Simmering Hamilton and Verstappen battle moves to the tight confines of Hungary

The Hungaroring track is compared to a street circuit without a city around it

Every year after my race report was filed and the weekend’s work was behind me, I would celebrate by searching out an unguarded security gate and speed around the deserted Hungaroring track in my hire car.

It is one of the secret pleasures of my decades covering Formula One. Laps of the legendary F1 circuits of the world. Always strictly forbidden but eminently doable in this lackadaisical former Eastern Bloc nation.

The racing line would be black with rubber from 20 screaming F1 machines and the exit of corners frequently marked by a parallel pair of scorch marks where a driver had run out of space - or talent.

I would potter slowly past the pits in my ancient soviet issue rental car or some other mediocre heap of uncared for European junk but ramp up the speed as the track sped away from prying eyes.

I’d ‘blitz’ through the blind left hander called Turn 4, set the car up for the right-handed hairpin and in a machine capable of an utterly mundane 100mph I would ‘speed’ past the lengthening shadows thrown from the old water park, my car aimed at the twiddly far chicane, desperately searching for the right gear like a chef stirring a stew, as I hit the brakes.

Each time I would marvel at just how tight it was and how this glorified kart track exists alongside the sweeping majesty of Silverstone, Monza and Spa.

But it has a rhythm that worms its way into your heart. One corner leads hard on the next, each demanding absolute precision for the best lap time. I loved it.

If it felt like this in a humble rental car I wondered what it felt like in a hard-charging 210mph race machine? My heap probably did 0-100mph in about 17 seconds. An F1 car could do that in under 2.6s.

Who was it that compared street tracks (and this is a street track without a city) to riding a motorbike in your living room?

Well, this is where Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen bring the next instalment of their explosive title fight.

Not much room for two such monumental talents in the dense undergrowth of such a rivalry nicely stoked by their clash at Silverstone.

Unless something goes very wrong on Sunday the pair will be starting side by side.

Like Silverstone Hungary has plenty of places to stick your nose down the inside and punt a rival into the scenery, if it comes to that.

Of the 14 corners six are decent candidates by my count. And that doesn’t include Turn 4, the blind left-hander taken at 255kph which is remarkably similar to their Silverstone flashpoint.

In his desperation to stay in the title fight Hamilton’s manoeuvre that day re-defined the nature of their rivalry.

And at 23 and despite the old head on young shoulders Verstappen wields an ambition that outweighs his life experience. So I’m convinced it’s a deadly game he is even more prepared to play.

Animosity on race day is sure to be all the fresher for an FIA review of the incident requested by a furious Red Bull and due to be held Thursday with both drivers already in Budapest.

One factor that received scant attention was the impact of the hectic sprint formula trialled that fateful weekend.

On a different day Hamilton would not have gone to the start grid smarting from defeat the day before.

Nor would he have had the knowledge that his move on Verstappen would have to happen in the opening couple of laps or the Dutchman would be gone.

The sprint format not only enlivened a weekend, it fed directly into the narrative of this title fight and amplified the stakes. Were it not for the Lewis & Max Show, Hungary will feel very mundane until Sunday.

Rarely in modern times has F1 seen such a visceral confrontation between its leading proponents.

Ayrton Senna versus Nigel Mansell sizzled like this but Hamilton and Vettel was handbags at dawn in comparison.

The only rivalry of a similar calibre that comes to mind is Hamilton versus Fernando Alonso in 2007. A poisonous confrontation that resulted in a squandered world title and a record £50 million fine.

Then as now two unbending, ruthless racers prepared to mix it in the clinches and use their dark arts to win.

There is no knowing who will win on Sunday. Or whether they will both even make it to the finish.

But we are certainly in for a rocky ride until the end of the season. And long may it last.

Updated: July 28th 2021, 10:10 AM
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