BUDAPEST (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton would head off for Formula One’s annual European summer holidays on top of the drivers’ world championship with a record sixth victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend.
The three-time world champion could also draw level with seven-time champion Michael Schumacher in the record books with his 68th pole position, if he produces another signature demonstration of one-lap pace for Mercedes in Saturday’s qualifying.
The 32-year-old Briton, one point behind leader Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari after 10 of this year’s 20 races, has already won a record five times at the tight, dusty, slow and technical Hungaroring circuit.
After his supreme performance in dominating the British Grand Prix, Hamilton will arrive full of confidence, but mindful of the dangers of complacency, thanks to a timely reminder from Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
The Finn, who has shown a liking for similarly demanding tracks this year, notably by winning the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi, has warned his team not to believe that their one-two at Silverstone signalled they had overhauled Ferrari.
“We can’t get that kind of thing to our mind that we are quicker,” said Bottas.
“We don’t want to do that. We want to be feeling on our back foot, we want to be able to improve the car and we know it is very track specific.
“That’s a fact because we’ve had quite high-speed circuits now the last two races. Baku was a special one, but the next race in Budapest is completely different.
“It’s got very slow speed corners, really high temperatures, so we are not going to be too confident there. We know that we have still work to do and plenty of things we need to improve on.”
Bottas’s caution is well-placed as German Vettel and Ferrari are sure to launch a fightback and will be focused on preventing Hamilton and Mercedes securing any kind of advantage.
Vettel has led the championship since the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, but has not won in four outings since the Monaco event in May.
A return to a slower and lower-grip track, in hot conditions, will encourage Ferrari to believe they may gain the initiative, but they know too that Bottas and Mercedes have been the top combination since Monaco.
Fuelled by the energy and confidence generated by his triumph in front of a rapturous home crowd, Hamilton will hope to carry on where he left off last time out.
“There’s lots more things that can come up in the future but I think the team’s really energised,” he said. “So I hope we can take that into the next races.”
Like Bottas, Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff is wary of over-confidence or talk of his squad taking over as favourites.
“The moment you say that, you go to the next race and are slapped in the face,” he said. “It is tricky. Our car is not always easy to set up and we have become much better at doing so in a great team effort.
“But I’d like to see Budapest and how the car works on a low-speed, high temperature track and then maybe have a more complete picture.”
Wolff, who said also that he felt Hamilton’s form this year showed he is “building a legacy as one of F1’s greatest drivers”, will be sure to keep a close eye on not only Vettel, who won in 2015, but also his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Like his compatriot Bottas, Raikkonen, the 2005 winner, will have noisy support at the circuit which the visiting Finns turn into a home race for their drivers.
Red Bull are also certain to be a threat as Dutch teenager Max Verstappen and his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo revel in the atmosphere and the challenge.
“I love that track,” said the Australian, who won in Hungary three years ago. “We’ve got more grip this year — so it will be fun.”