By Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent
Lewis Hamilton expects Max Verstappen to cruise to his second world championship – describing the Red Bull driver’s path to probable glory as “smooth-sailing”.
Verstappen racked up the seventh win of his title defence at Sunday’s French Grand Prix after rival Charles Leclerc crashed out from the lead.
Verstappen will arrive for this week’s Hungarian Grand Prix – the final round before Formula One’s four-week summer shutdown – holding a commanding 63-point advantage over Leclerc, the equivalent of two-and-a-half victories with 10 rounds left.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 25, 2022
Hamilton, who is now more than a century of points behind Verstappen despite claiming his best result of the season with second place in France, said: “I am gutted for Charles. He has been doing a great job.
“But it is not easy to have that performance and pace and be able to maintain it. I feel for the whole team because I know what that can feel like.
“It is a massive gap to Max so that is pretty smooth-sailing for him in that space.
“But a lot can go wrong. I would just advise Ferrari to keep their heads down and continue to push.”
Rounding off race 3️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ in style! 💨 pic.twitter.com/NNVl9Z9kdc
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) July 25, 2022
Hamilton’s Mercedes team celebrated their finest result of the season with George Russell finishing third to join Hamilton on the podium.
It has been a turbulent campaign for the grid’s once all-conquering team, leaving Hamilton to draw parallels with 2009.
Hamilton started that season in a deeply uncompetitive McLaren before pulling off a surprise win at the Hungaroring. Could history repeat itself this weekend?
“I remember that year very clearly,” said Hamilton, who has won in Hungary a record eight times.
“I remember arriving back from winter training and being in a meeting with the guys, and they were like ‘we have already hit our downforce target’. And I was like ‘wow, really? That probably means we have not set the target high enough’.
“I got in the car in a test at Portimao and it was horrendous to drive, the worst car I have ever driven. But we chipped away at it, and we got our first win in Budapest.
“The start of this year was very similar. Sitting down it looked glorious. We had a lot of performance on the car, and a lot of confidence that the car was going to be good.
“But we got in the car, it was bouncing and it has taken a long time to fix that.
“So far we have not made that big step that we did in 2009 to win in Budapest but who knows? We are not giving up.
“We are staying pedal to the metal. Maybe our car will be good in Hungary, maybe we will be closer to Red Bull and Ferrari. I hope so much that we will be because I love that track.”