If there had been anyone suggesting that the 2021 Formula One season’s central rivalry between seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and rising challenger Max Verstappen had been a little placid, the dramatic crash at Silverstone and the resulting war of words has certainly silenced those.

Hamilton’s eagerness to get ahead during a crucial opening lap and Verstappen’s refusal to leave an inch more space than absolutely necessary saw the Dutchman veer into the barriers at Copse corner and out of the race. With Hamilton’s eventual victory reducing Verstappen’s championship lead to eight points and Red Bull’s constructors lead down to just four points, the tension in the paddock could reach boiling point at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

With Hamilton and Verstappen likely to be side-by-side once again going into the first corner, who knows what plot-twist this compelling drama has in store for fans at the Hungaroring.

Title battle closer than ever

With such a swing towards Mercedes at Silverstone, Toto Wolff’s team have snatched back some much-needed momentum from Red Bull after Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez had taken the chequered flag in the five previous races. Whilst the verbal jabs exchanged in the build-up this weekend will provide plenty for the pundits to talk about, it’s the slender margins in the championship that have really spiced up this weekend, and the season as a whole.

With just four points separating them, both Hamilton and Verstappen need a win this weekend, yet neither can afford to take any unnecessary risks that could lead to a DNF. Verstappen will be confident that all things considered he still has the faster package on a Saturday and a Sunday, but Hamilton has a mighty record in Hungary and could become the only driver in F1 history to win nine races at a single track. With this weekend’s race the last before the traditional summer break, both teams will be keen to go into the it with an advantage in the standings.

On paper, the tight and twisty Hungaroring track favours the traditional high-downforce set-up deployed by Red Bull (something it looked like they were running at Silverstone), but they have actually only won here once, with Daniel Ricciardo’s epic drive in 2014. Whilst Hamilton took pole here in 2020, Verstappen did land his first F1 pole position there in 2019 and will be confident he has the machinery to beat Hamilton this weekend.

The Dutchman is currently 4/6 to be the fastest qualifier and 5/6 to win the race on Sunday, with Hamilton 7/4 to land pole position and 7/4 to win a historic ninth Hungarian Grand Prix.

Ferrari fighting back in midfield battle with McLaren

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc came surprisingly close to winning at Silverstone after the aforementioned tangle between the leaders, bringing home his first podium of the season in P2. The Scuderia performed exceedingly well at Barcelona’s sector three and at Monaco, so the prospect of the slow and twisty Hungaroring is one they should relish. Overtaking is a difficult prospect, with the main opportunity being the relatively short DRS home straight and under braking into turn one, so qualifying strongly will be key to a good result this weekend too.

Of their two drivers, it’s Carlos Sainz who has a slightly better record in Hungary, finishing in the points there in the last five races. He’ll be needed to support his teammate in the battle with McLaren, who could have a resurgent Daniel Ricciardo back in the fight alongside Lando Norris after the Australian finished P5 at Silverstone. They currently lead the Italians by 15 points in the constructor standings and would love to extend that lead going into the summer break.

 Leclerc is 11/4 to finish on the podium for the second race in a row, with Carlos Sainz 11/2 to land his second podium of the season. Lando Norris is 7/2 to score his 4th podium of 2021, with Ricciardo 12/1 to score his first top-three finish for McLaren.

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