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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Verstappen armed with upgrades in pursuit of Hungarian F1 victory

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BUDAPEST—Defending champion and runaway series leader Max Verstappen will be armed with a number of upgrades on his Red Bull car as he seeks to repeat his 2022 victory at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

In the penultimate race before Formula One’s August break, the 25-year-old Dutchman will bid to extend his 99-point lead on team-mate Sergio Perez.

But he will be keenly aware that the chasing pack are closing in after his narrow triumph ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris at the British Grand Prix where seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton finished third for Mercedes.

Red Bull Racing’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after winning the Formula One British Grand Prix at the Silverstone motor racing circuit in Silverstone, central England. AFP

Both Britons will carry hopes of further success at the tight and twisty Hungaroring circuit where Hamilton, notably, has shone often in the past on his way to a record eight Hungarian victories.

“This is always an interesting one,” said Verstappen.

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“Last year, it was tricky to make the right calls with incoming rain and cooler temperatures, but as a team we stayed calm and made the right decisions.

“And this weekend, we have a couple of upgrades so hopefully they will do what we expect them to do—so we can find extra performance.”

He described the high down-force circuit, with low-speed corners, as an “amazing track to drive and very technical as well… definitely a place I look forward to”.

After six consecutive wins and eight in ten outings this year, Verstappen appears destined for a cruise to his third straight drivers’ title while Red Bull seem set to retain their constructors’ crown with equal comfort.

‘Order fluctuating’

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, however, remains determined to upset their progress and would love to prevent the Dutchman adding to his 43 career wins to date.

“We extended our P2 advantage in the championship at Silverstone,” he said. “The order is fluctuating almost every weekend. We need to add performance if we are to close the gap and fight for victories.

“Several teams have made big gains recently and this has brought some into the fight with us, especially McLaren. It’s impressive and gives us encouragement that we can also find gains.”

Last year, Mercedes did well in Hungary with George Russell’s maiden pole and a double podium finish.

“This race also marks a decade since Lewis’s first win with us,” added Wolff. “So, it’s a circuit full of good memories and, hopefully, we can have another strong showing.

“We want to take the fight to our rivals.”

Of the challengers behind Red Bull, Mercedes look the most likely threat this weekend while McLaren could find their car, so at home on Silverstone’s sweeping high-speed corners, struggles.

That might create a chance for Aston Martin and Ferrari to recover some lost lustre, particularly two-time champion Fernando Alonso, while Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, the victor in 2021 when he had Alonso as a team-mate, has urged his team to react after two poor results.

“We’re frustrated as we are still not where we want to be in terms of results, especially given the fact we have not maximised the potential of the car,” he said. “So we’ve sat and reviewed various things and prepared for these next few weeks.

“We’re looking to bounce back in Budapest and in Spa, tracks where we have been good in the past. I expect us to keep our heads down and work hard and to react quickly. After winning here, this is one of my favourite tracks.”

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