The completion of the Hungarian Grand Prix will mark the halfway mark of this 22-race season, and the focus of attention is shifting.
Rather than wonder whether anyone can catch Red Bull Racing and in particular Max Verstappen — that ship has long sailed — the question now is whether this dominant partnership can go all the way.
At the start of a long season like this a victory clean sweep seems impossible. A few imperious performances in and it starts to look merely deeply improbable.
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But if you can sweep half the season, doing the same again suddenly seems entirely within reach.
The following sentence applies to every weekend this year: Verstappen and his RB19 should be well suited to this circuit.
Just as in Silverstone, that puts the team on the cusp of history.
McLaren holds the record for 11 straight victories by a constructor, set in 1988.
Red Bull Racing equalled that last time out, albeit the first win of its streak was last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
By definition victory this weekend will set a new record. If you want to be particularly specific, the team can at least equal the record for most consecutive wins in one season before taking a shot at the undisputed crown next weekend.
Either way we’re getting close to uncharted territory.
Verstappen also has his eye on Sebastian Vettel’s record for nine successive victories. He’s currently racked up six straight.
With an upgraded car this weekend at a circuit he won at last year despite starting 10th and spinning out of the lead with 29 laps to go, you’d be brave to bet on those streaks snapping this Sunday in Budapest.
WHAT WILL BE THE DYNAMIC AT ALPHATAURI?
Daniel Ricciardo was the talk of the paddock at the Hungarian Grand Prix, the first race since he announced his F1 comeback after 10 grands prix on the sidelines.
The Aussie says he’s targeting a return to Red Bull Racing by the end of his time at AlphaTauri, whether that’s 2025 or, potentially, next year if things go his way.
“That’s the dream, but there is no point in me thinking about that,” Ricciardo said.
“Everything I felt driving the [Red Bull] last week is what I want from racing — to be in the moment, enjoying it and not thinking too far ahead.
“I know the car is going to have some limitations, but I’ve got to do the best with what I’ve got.”
PIT TALK: Hype is building for Daniel Ricciardo‘s first race back in F1, but expectations remain low for his new AlphaTauri team. Subscribe in your favourite podcast app or watch on YouTube.
But less explored is the dynamic he’ll have with new teammate Yuki Tsunoda, who wants to be on the same trajectory by definition of being in the Red Bull junior program.
The adage is that the first person you must beat in motorsport is your teammate, so each driver’s main opponent is the other.
The Japanese driver played things cool when asked what it meant to be paired with a new teammate.
“It’s a challenge always,” he said. “In the end it doesn’t make much difference, Daniel or Nyck (De Vries) — whatever.
“I have to do the same thing I was doing to Nyck — you need to beat your teammate, that’s the most important thing.
“Daniel is not an easy driver to beat, but at the same time I’ll do what I’m doing the last couple of races, and it’s clear the faster guy anyway will stay or go up, that’s it.”
But Tsunoda also sees his Ricciardo partnership as having more upside that downside.
“I think it’s positive,” he explained. “Nyck came as a rookie and everyone expected me to be at least beating him — that’s the normal thing. Daniel won multiple grands prix and has experience already in this year’s cars.
“If I beat him, everyone starts to recognise more than a couple of previous races.
“But it’s not easy. He’s good, I know he’s good, and once he has confidence in the car I’m sure he will perform like [he did at] Red Bull.
“In that case I can learn still what he’s doing, why he’s able to achieve good results in the past — I can tell from the data — so I’m looking forward to it.”
Both drivers are aware their reputations will be shaped by the last 12 races of the season, and this weekend’s race could set the tone.
How Dan got the ‘bug back’ in Formula 1 | 02:54
CAN McLAREN IMPRESS AGAIN?
The spotlight was firmly on McLaren after a big result at the British Grand Prix, and once it’s had its fill of Ricciardo mania, it’ll return to the papaya team and the last phase of its mega upgrade this weekend.
McLaren has been on a sharp upwards trajectory ever since it started bringing new parts to the car in Austria two races ago, with second and fourth in Britain a high watermark for the season.
