You never know, Red Bull might hit back. But on the evidence of the three races so far, Verstappen doesn’t stand a chance.
He would never admit to the merest hint of regret, of course, but was the young Dutchman right to commit so fully to Red Bull at the start of the year? There’s no doubting Verstappen’s fire and ambition but, if he wants to be champion, he currently needs a Mercedes. From the other perspective, the best teams always desire the best drivers: it’s the natural competitive order. And besides Hamilton, there’s no doubt Verstappen is a cut above the rest right now.
It’s arguable but probably true that no other driver on the grid could have come between the black cars and finished second in Hungary, especially after dropping a clanger as he did in the reconnaissance laps before the start, when a wet track caught him out and he crashed. Sure, the Red Bull mechanics saved his day by repairing it on the grid, but Verstappen more than redeemed himself with a remarkable performance in which he rose from seventh and successfully fended off Bottas. He’s a force of nature.
Hamilton is 35, the clock is ticking and Bottas, for all his admirable qualities, just doesn’t cut it as a top-liner. It’s contract renewal time and both look set to remain on board for 2021. But if Mercedes is genuine about its long-term commitment to F1, it’s surely only a matter of time before Verstappen joins the family. The next deal after 2023? Perhaps, although patience isn’t a typical racing driver virtue. In 2005, Jenson Button signed for Williams, then quickly realised he had made a mistake and was forced to pay an eye-watering £18 million to break that contract and stay at Honda, for whom he already drove. It’s an extreme example, yes, but anything is possible in F1.
Races at Silverstone behind closed doors
On TV, the lack of spectators is much less noticeable in F1 than it is for football or cricket, but the drivers certainly notice it at the track – especially when they have something to celebrate. Silverstone is one of the best-attended races, drawing a crowd that comes close to Monza’s tifosi for vocal enthusiasm. The fans will be missed this weekend for the British Grand Prix and next, for the race that some believe should have been called the Stirling Moss Trophy but instead carries the title of Formula 1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. After all, Silverstone is where the world championship began back in May 1950, although the anniversary celebrations inevitably can’t be what they should have been.