02 August 2021

Key questions about Formula One title race heading into mid-season break

02 August 2021

Formula One heads for its traditional mid-season hibernation with the championship battle perfectly poised.

Lewis Hamilton holds a slender eight-point advantage over title rival Max Verstappen ahead of the scheduled concluding 12 rounds.

Here, we look at what to expect when the campaign gets back under way in Belgium on August 29.

Is Hamilton now the title favourite?

Hamilton’s hopes of a record-breaking eighth world championship wer hanging by a thread just a fortnight ago. Indeed, the Mercedes driver was 33 points behind Verstappen on the eve of the British Grand Prix. But fast-forward a fortnight, and a 41-point swing in Hamilton’s favour sees him back in charge of the title race.

Hamilton delivered two sensational drives at Silverstone – where he recovered from a 10-second penalty to win – and in Hungary after racing from last to a net second.

In contrast, Verstappen has been hit by bad luck; punted out of the British GP by his rival before he fell victim to Valtteri Bottas’ banzai start at the Hungaroring. The Dutchman has taken just two points from a possible 52.

Can Hamilton’s Mercedes team carry over their resurgent form?

After Verstappen waltzed to his fourth win in five appearances at the Austrian Grand Prix on July 4, it looked as though the Dutchman and his in-form Red Bull team might run away to glory.

But Hamilton then took a controversial win at Silverstone before Mercedes delivered the best package in Hungary.

Hamilton qualified four tenths faster than Verstappen at the Hungaroring – a circuit which usually plays to Red Bull’s strengths, and was the class of the field in Sunday’s race. On this weekend’s form, the Silver Arrows possess the car to beat.

Are Red Bull threatening to implode?

The British Grand Prix rocked Verstappen and Red Bull. The Dutch driver accused Hamilton of unsportsmanlike behaviour for his Silverstone celebrations, said his penalty was too lenient, and then lost his cool with a foul-mouthed outburst after qualifying at the Hungaroring.

Red Bull’s bid to protest Hamilton’s penalty was also slung out following a stewards’ hearing. Their evidence, which consisted of data from reserve driver Alex Albon emulating Hamilton’s opening lap at Silverstone in a two-year-old car during a filming day, was widely ridiculed.

Red Bull’s mood was hardly improved when Bottas ended Sergio Perez’s race and left Verstappen with a severely damaged machine in Hungary.  From appearing in cruise-control, the contenders are suddenly on the back foot.

Is Hamilton’s health a concern?

Following his comeback drive in Hungary, Hamilton, 36, revealed he was suffering with symptoms of long Covid.

In the background, Mercedes moved to play down Hamilton’s comments – insisting he was dehydrated – but there will be cause for concern given the intensity of the schedule in the second half of the campaign, with a dozen races scheduled to take place in just 16 weeks.

Could Mercedes’ driver announcement cause problems?

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says a decision will be taken during the summer break on who will partner Hamilton for 2022.

Bottas and George Russell, who finally scored his first Williams points on Sunday, are in direct competition for the seat.

Hamilton has already indicated his preference is for Bottas to stay. Could the possible announcement of Russell for next year ruffle the seven-time world champion’s feathers?

While it is understood there will be no news over the next fortnight, it is believed the identity of Hamilton’s team-mate will be revealed before the campaign fires back up at Spa-Francorchamps.

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