Mercedes driver George Russell believes Max Verstappen will win Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix despite starting 15th on the grid, and doubts his own chances of a podium finish.

Defending Formula One drivers' champion Verstappen put in the fastest lap in qualifying on Saturday, but the Red Bull ace is among those who have been pushed to the back of the grid after being issued with penalties.

Verstappen, courtesy of his qualifying efforts, starts at the front of the queue of those handed engine penalties. Charles Leclerc, Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris and Zhou Guanyu line up behind him, with Mick Schumacher at the back after a gearbox penalty.

That gives Verstappen plenty to do if he is to extend his lead at the top of the championship in the first race after the mid-season break, but Russell is still expecting him to finish top of the pile.

"I think Max will probably still win the race. I don't know where he is going to be starting, but with the pace he has got he will probably still win the race," Russell said.

"And Charles [Leclerc] as well, he will probably still come through. So, I think it is unlikely that we will be on the podium tomorrow in all honesty, because we've still got Carlos [Sainz] and Checo [Perez] there and Max is going to slice through the field pretty quickly.

"We will need to look overnight, try and understand it. Qualifying is out of the way, which has been our weak point, and we'll try and be faster tomorrow."

While Verstappen is hopeful of a podium finish, his priority is to survive what is set to be a thrilling first lap at Spa with plenty of cars out of position, before eyeing a finish further up the field.

"I think with the pace we have in the car, I want to move forward, and I want to be at least on the podium," Verstappen said.

"I mean survive, of course, lap one – that's the most important. Then after that I need to pass a few cars before of course you get into a competitive position."

Ferrari's Carlos Sainz starts the race on pole ahead of Sergio Perez, with Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton on the second row while Russell and Alex Albon complete the top six.

Carlos Sainz profited from Max Verstappen's grid penalty to secure pole for the Belgian Grand Prix but admitted to being concerned by the gap between Ferrari and Red Bull.

Verstappen topped the timesheet in Saturday's delayed qualifying session at Spa-Francorchamps ahead of the first race following the mid-season break.

But the reigning champion – who holds an 80-point lead over Charles Leclerc at the top of the standings – will start in 15th after being penalised for using too many engine parts.

The Dutchman is one of seven drivers taking grid penalties, along with Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon, Zhou Guanyu, Mick Schumacher and Valtteri Bottas.

That effectively meant the rest of field were facing off for the top 13 positions on the grid, and it was Ferrari driver Sainz who will will start Sunday's race at the head of the pack.

Whereas Verstappen looked comfortable throughout and delivered a time of 1:43.665 seconds with his first Q3 flying lap, Sainz's Q3 lap was rather scrappy.

Despite claiming pole, the Spaniard – who is fifth in the standings – was not entirely pleased with how things played out.

"I'm happy to be starting on pole, but I'm obviously not so happy to see the gap to Max this weekend and the gap Red Bull have on us," he told Sky Sports.

"We need to keep digging to see why Red Bull are so fast around this track. But to start from pole is good and we will try to win tomorrow.

"I think our race pace is better than our qualifying pace, but there is still something to find."

The past seven winners of the Belgian Grand Prix have started from the front row of the grid, six of them from pole.

But after finishing 0.632s clear of the field in qualifying, Verstappen – last year's winner on this track – is hopeful of climbing from towards the back of the pack into the top three.

"It was an amazing qualifying but the whole weekend we have been really on it," he said. "With a car like this it would be a shame to not be on the podium.

"The car has been working really well and we have basically been trying to fine tune it and it all came together in Qualifying.

"Of course, I had to be careful with the amount of tyres I was using, but I was very happy with my lap. It is an amazing track with amazing fans and I hope they had a good day."

Verstappen is set to start one place ahead of title rival Leclerc, while team-mate Sergio Perez is second after finishing 0.165s behind Sainz.

Fernando Alonso, who is on his best run since 2018 after collecting points in each of his past eight races, is third ahead of Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

Red Bull are seeking a fifth win in Belgium – only in Mexico (six) would they have more – with Perez looking to overhaul Sainz.

"P2 is not the worst place to be around here and I think if I am able to get a good run at Carlos, it will be different and I will be on the other side of the row," Perez said.