But the tight and twisty Hungaroring, locked in sweltering central Europe, is a completely different challenge to the cooler climes of the UK and the super-fast Silverstone Circuit, where McLaren has typically performed well.
“I think Silverstone with all the high-speed corners suited us quite nicely,” Oscar Piastri said. “Here is obviously a much lower speed circuit, so we’ll see how we go.
“I think we will try and be optimistic that we can stay more towards the front, but whether we’ll be fighting for a podium again, I’m not quite sure.”
Norris, however, was less focused on staying optimistic,
“I doubt it’s going to be as good as Silverstone, because there are not high-speed corners,” he said, per Racer. “I think the last two tracks have made us look better than where we stand over the whole season.”
He said the problems afflicting the car at slower circuits couldn’t be rectified with an aerodynamic upgrade alone.
“It’s a handling characteristic which I would say is not all to do with aerodynamics,” he explained. “Even with this upgrade we’ve had, the performance of driving the car, the handling, has not got any better. It’s still just as difficult to drive, as difficult to execute qualifying laps with.
“So for me a bigger step would be improving how we drive the car, how easy it is to drive the car, rather than just adding 10 more points of load in slow speed.”
But while the Hungaroring has sometimes between described as ‘Monaco without the walls’ in reference to it being one of the slowest permanent circuits on the calendar, the inherent downforce on the modern F1 car means it’s also as fast as it’s ever been.
“I don’t think this is the true test,” Norris said. “I think we’re going to have bigger tests of how bad it is going to get at some other tracks that are going to be coming up.”
It’s a glimmer of hope McLaren might be able to continue its momentum ahead of another rapid circuit in Belgium next week.
How did Dan make his way back into F1? | 03:33
WILL SERGIO PÉREZ DRIVE TO SURVIVE?
Hand in hand with Ricciardo’s comeback news is the pressure mounting on Sergio Pérez to reverse his stinking qualifying form and restore some credibility to his hold on the second seat at Red Bull Racing.
Pérez is 99 points adrift of Verstappen in the standings. It’s the largest gap between first and second in the drivers championship after 10 rounds in the history of this points system, which was introduced in 2010.
For reference, the next largest gap was the 77 points between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber at this stage of the 2011 season.
In Pérez’s defence, his race performances have been sufficient to hold onto second in the drivers championship, though the 19-point gap to Fernando Alonso is frighteningly small for the disparity between their cars.
But that’s a function of leaving himself with too much to do on race days, having missed out on Q3 six times and starting in the bottom five thrice.
“Checo’s had a horrible run of Saturdays,” team boss Christian Horner told F1 Nation. “I think some of that has been bad luck, some of it has been a little self-inflicted.
“We’re just trying to help him through that period.
“He started the season is such great form. We just want to help him rediscover that form.
“Budapest is going to be a venue where hopefully he can have a straightforward weekend.”
Red Bull Racing is bringing a major upgrade package to the car this weekend. If it works as intended — and Red Bull Racing is already expected to be strong around a circuit like this — Pérez will have even fewer excuses for underperforming.
Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri move questioned | 01:19
The six-time winner said he’d spent the time between Britain and Silverstone working on his weaknesses with the RB19.
“We have some ideas for here, and hopefully we are able to just feel just in general have a better platform where we can be more comfortable,” he said.
“I’m confident. I’ve done my work, I’ve done my preparation, and I’m ready to deliver a strong weekend. That’s all I can do.”
By rights AlphaTauri has no business troubling Red Bull Racing in qualifying, but keep in mind that twice this season the junior team has got both cars ahead of Pérez on the grid.
With Ricciardo now in one of those cars, surely that would be Pérez’s disaster scenario this weekend.
HOW CAN I WATCH IT?
Watch the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix live and ad-break free in racing on Kayo and Fox Sports 506.
First practice starts on Friday at 9:30pm (AEST) followed by second practice at 1:00am Saturday.
Final practice is at 8:30pm on Saturday, with qualifying starting at midnight.
Pre-race coverage of the Hungarian Grand Prix is form 9:30pm on Sunday, with lights out at 11:00pm.
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