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IT'S RACE WEEK: 5 storylines we're excited about ahead of the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

Special Contributor

Chris Medland
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BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 31: A general view of the gri during the F1 Grand Prix of Hungary at

And just like that, we’re into the final pair of races before the summer break, but there’s no time to relax for the drivers with records to be broken, fierce battles to win and a returning big name with a point to prove. So here are some of the main talking points ahead of this weekend’s trip to the Hungaroring.

Daniel Ricciardo’s return

I’m sure you haven’t missed it, but if for some reason you tuned out from the latest happenings in the paddock after Silverstone then the big news over the past week is the decision from Red Bull to replace Nyck de Vries with Daniel Ricciardo at AlphaTauri.

EXCLUSIVE: Ricciardo on his sensational F1 return, getting back to the ‘old me’ and what’s possible with AlphaTauri

The decision appears to be as much about wanting to evaluate Ricciardo as it was about De Vries’ performances in the first ten races of this season, with the AlphaTauri proving tough to get results out of as the team have slipped to the bottom of the constructors’ championship.

Ricciardo impressed with his lap times in the Pirelli tyre test at Silverstone last week and Red Bull moved quickly to put him alongside Yuki Tsunoda for the rest of the season, starting with this weekend’s race in Budapest.

The Australian’s return is a popular move but he has a major task on his hands to try and get the better of Tsunoda, let alone pick up points in a difficult car. And it all comes after his tough spell at McLaren that led to Ricciardo wanting a break from racing. Refreshed and with the motivation back to return to an F1 seat, Red Bull will expect him to deliver quickly…

Daniel Ricciardo returns to F1 with AlphaTauri

Red Bull chasing history

And speaking of Red Bull delivering, the team are on the cusp of breaking a Formula 1 record that has stood for some 35 years.

Max Verstappen’s victory in the British Grand Prix moved Red Bull onto 11 consecutive wins, matching McLaren’s tally from the 1988 season. So I’m sure you’ve all worked out that means Red Bull can set a new record if they are victorious at the Hungaroring, moving clear of the rest on 12 straight wins.

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It’s a run that stretches back to Abu Dhabi last year, and the only interruption since Carlos Sainz won at Silverstone more than a year ago has been George Russell’s first victory at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Between Verstappen and Sergio Perez, Red Bull have won 20 of the past 21 races, and will fancy their chances of completing a clean sweep of the first part of the season over the next two weekends.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 09: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull

Red Bull have won all 10 races so far this season and could make it 12 straight wins with a victory in Hungary

Where will McLaren stack up?

When it comes to teams that might be able to prevent Red Bull from making history a new threat has emerged in recent weeks. And that threat comes from McLaren.

A major upgrade introduced in Austria helped propel Lando Norris to fourth place and a much-improved performance from the car, but McLaren warned the track and conditions suited them. So then it was on to Silverstone, where Oscar Piastri also got the developments and qualified third behind Norris, finishing fourth as Norris held onto a hugely impressive second place.

READ MORE: Brown says McLaren are ‘back in the game’ after being ‘nowhere’ at start of season

Again, McLaren say that was partly due to the circuit characteristics and weather – with cloud cover keeping track temperatures low, so the expectations are that Budapest will provide a very different sample set to gauge McLaren’s progress. Mainly medium and low-speed corners, plus regular high temperatures, is all a big departure from the past two venues.

There will also be the final step from this round of updates to be introduced, all making McLaren a team to watch that could well be snapping at Red Bull’s heels once again.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 09: Second placed Lando Norris of Great Britain celebrates in parc

McLaren are bringing some more upgrades to their car after a podium last time out in Silverstone

The overall fight for second

And if McLaren do manage to remain as competitive as they were in Silverstone, then that will provide a further headache for the rest of the chasing pack.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the 2023 season so far has been the battle to be best of the rest behind Red Bull, with Aston Martin, Mercedes and Ferrari all taking turns to be the nearest challenger at different circuits.

READ MORE: Vasseur hopes Ferrari can bounce back in Hungary after being ‘far too conservative’ at Silverstone

Just a look at the past four venues gives four different teams offering the biggest threat, with McLaren’s performance at Silverstone coming after Ferrari put the pressure on in Austria, Aston Martin led the charge in Canada and Mercedes looked particularly quick in Barcelona.

Small factors can make a big difference but if we look at similar track layouts then Aston Martin were extremely competitive in Monaco, but there have been so many developments since then that it’s impossible to predict the pecking order with any certainty.

McLaren might be a new team to factor into the fight each weekend but they are a long way back in terms of the constructors’ championship, so it’s Ferrari in fourth overall who could do with chipping away at the 46-point deficit to second-placed Mercedes in the standings.

Oh, and that’s all without considering the possibility of Alpine getting in the mix after Esteban Ocon’s podium in Monaco.

NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 09: Third placed Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes waves to

Lewis Hamilton's contract talks with Mercedes will be a key topic at this week's race in Budapest

Lewis Hamilton’s contract talks

Off-track, one of the biggest storylines remains unresolved as we near the summer break with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes yet to finalise a new contract for the seven-time world champion.

Comments from both sides of the deal have suggested that an agreement has been close for a number of weeks now, with the much finer details - rather than money or contract length - being worked on. But we’re now just over four months away from what would be the final race of Hamilton’s current deal, and talks have been active for some time.

READ MORE: ‘It’s massively exciting’ – Hamilton shares more details on Apple’s F1 movie ahead of Silverstone filming

There has yet to be anything said by either Hamilton or Mercedes that suggests there is any doubt that the contract will be agreed and signed eventually, but observers will only become more and more interested the longer time goes on without an announcement.

Three podiums in the past four races shows that Hamilton is still performing at the top of his game, and in Silverstone he told Sky Sports that he feels he has another five years in him, but as it stands he doesn’t have a deal in place for 2024.

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