"I am looking forward to tomorrow and I think there will be a great race ahead of us. It'll be very important to get a good start and do our own race and I think that will be the key."

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc will each start from the back of the grid at the Belgian Grand Prix after receiving penalties following power unit changes.

Verstappen leads Ferrari rival Leclerc by 80 points in the Formula One drivers' championship, having won eight of the 13 races so far this season.

However, the Red Bull man, who came from 10th on the grid to win the Hungarian Grand Prix prior to the mid-season break, will have to fight his way through the field to triumph at Spa-Francorchamps on Sunday.

Verstappen won in Belgium last year in a race reduced to two laps behind the safety car because of a deluge that made racing unsafe.

The Dutchman, who was born in Belgium under two hours away from the circuit, has had all the components of his power unit replaced.

Leclerc, meanwhile, has taken on a fifth power unit of the season as well as a new gearbox.

Joining the title rivals at the back will be McLaren's Lando Norris, Alpine's Esteban Ocon, Haas driver Mick Schumacher and Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo.

Norris, Ocon and Bottas have seen their teams opt to change their engines, while Schumacher is taking on a new control electronics unit.

The grid shake-up could put Mercedes in position to claim their first win of a difficult season, while Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez and Leclerc's fellow Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz will each fancy their chances of winning for the second time in 2022.

Formula One's midseason break delivered drama that the title race so far perhaps had not.

The first half of the campaign had its own intriguing narratives, with Ferrari's frequent collapses and Mercedes' unprecedented struggles, but those strands only served to allow Max Verstappen to build a healthy lead at the top of the standings.

Attention has turned to those in the midfield in recent weeks, though, with Sebastian Vettel's imminent retirement prompting a series of developments that have not yet slowed.

Alpine have been at the heart of the drama, losing Fernando Alonso to Aston Martin in Vettel's place and then failing to secure Oscar Piastri as his replacement.

Piastri instead seems set for McLaren, who have announced Daniel Ricciardo will be leaving the team.

For Alpine then, there will be some relief that focus can now return to the track at the Belgian Grand Prix, with Verstappen set to resume his role at centre stage.

Qualifying key to Red Bull repeat

For those hoping to reel in Verstappen's 80-point lead, they will hope to get more opportunity to attack him than at Spa in 2021, when he started from pole and completed just two laps behind a safety car to claim victory amid a deluge at the circuit in Stavelot.

That result actually continued a recent trend in Belgium, where recovering from a poor qualifying session has proven increasingly tricky.

The past seven winners of the Belgian GP have started from the front row of the grid, with Verstappen among six of those to line up on pole.

Repeating the feat has not been quite so straightforward, however, as Verstappen will be looking to become the first driver to win this race from pole in consecutive entries since Ayrton Senna did so a remarkable four years in a row between 1988 and 1991.

Senna had five Belgian GP wins in total, behind only Michael Schumacher (six). Lewis Hamilton (four) will be bidding to join the Brazilian this weekend.

In-demand Fernando on top form

Alonso will hope his shock move to Aston Martin does not knock his final season with Alpine off course, as the Spaniard had refound form before stunning his team during the break.

The two-time world champion has earned points in each of his past eight races for his best run since another sequence of eight in 2018.

Alonso has not finished in the points in more than eight straight races since 2014, when he put together 15 in a row – the last of them being in Belgium.

But perhaps this could instead be a strong weekend for Alonso's future employers and the man he will replace.

Vettel's best qualifying performance at Aston Martin was fifth at Spa in 2021, finishing fifth on race day, too. Only in Azerbaijan last year (second) has he enjoyed a better result with the team.

Lewis Hamilton has opened up on his emotions following the controversial end to the 2021 Formula One season, admitting his "worst fears came alive" in Abu Dhabi.

The Mercedes driver was at the tail-end of a fierce battle with Red Bull's Max Verstappen for the championship in last year's finale, knowing a record eighth world title would be clinched if he finished ahead of his rival.

On lap 53, Hamilton led but drama would soon erupt as Williams' Nicholas Latifi crashed into the barrier at the exit of turn 14 and the safety car was deployed.

Under FIA guidelines, lapped cars are allowed to overtake behind the safety car but that guidance was not followed by race director Michael Masi, who instead only allowed the cars between Verstappen and Hamilton to move through.

