Hamilton pleasantly surprised by Mercedes pace in Hungary

By Sports Desk July 31, 2021

Lewis Hamilton was shocked by Mercedes' superiority in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix as he continued to apply pressure to world championship leader Max Verstappen and Red Bull.

Hamilton closed the gap in the standings to eight points after his controversial win at Silverstone last time out, where a collision between the seven-time world champion and Verstappen on the opening lap led to the latter retiring.

The fallout from that flashpoint has dominated the build-up to this race and Hamilton was booed by spectators after securing pole position for Sunday's race at the Hungaroring.

Valtteri Bottas closed out a Mercedes front row, with that dominance surprising Hamilton given his team have spent much of the season to date grappling with the problem of Red Bull's superior speed.

"Definitely, definitely not," Hamilton said when asked whether he had expected to be faster than Verstappen and Sergio Perez, who qualified fourth.

"This is a track that they’ve been very strong at for a long time. And given the improvements they made earlier on this year, we thought that we obviously closed the gap a little bit in the last race but we thought they would still have a little bit of an edge.

"We saw today that they changed from their big wing to their smaller wing today. Whether or not that’s hampered them, I don’t know but yeah, it was definitely a real surprise to see us have that sort of pace on them. Of course we’re happy with that."

Mercedes are just four points shy of Red Bull in the constructors' standings and Hamilton is glad to have Bottas for company on the front row as he plots the path to what would be the 100th victory of his F1 career.

"Valtteri did an astonishing job, really boosting the team into the front row, which is honestly… I don’t remember the last time we had a front row together," he added.

"So super positive and it's all down to the amazing work back at the factory and the men and women here are doing a phenomenal job and with everything going on around us, in the outside world and everything.

"People are just staying focused and staying centred and I’m really proud of everyone."

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    Heading into the final grand prix in Abu Dhabi next Sunday, Verstappen has the edge on races won (9-8) and so will clinch his first ever title if Hamilton does not better his result.

    If neither driver finished in the points – or finished the race – that would also seal Verstappen's triumph.

    Asked by the Daily Mail whether his son is likely to sacrifice his own race to take out Hamilton, Verstappen's father and former F1 driver Jos said: "I don't think that will happen.

    "Max absolutely wants to win. He will definitely go for it. He will clearly try to beat him. He will do everything to get the win, that's for sure. It will be exciting."

    Ahead of the Saudi Arabian GP, Jos had discussed Max's relationship with Hamilton – as well as his own.

    "I never speak to Lewis," the 49-year-old told the Daily Mail. "He doesn't need to speak to me. I'm nothing to him. I respect him as a driver, but the rest... nothing.

    "Max and Lewis only speak on the podium, very little. When I see Max with other drivers, I think they get on very well. But with Lewis, nothing. Lewis is in his own world."

    Verstappen received a pair of penalties in Jeddah, the second for causing a collision with Hamilton when he braked suddenly.

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    "This is not the first time that I've had to avoid a collision, that's how I felt at the moment, but you know sometimes you say things in the heat of the moment and you go back and re-watch things and then you maybe feel differently. But in the moment, that's how it felt.

    "I really just tried to recompose myself and chase down and keep fighting."

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    Max Verstappen received a further 10-second penalty plus two penalty points following a wild Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton levelled the Formula One title race with victory on Sunday.

    Verstappen had already been slapped with a five-second penalty for the Turn 1 incident – the Red Bull star and championship leader was deemed to have gained an unfair advantage going off track.

    The stewards imposed a further punishment after the race for a Turn 27 collision, which ultimately did not impact Verstappen's finish, having crossed the line in second behind Mercedes rival and reigning F1 champion Hamilton.

    As a result, Hamilton and Verstappen will still head into the final Grand Prix of the 2021 season, Abu Dhabi, level on 369.5 points.

    Verstappen's secondary penalty was for causing a turn 27 collision with Hamilton when he braked suddenly, causing the Briton to clip the car head, damaging his front wing.

    Hamilton was critical of Verstappen after the race, saying his driving was "over the limit" while claiming he brake-tested him in the Turn 27 incident, leading to the 10-second penalty.

    "I definitely feel that there were scenarios where that was the case," Hamilton told reporters when asked if he thought Verstappen drove dangerously.

    "This is not the first time that I've had to avoid a collision, that's how I felt at the moment, but you know sometimes you say things in the heat of the moment and you go back and re-watch things and then you maybe feel differently but in the moment that's how it felt. But I really just tried to recompose myself and chase down and keep fighting."

    The incident was the latest flashpoint between the two title rivals, but Verstappen indicated he felt he was harshly penalised.

    "I find it interesting that I am the one who gets the penalty when both of us ran outside of the white lines," Verstappen told reporters after the Turn 1 incident. "In Brazil it was fine and now suddenly I get a penalty for it.

    "You could clearly see both didn’t make the corner, but it's fine. I mean I also don’t really spend too much time on it. We have to move forward.

    "We're equal on points on now and I think that's really exciting, of course, for the whole championship and Formula 1 in general but I said it earlier on my in-lap, I think lately we're talking more about white lines and penalties than actually proper Formula 1 racing and that's, I think, a little bit of a shame."

    The stewards report on the Turn 27 incident said: "In deciding to penalise the driver of car 33 [Verstappen], the key point for the Stewards was that the driver of car 33 then braked suddenly [69 bar' and significantly, resulting in 2.4g deceleration.

    "Whilst accepting that the driver of car 44 [Hamilton] could have overtaken car 33 when that car first slowed, we understand why he [and the driver of car 33] did not wish to be the first to cross the DRS [line]. However, the sudden braking by the driver of car 33 was determined by the stewards to be erratic and hence the predominant cause of the collision and hence the standard penalty of 10 seconds for this type of incident, is imposed."

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