Hungarian GP: Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen prepare to lock horns again with F1 title lead on the line
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By James Galloway
Last Updated: 01/08/21 1:59pm
Lewis Hamilton will have a chance to wrestle back the lead of F1's world championship from Max Verstappen heading into the summer break - and reach a landmark F1 century of race wins - in Sunday's Hungarian GP.
On a weekend that has been dominated by the continued rancour and fallout from the title rivals' collision in the last race at Silverstone, the balance of power at this particular circuit has hitherto swung surprisingly decisively in Mercedes' favour.
Hamilton headed Valtteri Bottas in qualifying for the world champions' first front-row since the Portuguese GP, the season's third round, while he will start on his first Sunday pole in seven races. Red Bull's Verstappen is third.
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"It was definitely a real surprise to see us have that sort of pace on them," admitted Hamilton.
"Of course we're happy with that."
Verstappen finished four tenths adrift of Hamilton in qualifying with both Red Bulls on the grid's second row.
"We clearly were just lacking a bit of pace all weekend," conceded Verstappen to Sky F1. "Not finding the best balance with the car."
Verstappen has led the world championship since the Monaco GP at the end of May but Hamilton would return to the summit heading into the three-week break after this event if grid positions were translated into the race finish.
But will Verstappen have the start-line advantage?
Such was Mercedes' pace edge over Red Bull on Saturday, that only the world champions in the top 10 had the luxury of being fairly confident of progressing through Q2 on the medium tyre, the preferred starting compound for the first stint.
Red Bull had to take the softs and, while that should mean they have to pit earlier than the Mercedes' in the first stint, the grippier compound is likely to prove an initial advantage at the start.
"Once the race is underway, the medium should be the better tyre," said Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin.
"But its weakness is always going to be the start and the grip in the opening corners - that has to be a focus for tomorrow."
It is therefore not out of the question that Hamilton and Verstappen will again find themselves wheel-to-wheel on the opening lap two weeks on from their collision at Silverstone.
But Verstappen angrily interjected in the post-qualifying press conference amid a question about what might happen if that scenario happened again.
"We had so many ******* questions about this, it's just ridiculous," said the Dutchman.
"Honestly. The whole of Thursday we have been answering this stupid **** all the time so can we just stop about it please?
"We are racers, we will race. Of course, we are going to race hard but fair. We just keep pushing each other."
Two more landmarks in sight for Hamilton
Hamilton's controversial win at Silverstone two weeks ago was his 99th in F1, putting him on the cusp of becoming the first driver in the sport's history to reach three figures for victories.
Were the Mercedes driver to bring up his F1 century on Sunday then it would be his ninth victory at the circuit, which would be another F1 record.
Hamilton currently shares the record for the most wins at the same Grand Prix, eight, with Michael Schumacher. The German seven-time world champion set the record at the French GP in 2006, with Hamilton since matching it with eight wins in Hungary and Britain respectively.