Verstappen, having pitted, then completed an overtake of a defenceless Hamilton at the restart to clinch his maiden title.

The controversy that followed rumbled on for months, with Masi departing his role prior to the start of the 2022 season, and Hamilton has now spoken about his feelings regarding the incident.

"You see things start to unfold and my worst fears came alive," he told Vanity Fair.

"I was like, there's no way they're going to cheat me out of this. There's no way. That won't happen. Surely not.

"I don't know if I can really put into words the feeling that I had. I do remember just sitting there just in disbelief. 

"And realizing I've got to undo my belts, I've got to get out of there, I've got to climb out of this thing, I've got to find the strength. I had no strength.  And it was one of the toughest moments, I would say, that I've had in a long, long time.

"I knew what had happened. I knew what decisions had been made and why. Yes, I knew that something wasn't right."

Ahead of the 2022 season, questions were raised whether Hamilton would return to the grid, and he admits that he considered retirement.

"I, for sure, considered whether I wanted to continue," he confirmed.

Hamilton did return, racing alongside new teammate George Russell, but has not been able to compete for the crown, instead encountering numerous issues with Mercedes unable to compete with Red Bull and Ferrari at the start of the season.

Better fortune was found ahead of F1's summer break, with back-to-back podium finishes for both drivers, but Hamilton remains 112 points adrift of Verstappen in the standings.

Charles Leclerc acknowledged it is more difficult to get over his own mistakes than those of his Ferrari team, and still wants to make the most of the remainder of the Formula One campaign.   Two early season victories gave Leclerc a 46-point lead over Red Bull's Max Verstappen after the first three races of the campaign, but just one win for him since has seen his Dutch rival open up an 80-point gap at the top of the drivers' championship.   On several occasions, Leclerc has been unable to see out a victory, with his engine failing twice and questionable strategies from Ferrari also appearing to cost him, while he also crashed out when leading the French Grand Prix last month.   Speaking to BBC Sport, Leclerc said he was happy that Ferrari were finally back fighting at the front, after seeing Red Bull and Mercedes dominate in recent years, but conceded further improvement is needed.   "First of all, it was amazing to see that we finally got back to fighting for wins," he said.   "On the other hand, we haven't managed to maximise all the potential we had. And this is not great. We still have the second part of the season to catch up, I hope, and I will push at the maximum. But the last few races have been a bit difficult."   Leclerc finished sixth in the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday, with Verstappen winning again heading into the mid-season break, with the next race in Belgium in late August.   "We want to do absolutely everything to get better in every single thing we do, and obviously looking at the first part of this season, there have been some strategy problems, there have been some reliability problems and there have been driving mistakes," Leclerc added.   "On reliability and strategy, we are working extremely hard to get better. And after a mistake, we always go through exactly the same process, which is to try and analyse from where the mistakes come, why did we take the wrong decision at a certain point of the race, in order to go forwards. As soon as we understand a mistake, then we can move on."

Leclerc outlined his process when he costs himself in a race.

"I'm extremely tough with myself," he added. "So it is much more difficult to deal with my own errors than whenever it is the team, even though we are obviously one team and we lose and we win together.

"I'm always harsher whenever it's me who does the mistake, and obviously France was one of those which hurt quite a bit.

"But whenever I go through this tough time, I go through the same process as I was saying before, trying to analyse what was wrong. And it's mostly mentally.

"To speak about it seems quite easy, but it is not always easy to pinpoint exactly what was going on in your head at that moment. But I think this is a strength of mine and helps me to improve as a driver every time I make a mistake."

When asked about his aims for the rest of the season, Leclerc said: "To try and grow from the mistakes of the first half, but try and perform as well as the first half because the performance I've given, I'm extremely happy about. And this I want to keep.

"So there won't be any significant change. We just need to try and work as a team to put a weekend together for the nine remaining races and see where we end up."

Honda has extended its tie-up with Formula One pace-setters Red Bull through to the end of the 2025 season, providing long-term stability as the team and star driver Max Verstappen close in on more success.

The Japanese auto giant formally withdrew from F1 at the end of last season but has continued to support the Red Bull Powertrains power unit division with vital technical assistance.

