashes with rivals Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo.
The Gasly/Kvyat dilemma
Another man under pressure for a 2020 seat is Pierre Gasly. The Red Bull driver’s tenure at the team came under even more scrutiny at the German Grand Prix, as he crashed out and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat secured a podium finish.
Is Kvyat’s current form persuasive enough for Red Bull to parachute him back into a Red Bull seat? The team say they’re sticking with Gasly until the end of the year, though his future beyond that is far from certain.
Gasly is the only driver on the 2019 grid with a 100% points-scoring record at the Hungarian Grand Prix, having finished an impressive sixth for Toro Rosso last season. He’ll be looking to impress again this weekend as Red Bull mull over his future.
Is Vettel back on form?
There could be an even more shocking twist in the 2020 driver market before too long, with Red Bull and Ferrari reportedly in negotiations for a driver swap between Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel.
Focussing on the present, Vettel appears to be back on form following an impressive drive from last on the grid to second at his home race. Despite their qualifying woes, the German Grand Prix appears to have given Ferrari a renewed sense of optimism, with Mattia Binotto believing that their first win of 2019 will come soon.
The Hungaroring may well be the place where the Scuderia’s 9-month win drought comes to an end. The team have run well here in recent seasons, with Vettel winning in both 2015 and 2017. They also looked like the team to beat at last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, until rain gave Mercedes the competitive edge. On the other side of the garage, Charles Leclerc will be looking to make up for recent missed opportunities, including crashing out at Hockenheim while being in contention for victory.
The summer break arrives
The halfway mark of the 2019 season has now passed and the Hungarian Grand Prix marks the last race before the annual summer break.
Last year, the driver market came to life during the summer break, with Daniel Ricciardo announcing that he would depart Red Bull for Renault. With recent paddock rumours rumbling, it seems that the silly season may step up a gear over the next few weeks. Something else to look out for over the coming weeks is the 2020 calendar. Last year, the calendar was revealed on the Friday of the Italian Grand Prix weekend; though we may not have to wait as long for 2020’s provisional dates.
Whatever happens off track, the teams and drivers will be hoping to head into the summer break on good terms with a strong result in the Hungarian Grand Prix. The season resumes with the Belgian Grand Prix on September 1.