NASCAR Race Weekend Central

F1 Midweek: The Battles Shaping the Hungarian Grand Prix

The upcoming Hungarian Grand Prix marks the 11th race of the 2021 Formula 1 schedule and also the last before the summer break. When everyone in the sport goes and does whatever they do for the month of August, the sport will not even have reached its midpoint. The way this season is going, that’s a great thing.

In what is shaping up as one of the most entertaining years since Nico Rosberg stole Lewis Hamilton’s crown in 2016 and then walked away from the sport, this year seems to have a true rivalry blossoming.

Max Verstappen v. Lewis Hamilton. Christian Horner v. Toto Wolff.  Red Bull v. Mercedes. Two of the big spenders in the sport look to be on level footing and are struggling to keep things civil.

That civility is being tested, however. Red Bull have announced that they request further examination of the collision between Verstappen and Hamilton from the British GP.

At this point, Red Bull seems like a dog that will not let go of a bone. Yes, the crash was costly for Red Bull from a financial perspective while tightening the points standings in both the constructor’s and driver’s tables. But at some point, there should be a realization that in motorsport, that yes, sometimes, occasionally, every so often, once in a while, that accidents happen.

The FIA already made a further comment after the GP but Red Bull is clearly not satisfied – or more probably is doing everything it can to rankle Mercedes. Anything that the Milton Keynes team can do to upset, frustrate, or annoy Mercedes seems like an attempt at mind games with the prospect of gaining kinder rulings in the future.

Mercedes, or Wolff rather, is letting his hostility be known for the situation. But rather than engage in discussing the wreck, Wolff is firing back, decrying what he believes to be personal attacks coming from Horner toward the team he oversees.

There are, of course, other dogfights in the sport. McLaren v. Ferrari has become the battle for mid-pack supremacy, with McLaren taking the early lead but the Prancing Horse nipping away at it with increasing confidence.

Then there is Daniel Ricciardo v. McLaren. Having made the jump from Alpine/Renault to the British team, many expected the Australian to flourish, finding similar success he had with Red Bull.  That has not been the case, and Ricciardo is being soundly beaten by his teammate Lando Norris. Whether it is the fact that the McLaren is tricky to drive, as frequently mentioned, or Ricciardo still has yet to become comfortable, there is reason to wonder why he has yet to show what was anticipated.

Just as confusing is the ongoing engagement between George Russell v. Valtteri Bottas v. Mercedes. If there is a reason that Wolff is being coy about who will race alongside Hamilton next year, everyone would like to know. While the belief is that Russell should take over, especially as he continues to show impressive speed when qualifying for Williams, the delay seems to indicate that something else is going on at Mercedes.

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Slipstream Saturday: Red Bull Still Sore, Sprint Race at Monza & Valtteri Bottas Rumor

The rumor last week posited that Bottas might end up at Alfa Romeo should Russell move into his seat but that scenario would move Bottas from the Mercedes family. Another postulation is that pairing Russell with Hamilton might prove combustible and that Mercedes will hold onto Bottas for at least one more year before sorting the whole thing out. Even if Russell may have more talent than his Williams will allow him to showcase, finding a home might not be as simple as just jumping up to the mothership.

This leads to a quick look at what is happening with 2022 lineups.

Silly Season

Alfa Romeo may or may not be looking to sign Bottas, but at this point both seats are open for the Ferrari-powered team. This status may be one of the most intriguing especially as the Ferrari power unit continues to show improvement, providing the hope that Alfa should improve in the near future as well.

Red Bull has stated nothing about whether Sergio Perez will continue with the team after this year. If Perez continues to have some disappointing results like at Silverstone, he will be unlikely to return.

Red Bull’s junior program, Alpha Tauri, also looks unsettled for 2022. There is reason to believe that Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda will keep their seats, the truth is that Red Bull/Alpha Tauri are whimsical in how they manage the seats, save for Verstappen.

Teams that look set, at the moment, are Alpine, Aston Martin, McLaren, Haas (surprisingly) and Ferrari.  But 2020 showed that even established situations can be shaken up in startling fashion, like when Carlos Sainz made the move to Ferrari and set off a chain reaction of moves.

Hungary

The curtain call for the first half of the season takes place this weekend.  There will be no sprint race qualifying for the event as the sport returns to its usual patterns. The Hungaroring, nicknamed “Monaco without the buildings,” is a difficult environment for passing where Mercedes has performed rather well, having won the last three GPs.

However, Ferrari showed outstanding performance at Monaco and might be situated to throw itself in the Mercedes and Red Bull mix at the front. Should Ferrari find the pace to finish well, as it did at Silverstone, they will be stealing valuable points in the title fights and will be evading all of the vitriol be sent between the other two teams.

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