Red Bull's deal with Honda, which supplies the Austrian team's power units, had been due to expire after the 2023 campaign but will now run for a further two years.

Team principal Christian Horner said: "Red Bull's partnership with Honda has been an incredibly successful one and we are pleased that this will continue until the end of the current era of the FIA's power unit regulations in 2025."

Red Bull lead the constructors' championship after 13 of this season's 22 races, with Ferrari a distant second, while reigning drivers' champion Verstappen is well on his way to a second title, with his haul of 258 points putting him 80 clear of second-placed Charles Leclerc.

Verstappen, contracted until 2028, won the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday, after Red Bull's support crew overcame a power unit issue that affected his qualifying performance.

F1 is now on its mid-season break ahead of a resumption on the final weekend of August in Belgium.

 

Max Verstappen celebrated a "crazy" success at the Hungarian Grand Prix, after coming from 10th to take a surprise win.

Reigning world champion Verstappen looked unlikely to challenge for victory on Sunday following a frustrating qualifying session.

The Dutchman had looked ominously fast but a power unit issue on his out lap ahead of a second flying effort ended hopes of pole.

Yet Verstappen will head into Formula One's break with an 80-point lead in the championship standings after powering to a hugely impressive win that sees him equal Nigel Mansell's record of the most F1 triumphs for a single team.

Rain threatened to cause late drama but Verstappen held firm to seal a famous victory for Red Bull, despite at one point spinning on the track.

"It was a crazy race, very happy that we won it," said Verstappen, who finished over seven seconds ahead of second-placed Lewis Hamilton and more than 12 seconds quicker than third-placed George Russell.

"I was of course hoping I could get close to a podium. Very tricky conditions out there but we had a really great strategy, really reactive, always pitching at the right time and then even at the end, with the 360 [spin], we won the race."

Explaining how he had lost control of the car during his 360-degree spin, Verstappen said: "I was struggling a bit with the shifts and the clutch and we had to change a few things around that to not basically burn the clutch.

"That cost me a bit of performance and it caught me out on that corner. Luckily, to do a 360, so I only lost one spot.

"It was very good. I was battling a lot of guys so it was a lot of fun out there."

Max Verstappen extended his championship lead even further with a stellar drive in Hungary to claim victory having started 10th on the grid.

The Red Bull capitalised on more woes for Ferrari to leave Verstappen heading into the break with an 80-point lead, while Mercedes enjoyed a second race in a row with both drivers finishing on the podium.

Ferrari, having started second and third on the grid, had a race to forget with both drivers finishing outside of the podium spots - with Carlos Sainz in fourth and Charles Leclerc coming home sixth.

At the start, pole-sitter George Russell was immediately put under pressure by the Ferraris behind him but maintained his advantage following the first corner, then opening a two-second window following an early virtual safety car after contact between Alex Albon and Lance Stroll.

With soft tyres losing speed, Russell pitted from the lead at the end of lap 16 and Sainz, on the medium, made an overcut attempt one lap later but remained behind the Mercedes.

Verstappen benefited during the first round of pit stops to continue his charge up the grid, taking fourth on lap 21, while Leclerc came out ahead of team-mate Sainz after his stop.

Still in the lead at the start of lap 28, Russell's performance meant Mercedes had led more laps in the race than they had in the entirety of the season prior to this weekend and Russell, though defending aggressively, was overtaken at turn one by Leclerc on lap 31.

Verstappen blinked first in the second round of pit stops and completed an undercut on Russell, then overtaking Leclerc twice, either side of a spin, with Ferrari unable to find the pace on the hard compound as another strategy decision cost the Monegasque, who inevitably had to take a third stop to swap to the softs.

Hamilton's strategy worked much better and saw him stand as the biggest threat to Verstappen's lead heading into the latter stages, overtaking Sainz at the start of lap 63 and then taking team-mate Russell on lap 65.

Late rain threatened to cause drama on the final lap but Verstappen was able to cruise home for a 28th career win - equalling Nigel Mansell's record of the most F1 wins for a single team.

Ferrari, meanwhile, will now be looking over their shoulder after the break with their advantage over Mercedes in the constructors' championship now standing at just 30 points.

Ferrari's frustrating calls

Plenty of scrutiny has been directed towards Ferrari for questionable calls made during the 2022 Formula One season and the Hungarian Grand Prix added further fuel to that particular fire.

