The Formula 1 season is coming out of the traditional summer break. The biggest battle is at the front of the grid between Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The biggest question right now, however, may be as simple as where exactly is the finish line?
With 11 races in the books, the protagonists themselves cannot yet be certain of the exact number of events left. Formula 1 hopes to feature another 12 Grands Prix, to reach the target of 23, but only 10 are currently scheduled, with some doubts over others—albeit with potential replacement events on standby.
But the next three consecutive weekends are locked in place at three historic venues: Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, Zandvoort in the Netherlands and Monza in Italy. Lewis Hamilton heads into that sequence of events eight points clear of Max Verstappen. Verstappen has six victories and Hamilton four.
“I think we’ve definitely upped our game,” said Hamilton. “I think during this break we’ve also taken time to reflect, and to look, where we’ve been and where we are going. I have no doubts we will take another step forward in our processes and how we apply ourselves. It’s been a real positive thing to see.
“It’s going to be close, it’s going to be tough this second half of the season. The first half was definitely one of the toughest and it’s going to be pretty much the same in the second half, if not more difficult.”
Hamilton stands on the brink of being the first driver to reach 100 wins. He is on 99, having surpassed 91-time winner Michael Schumacher last season. To put Hamilton’s win total in perspective, second on the active driver list is Sebastian Vettel with 53.
Four of Hamilton’s 99 wins have come at this week’s race circuit Spa-Francorchamps, including in 2020.
“It’s obviously been an incredible privilege,” said Hamilton. “When I decided to leave McLaren and move to this team, I truly believed that at a certain point we would experience great success, but of course I could never have expected or imagined that we would have had the success we have had.
“We’ve all had to bring our A game, time after time and that’s what’s exciting about this sport. Every year it’s a new challenge, the technology is continuing to advance and we’ve been at the forefront of that. Naturally I feel very grateful.”
If Hamilton is to take win No. 100, and do so this or next weekend, he may well receive some jeering, for there is likely to be partisan support for Verstappen, given the presence of the Verstappen’s ‘Orange Army’ fan base.
Red Bull, though, has not taken a victory at Spa-Francorchamps since 2014, with Verstappen’s fortunes at the venue mixed. He has mounted the podium twice, but failed to score on three occasions, in his five seasons as a front-runner.
“The last two weekends for sure they were very quick,” said Verstappen of Mercedes. “I think in Hungary in general they were very strong, but we have to see again here, for sure they will be quick here. Traditionally, this track hasn’t been the best for us because of the long straights; I know we definitely did close the gap a bit in terms of top speed, we are still not there, but I do think compared to last year our car is a lot better, our top speed is a lot better. How good it’s going to be against them? It’s a bit difficult to say. Anyway, the weather doesn’t look great the whole weekend, a bit rainy, a bit dry, we’ll have to wait and see how we perform.”
Verstappen is entering the second half of the season in the thick of a title fight for the first time in his career. Hamilton, meanwhile, has seven titles under his belt, and has been on the losing side on four other occasions in similar situations. Verstappen, though, sees no benefit to Hamilton’s greater experience.
“The only advantage you can really have is if you have a faster car,” said Verstappen. “There’s so many good drivers in this sport but they don’t have an opportunity to fight at the front. If you have seven titles, or one, or zero I think at the end of the day when you have spent a few years in F1, especially towards the front, you know you have to finish every race, you know you have to try and score the most available points every single weekend. I think all of us try and do our best and race in the best possible way, so I don’t really see the advantage there.”
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