"Again taken out by a Mercedes," quipped Max Verstappen in the wake of his difficult Hungarian Grand Prix, which began with a bang in the worst possible sense, due to Valtteri Bottas sailing past his braking point.
At turn one, the calamitous Finn ran into the back of fast-starting Lando Norris, who was then powerless to stop his McLaren slamming into Verstappen, while Bottas also clobbered the second Red Bull of Sergio Pérez.
From then on, Verstappen was exaggerating only slightly when he said he was “missing the whole side of my car”. In the circumstances, ninth place and a couple of points represented a decent salvage job as F1 headed into its summer shutdown.
When the action resumes at Spa-Francorchamps on the final weekend of this month, Verstappen will, instead of leading the title race, face a deficit to Sir Lewis Hamilton for the first time since May, following their controversial clash at Silverstone and the Hungaroring drama. But the gap is only eight points, and there could still be another dozen races to run this year, depending on a replacement being arranged for the cancelled Australian Grand Prix. So it’s all to play for.
A golden chance
For my money, Verstappen is still perfectly placed to claim his first world title and finally end Mercedes-AMG’s hybrid-era domination.
The performance edge that Red Bull displayed over the Black Arrows through the spring and summer can’t be taken for granted for the autumn. Nothing ever can in F1. But there’s no reason to believe the Honda-powered team will lose ground to its increasingly bitter rival. It knows that it has a gaping window of opportunity right now before the twin unknowns of a major rules change and a new adventure as an independent engine manufacturer (after Honda’s withdrawal) kick in for 2022.
Who knows? Red Bull might come out of the traps at a sprint next year. But when car rules change, the teams with the deepest and best resources tend to benefit, and that won’t be any different because of new budget caps. Verstappen and Red Bull are desperate to grab this chance while they can, which partly explains the ferocity of their response to the collision with Hamilton at Silverstone.