Having seen Alpine's own woes on the hard compound, which saw both Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso tumble down the field, Ferrari bemusingly still opted to put Leclerc on that tyre.

The poor performance of the compound was shown when Verstappen, who had overtaken Leclerc, spun to lose the position but was still able to chase down his title rival and reclaim the position without too much of a challenge.

Russell's run ends

Heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix, Mercedes duo Russell and Hamilton were the only two drivers on the grid to have improved or maintained their starting position in every race this season.

Hamilton, starting seventh and finishing second, was able to maintain that sequence but Russell, on pole position, secured a third-place finish and saw his run of improvement come to an end.

However, that finish sealed back-to-back podium finishes for Russell at Mercedes, while it also marked the second race in a row with both Silver Arrows drivers on the rostrum.

IN THE POINTS

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 

2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +7.834

3. George Russell (Mercedes) +12.337

4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +14.579

5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +15.688

6. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +16.047

7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +78.300

8. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) + One lap

9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) + One lap

10. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) + One lap

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 258

2. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 178

3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 173

4. George Russell (Mercedes) 158

5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 156

Constructors

1. Red Bull 431

2. Ferrari 334

3. Mercedes 304

4. Alpine 99

5. McLaren 95

Max Verstappen felt he had the pace to at least qualify in the top three for the Hungarian Grand Prix and said an engine problem with his Red Bull was not serious.

Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez failed to make it out of Q2, qualifying 11th, and the championship leader will start 10th after a power unit issue on his out lap ahead of a second flying effort ended hopes of pole.

The Dutchman had looked ominously fast in Q2, having been behind the Ferraris in both of Friday's practice sessions.

However, he now has a recovery mission if he is to avoid nearest challenger Charles Leclerc eating heavily into his 63-point lead at the top of the drivers' championship at a Hungaroring circuit where it is notoriously difficult to overtake.

Leclerc will start third behind team-mate Carlos Sainz, who had appeared destined for pole until Mercedes' George Russell snatched it with a remarkable lap.

But Verstappen, having turned the air blue as he lost power, was composed when asked about his car's issues and the task ahead of him on Sunday.

He told Sky Sports: "I don't think it's a big issue but something we couldn't solve on track. It's very unfortunate.

"The turnaround from yesterday was amazing. There was a lot of analysing going to understand what was not really working that well yesterday.

"In a way, that's positive about today, we understood what went wrong and the car was so much better today in terms of handling on a track that doesn't really suit us.

"So that's a big positive for the rest of the year anyway that we can, even on a track where we're not that strong, be competitive, but of course I would have liked to start in the top three, and I definitely think we had the pace for it because even in Q2 we looked very strong.

"So yeah, good turnaround but unfortunately the little glitch we had makes us start 10th."

Asked about his prospects for the race and the choice between a one or two-stop strategy, Verstappen added: "It can be a tough one if you're stuck, I hope of course not too long. We have to just stay calm and wait for our moments to go forward.

"It [the strategy] depends also a bit on what is happening in front of you, behind you as well, so we just need to be on it and be flexible."

Max Verstappen thinks it will be impossible for Red Bull to challenge Ferrari in dry conditions at the Hungarian Grand Prix. 

Reigning Formula One champion Verstappen could only manage fourth in the second free practice session on Friday, with Charles Leclerc almost three tenths of a second quicker. 

Rain is forecast for qualifying on Saturday and the Dutchman believes it will be essential for him to have any chance of pushing the Scuderia all the way. 

"A bit tricky as expected around here. Just trying to find a balance from high to low speed," said Verstappen. 

"Sometimes it worked a bit better, sometimes a bit more tricky but a bit of work to do. 

"I think [Ferrari] are a bit ahead of us. I think it will be hard for us to beat that. But I think overnight we will try to close the gap as much as we can and see what the weather will give us as well. 

"I think in the dry we can't compete, so maybe in the rain we can, who knows?" 

After the disappointment of crashing out from the French Grand Prix last weekend, Leclerc felt Ferrari were on "the right road" with their race simulations. 

"It's been a very productive day, changed quite a lot of things on the car on my side," said Leclerc. "FP1 was quite tricky, FP2 we took the right road so confident that we did the right work for Sunday. 

