W Series drivers will be writing a series of columns for The Race this year, giving their verdicts on what’s going on in Formula 1.
Alice Powell is back again this week with her take on a dominant trip to Budapest for Mercedes – and one driver in particular.
Unless Valtteri Bottas raises his game, this curtailed F1 season is going to become a very short one indeed.
Hungary underlined what we learned in Austria – that Mercedes are in a league of their own – despite the superhuman efforts of Max Verstappen. I was commentating for F1 TV at the weekend so had a chance to study some onboard footage and I was drooling over the Mercedes. What a beauty the teams at Brackley and Brixworth have built. The car is absolutely planted to the racetrack, giving Lewis Hamilton and Bottas the ability to light up the timing screens and make every corner look easy.
In stark contrast, Verstappen was fighting furiously with his Red Bull in Budapest, trying to control the rear end at Turn One, which switched to understeer at Turn Two. The Dutchman was working overtime, so it was no surprise that he looked both exhausted and overjoyed after climbing out of his car on Sunday afternoon having split the Mercedes pair. He gave his team a huge scare and an even bigger challenge after crashing on his way to the grid. Red Bull did a phenomenal job to get his car sorted with just seconds to spare and Verstappen rewarded their efforts and corrected his mistake by driving a really mature race to finish second.
I’m sure Verstappen dreams about what it’s like to drive that Mercedes, just as lots of F1 fans dream about seeing him and Hamilton in equal machinery, because only Hamilton’s team-mate can beat him at the moment and Bottas doesn’t look up to the job.
It was a brilliant performance by Hamilton, but he was never troubled. After being pipped to pole position by around a tenth of a second, Bottas said how important the start of the race would be, identifying the ‘drag race’ to Turn One as his best chance of beating Hamilton.
As it turned out, the Finn bungled his start and plummeted down the order meaning Hamilton’s advantage at the first corner was so large that he could pick any line he wanted before easing clear. Desperate to make amends for that initial error, Bottas made a mess of overtaking Charles Leclerc at Turn Two on lap nine, getting on to a wet piece of track and losing time.
Hamilton looks untouchable right now. He has his team-mate in his pocket and has taken different conditions in his stride during the first three races
Without that, he might have passed Verstappen at the end of the race. These small errors add up and, in this mood, you cannot give Hamilton an inch.
Even without his mistake at the start, I don’t think Bottas would have beaten Hamilton. Not in Budapest where Hamilton took a staggering eighth win. It is a joy when you go to a circuit where you have a great record. I feel confident and calm every time I go to Brands Hatch where I won the final race of the 2019 W Series season last August, but I wish I felt like that at as many circuits as Hamilton does! He will have felt supreme on his way to Hungary and will be the same at Silverstone where he has won the British Grand Prix a record six times.
Hamilton looks untouchable right now. He has his team-mate in his pocket and has taken different conditions in his stride during the first three races. His qualifying lap for the Styrian Grand Prix in the pouring rain was magnificent and, helped by his own perfect getaway and Bottas’ messy one at the Hungaroring, Sunday’s tricky initial conditions and the early stop for slick tyres posed no problems at all. Bottas kept Hamilton at bay during the first race in Austria but that was thanks largely to the Briton’s late grid penalty and the gearbox issue which effectively ended the race as a contest as both drivers nursed their cars to the chequered flag.
Hamilton has the championship lead, the momentum and back-to-back races on home soil to look forward to now. It appears we are already at the stage where only Hamilton’s machine or team-mate can stop him.
Things break under pressure, Bottas is the only one who can apply it and he must crank it up at Silverstone.
Alice Powell finished third in the inaugural W Series championship in 2019, winning the final race at Brands Hatch last August. The 27-year-old Briton was the first woman to win a Formula Renault championship and score points in GP3. She is currently competing in the W Series Esports League, which is on every Thursday at 19:00 BST until August 13.