If all goes to plan for Lewis Hamilton in Hungary this weekend, the Mercedes driver will equal one of Michael Schumacher’s all-time records and will look to take the lead in the championship standings from Sebastian Vettel and shift the balance of power ahead of the summer break.
Hamilton remains a long way off Schumacher’s record 91 race wins but Saturday’s qualifying at the Hungaroring could see him equal the great German’s hitherto unmatched 68 pole positions.
A 58th career win for the Briton, and sixth at the circuit outside Budapest, on Sunday would send the triple world champion off on vacation with at least a six-point advantage over Ferrari’s Vettel.
Four-times champion Vettel has led since winning the Australian season-opener in March, jointly with Hamilton after China, but the German arrives in Hungary only a point clear after 10 of 20 races.
Hamilton, beaten by now-retired team mate Nico Rosberg to the 2016 title, but winner in Hungary, has not led the championship on his own since last September but has the momentum after a crushing home victory at Silverstone.
“There’s lots more things that can come up in the future but I think the team’s really energised, so I hope we can take that into the next races” he said after winning from a career 67th pole position, adding that Mercedes had “absorbed all the energy” from the fans at Silverstone.
Mercedes are 55 points clear of Ferrari in the constructors’ standings but team boss Toto Wolff was wary of suggesting the champions were the favourites again rather than being the ‘underdogs’ he had talked of after Monaco.
“The moment you say that, you go to the next race and are slapped in the face,” the Austrian told reporters. “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.”
With 250 points still to be won in the drivers’ championship, Wolff said it was too early to pick a favourite.
The key, he said, was to extract every inch of performance and minimise mistakes, mindful that Russia and Monaco had not worked out for Hamilton despite every expectation of success.
“With these new regulations it’s not set in stone that it works like it has done in the past,” said Wolff. “Going into the summer break with a lead is nice. But there was a very famous Austrian skier who was always sector world champion but never won the championship.”
“So I’d like to have the gap (lead) before the holiday, but it doesn’t mean anything for the world championship,” explained the Mercedes team chief.
For Vettel, Hungary is a chance to rebuild his advantage at a track that also holds good recent memories — in 2015 the Ferrari driver won after Hamilton started on pole.
Finnish team mate Kimi Raikkonen, for whom Budapest is almost a home race, and compatriot Valtteri Bottas in the Mercedes will also be strong contenders, as will Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.
“I love that track and it has always been a good one for me,” said Ricciardo, who won in 2014. “We’ve got lots more grip this year so it’ll be a bit more fun.”
Statistics for Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix at Budapest’s Hungaroring (round 11 of 20 races):
- Lap distance: 4.381km. Total distance: 306.670km (70 laps)
- 2016 pole: Nico Rosberg (Germany), Mercedes, One minute 19.968 seconds.
- 2016 winner: Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes
- Race lap record: One minute 19.071 seconds, Michael Schumacher (Germany), Ferrari 2004.
- Start time: 1200 GMT (1400 local)
- Champions Mercedes have won 57 of 69 races since the introduction of the 1.6 litre V6 turbo hybrid power units in 2014, and six of 10 this season.
- Triple world champion Hamilton has 57 career victories and is second in the all-time list behind Michael Schumacher (91). Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel has 45.
- Ferrari have won 227 races since 1950, McLaren 182, Williams 114, Mercedes 70 and Red Bull 53. Former champions McLaren and Williams have not won since 2012.
- There have been four different winners this season so far — Hamilton, Vettel, Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) and Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull).
- Mercedes have been on pole in 64 of the last 69 races.
- Hamilton has had 67 career poles and can equal Schumacher’s all-time record of 68 with another in Hungary.
- Four drivers have started on pole this season — Hamilton (six times), Vettel, Bottas (twice) and Raikkonen.
- Hamilton has 110 podiums to date and is second on the all-time list behind Schumacher (155). Vettel has 93, Raikkonen 87.
- Hamilton is one point behind Vettel.
- The only drivers yet to score are McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
- Vettel and Hamilton both have 15 scoring finishes in a row.
- Grand Slam
- Hamilton achieved his fifth career Grand Slam (pole, fastest lap, win, led every lap) at Silverstone. He is now second equal with Schumacher and the late Alberto Ascari on the all-time lists. The late Jim Clark had eight.
Hungarian Grand Prix
- Hamilton has won a record five times in Hungary. He is the only driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004 to win from pole at the Hungaroring (2007, 2012, 2013)
- Raikkonen has made more podium appearances (seven) in Hungary than any current driver.
- It has been 13 years since the winner in Hungary also won the championship that year. The last was Schumacher in 2004.
- The lowest winning start in Hungary was Jenson Button’s victory from 14th on the grid in 2006.
- Hungary’s debut in 1986 made it the first F1 race in eastern Europe behind what was then the ‘Iron Curtain’. This weekend’s race is the 32nd Hungarian GP.
- Thirteen of the 31 races to date have been won from pole.
- The track is the slowest permanent circuit on the calendar.
- Mercedes have won 70 Formula One races after Hamilton’s home victory at Silverstone.
- Max Verstappen, Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen all celebrated their 50th career start in Formula One at the British Grand Prix.
Big Question: Who will win the Hungarian Grand Prix?