"It looks like it's going to rain [on Saturday] so we have to be on top of this and obviously put the tyres in the right window, which is always a difficult thing whenever it's raining. 

"This will be our main priority, but hopefully if we manage to put them in the right window, we will still have this advantage." 

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc has paid tribute to former team-mate Sebastian Vettel following the announcement that he will retire from Formula One at the end of the season.

Leclerc spent two years alongside Vettel at Ferrari and conceded he was starstruck when they first met, but now considers the four-time world champion to be a friend.

The youngster crashed during the French Grand Prix, and revealed Vettel messaged him to offer his support.

It will be a strange feeling for Leclerc to return in 2023 without Vettel in the paddock, where he has been an ever-present since making his F1 bow in 2007.

"I arrived the first year and I was obviously super impressed and I think I was probably very weird to him because I was shy and didn't know what to say when I was with him," Leclerc said ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

"But now he's a friend and he always texts me, like he did after Sunday, and always tried to make me feel better whenever I'm going through a tough time.

"Obviously it's going to be strange to not see Seb inside the paddock. I've learned so much driving with him and he’s always been super nice with me."

Vettel confirmed on Thursday that this would be his last season in F1 and, if everything goes to plan, the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi will be his 300th on the grid.

Defending champion Max Verstappen also hailed Vettel's impact and backed his decision to retire.

"He has achieved so much in this sport that it's fully understandable for him to retire," he told a news conference.

"He's had an amazing career, he's won a lot of races, he's won a lot of championships as well. He's a great ambassador [for] the sport.

"To see him go, it's something that you could see coming, everyone is getting older and at some point, everyone is retiring. It's never nice when that moment arrives but these things happen.

"I think it's important now that he's going to enjoy his life with his family as F1 is such a short period of time in your life, you work so hard to achieve all these things that he has achieved, now it's time to enjoy."

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc has paid tribute to former team-mate Sebastian Vettel following the announcement that he will retire from Formula One at the end of the season.

Leclerc spent two years alongside Vettel at Ferrari and conceded he was starstruck when they first met, but now considers the four-time world champion to be a friend.

The youngster crashed during the French Grand Prix, and revealed Vettel messaged him to offer his support.

It will be a strange feeling for Leclerc to return in 2023 without Vettel in the paddock, where he has been an ever-present since making his F1 bow in 2007.

"I arrived the first year and I was obviously super impressed and I think I was probably very weird to him because I was shy and didn't know what to say when I was with him," Leclerc said ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

"But now he's a friend and he always texts me, like he did after Sunday, and always tried to make me feel better whenever I'm going through a tough time.

"Obviously it's going to be strange to not see Seb inside the paddock. I've learned so much driving with him and he’s always been super nice with me."

Vettel confirmed on Thursday that this would be his last season in F1 and, if everything goes to plan, the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi will be his 300th on the grid.

Defending champion Max Verstappen also hailed Vettel's impact and backed his decision to retire.

"He has achieved so much in this sport that it's fully understandable for him to retire," he told a news conference.

"He's had an amazing career, he's won a lot of races, he's won a lot of championships as well. He's a great ambassador [for] the sport.

"To see him go, it's something that you could see coming, everyone is getting older and at some point, everyone is retiring. It's never nice when that moment arrives but these things happen.

"I think it's important now that he's going to enjoy his life with his family as F1 is such a short period of time in your life, you work so hard to achieve all these things that he has achieved, now it's time to enjoy."

Max Verstappen's path to a second Formula One drivers' championship appears clear following Ferrari's mishaps in France, with the Red Bull ace looking to extend his lead in Hungary.

Heading into the final race before F1's summer break, Verstappen holds a mammoth 63-point advantage over Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in the standings – while Red Bull lead their rivals by 82 points in the constructors' championship.

Ferrari's latest setback, which saw Leclerc retire from the lead for the third time this season, brought an end to what had been a positive stint for the Italian manufacturers – who had won back-to-back races before heading to the Circuit Paul Ricard.

While Leclerc has been the leading man for Ferrari this season, his crash in France was the latest mistake from the young driver – and it may now be Carlos Sainz that has the biggest part to play in chasing down Red Bull.

After a difficult start to the season, the Spaniard has found his rhythm with the car and weaved his way through the field in France to secure fifth place, having started 19th on the grid and impressed in qualifying.

Sainz boasts two fastest laps in 2022, both of which have come in the last four races (in Canada and France) – one more than he recorded in his previous 148 outings, and he's now eyeing consecutive fastest laps for the first time in his F1 career.

Ferrari's record in Hungary is also encouraging, with only McLaren (11) winning more races at the venue than Ferrari (7) – who last won at the Hungaroring in 2017. Red Bull, meanwhile, have won twice, in 2010 and 2014.

Red Bull's main strength this season has been straight-line speed, which may not fit with the Hungaroring's lack of straights – the track is comparable to Monaco, with several corners to string together.

It's on those sorts of corners where Ferrari have been the better outfit but, even with a win, they would require some serious reliability issues or incidents from Red Bull to rejuvenate their flagging title hopes.

Hamilton's charge reviving Mercedes

Mercedes' woes this season have been well documented and are not yet over, with the team extremely disappointed by their upgrade package failing to have the desired effect for the French Grand Prix last time out.

However, Lewis Hamilton is at least back at his best after registering four consecutive podium finishes heading into Hungary, while George Russell's appearance alongside his team-mate on the podium was the first time Mercedes have had both drivers in the top three this season.

The Hungaroring is a track Hamilton knows well, having secured eight victories at the venue – including all five of Mercedes' wins.

Now 12 races without a win, Mercedes are in the longest winless stretch of their F1 history, and Hamilton is still awaiting the triumph which would see him break Michael Schumacher's record of consecutive seasons with at least one victory – with both drivers currently on 15.

Ricciardo's moment of truth

Daniel Ricciardo's spell at McLaren has been disappointing for both driver and team but both are committed to each other for the long haul, with the Australian's contract running through 2023.

Speculation of an early termination appears to have cooled, with Ricciardo taking to social media to quash such rumours before issuing a strong message ahead of France – telling Sky Sports he'll deliver a win if McLaren can deliver a car.

That's something the Silverstone-based team are yet to do, however. Ricciardo's experience in France was another disappointing one, having come in ninth and, yet again, finished behind team-mate Lando Norris.

The young Brit is clearly the more comfortable driver, having registered 70 of McLaren's 89 points this season, and Ricciardo needs to start changing the game.

A positive race in Hungary would provide a significant boost ahead of what is a crucial sequence for the Australian after the summer break.

Max Verstappen is still "evolving", according to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, as the Dutchman continues his march towards successive Formula One world championships.

After winning the French Grand Prix for a second year in a row, Verstappen holds a 63-point lead over Ferrari's Charles Leclerc at the top of the drivers' standings.

Another title for the reigning champion looks inevitable after he posted six victories in his last nine races, and Verstappen's 2021 rival Lewis Hamilton recently claimed it will be "smooth sailing" for the 24-year-old this year.

Speaking to Eurosport, Red Bull boss Horner hailed Verstappen's development as he suggested the Dutchman ranked among the best drivers to ever feature for the team.

"I think he's very much a mature package now," Horner said. "He's got experience behind him but he's still very, very young.

"He's hugely talented and is using his experience, using his head and his drive, his determination is undiminished. 

"So he's just evolving still as a person and as a driver.

"It's very difficult to compare drivers. We've had some amazing drivers but he is certainly right up [there]."

While Verstappen looks likely to cruise to the drivers' title, Red Bull also hold a commanding 82-point advantage over Ferrari in the battle for the constructors' championship.

Although Red Bull are clear favourites to end Mercedes' eight-year stranglehold on the team prize, Horner says he is simply taking it one race at a time.

"The target is to keep building on what we've achieved. There are no finite targets," he added. "It's just about race-by-race, season-by-season and giving him [Verstappen] a car that his talent warrants.

"I still get the same buzz driving into the track on race morning that I did, even when I was driving myself many years ago. It's the competition, going up against the best teams in the world. You need to be at the top of your game.

"It's a team sport, the biggest team sport in the world. If you're lucky enough to win a grand prix, it means every single person within that organisation is doing and fulfilling their part and role."

Verstappen and Red Bull will bid to extend their fine run of form at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday.

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