Hamilton and Verstappen has the makings of F1's next great rivalry

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen made everyone else look fairly ordinary on Sunday, including the other two men they share an identical car with.

There's lots to digest from the Hungarian Grand Prix, the last race before the four-week summer break, and the most obvious place to start is with a rivalry which is finally bubbling into something with box office potential.

Hamilton vs. Verstappen lives up to its billing: Just like it was strange that it took Max Verstappen so long to score a pole position, it was odd that it's taken this long for us to see Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton fighting that closely for a race victory. And just like Saturday afternoon, it was worth the wait.

The two men are at opposite ends of their careers but they were in a class of their own on Sunday. After exchanging metronomic lap times at the front, the pair went wheel-to-wheel in breath-taking style on Lap 39. The Verstappen of old might have leapt erratically one way and then another under braking, but this was a beautifully clean fight. Hamilton tried to get the move done around the outside of Turn 1 and then had a think about an audacious pass at the top of Turn 4, but that one came to nought as he ran wide.

What was also impressive was the relentless consistency of both men. Perhaps it's a trait of a great driver, but it was interesting to hear both firing off matter-of-fact communications with their pit walls while delivering such good, consistent lap times -- pushing both the team's limits and their own. A championship fight this season is next to impossible given Hamilton's advantage, but if Red Bull and Honda are in the mix from March of next year, 2020 will be a title fight you do not want to miss.

A strategic masterstroke: Shortly after the strategy call which decided the race, it was clear seeds of doubt had been sewn in the two main protagonists for victory.

When Hamilton pitted on Lap 48, he emerged on fresh medium tyres 20 seconds down, with 21 laps to make up the deficit. It seemed to be a big ask. Hamilton opened his radio channel to say he thought it was the wrong call, although Verstappen opened his to tell Red Bull they should have copied what Mercedes did.

The call hung in the balance for a little bit, but before long it was clear Mercedes had judged the situation beautifully as Hamilton slashed away at the gap as Verstappen neared the end of his tyre life. In the end, the pass was routine, a Mercedes easing past a Red Bull like it was 2014. Red Bull quickly conceded defeat, called Verstappen in for a fresh set of tyres which he used to claim the extra point for fastest lap.

After the race, Hamilton was quick to praise his race engineer Peter Bonnington, who often is at the receiving end of the five-time world champion's more intense radio messages, and chief strategist James Vowles, who later joined him on the podium as a reward.

"Thank you so much James, Bono," he said. "You guys thank you so much for this weekend ... James, sorry I doubted the strategy. That was a tall order, man."

Ferrari has homework to do: Imagine predicting at the end of winter testing that Ferrari would be 60 seconds behind Mercedes and Red Bull at the Hungarian Grand Prix, it would have seemed like a crazy suggestion. But that's the reality the team faces as it heads back to Maranello.

Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc enjoyed their own personal fight for the final podium spot -- Vettel won that with a lovely move at Turn 1 in the closing moments -- but there aren't many silver linings for the team at this point.

Speaking after the race, Vettel gave a rather frank assessment of its current situation.

"I tried everything obviously but I can't be happy because we are not fast today," Vettel said "I think losing 60 seconds in 70 laps is probably fair, that's what we are missing. Maybe we didn't pick the absolute fastest strategy but we're just not quick enough today. A lot of homework for us."

Ferrari's engine seems to have an outright power advantage, which should suit the team in Belgium and its home race in Italy, but it sounds as a lot of people will be facing up to some rather harsh truths in the coming months.

Terrible timing: If there was ever a time Valtteri Bottas couldn't afford a bad display, it was today. On Saturday, Toto Wolff had confirmed to the media what most people assumed anyway -- at some point over the next few weeks, he will pick Bottas or reserve driver Esteban Ocon as the man to partner Hamilton in 2020.

Those quotes must have been ringing in Bottas' ears all day before the race. What a chance to snatch the initiative, return to the top step of the podium and make Wolff's decision as easy as possible. As it turned out, the Finn's race unravelled within seconds of the start.

After locking up at the first two corners, he made contact with Hamilton and then Leclerc, forcing him to pit for a new front wing. He was in damage limitation from that point and eighth position was the best he could manage.

"It was tough, not what I expected, obviously far from it," Bottas said immediately afterwards. "After the first lap it was a bit of a mess and I knew that it was going to be tricky for sure. I tried everything I could but that's how it goes sometimes."

It leaves him a staggering 63 points behind Hamilton with nine races to go.

"It's a big gap, much bigger than I would have liked to have," he said later in the evening. "But that's the gap now. Not much else I can do. Don't really want to think about it too much now, for sure.

"Obviously, it's a bit of a tricky situation, but that's how it is."

But he's not the only driver with a lot to think about before the Belgian Grand Prix ...

Buyer's remorse: You know you're in trouble when the reigning world champion is making jokes about you after the race. In the press conference which followed, Hamilton playfully suggested to Verstappen that his old rival Fernando Alonso would be a good teammate, saying Red Bull has a race-winning seat going to waste.

The reference was to Pierre Gasly, who goes into the summer break having undone any goodwill he had created at Silverstone or Hockenheim, when the team was quick to point to small improvements as sign of an imminent turnaround. After a frustrating afternoon, he finds himself just five points ahead of McLaren's Carlos Sainz -- the man Red Bull could have picked to replace Daniel Ricciardo instead of the Frenchman. Not only is that an awkward statistic given Sainz's history, it's crazy to think a Red Bull is that close to a car outside of the top three during an era where F1 is essentially a two-tier championship.

While Sainz is off the table for Red Bull, Toro Rosso pair Daniil Kvyat and Alexander Albon are not -- but there are doubts either would be ready to make that step right now. Red Bull boss Christian Horner suggested Gasly faces a crucial period of reflection away from F1 during the summer.

Speaking after the race, Horner said: "It's been a frustrating weekend for Pierre. The start wasn't great, the first lap wasn't great. We shouldn't be racing Saubers and McLarens... we need him to be racing Ferraris and Mercedes. Everything that we can do to try and help him achieve that is what we'll do.

"I think he really needs to take some time out during the summer break, reflect on the first half of the season and take those lessons into the second half of the year.

"It's vital for us, if we have any chance of catching Ferrari, that we have him finishing further ahead."

One year on: Daniel Ricciardo is spending most of the summer break in L.A., where he is being joined by family who are flying in from Australia. The journey has parallels to the one he took 12 months ago -- on the flight over on that occasion, he turned on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, took some time to himself and finally decided that it was time to leave Red Bull for Renault. The move shocked F1 and most people wondered if he would live to regret it.

Verstappen won't win the championship this year, and Ricciardo always insists there were multiple little factors which all contributed to his decision to leave. But from a pure performance perspective, that decision could be on his mind as he makes the trip across the Atlantic on this occasion.

Doubts about Honda's long-term project were certainly one of those factors and, had it not been for Hamilton nailing Mercedes' brilliant strategy on Sunday evening, Verstappen would have three wins to his name from four races. That figure could have been two or three, but Renault's poor form would have remained the same. Ricciardo and teammate Nico Hulkenberg have endured a frustrating run of races and both will be expecting significant improvements after the summer break.

Rookies on form: George Russell had the best weekend of his rookie season, dragging the Williams up to 16th in qualifying on Saturday and then finishing in the same position on Sunday. That's an impressive achievement given how bad that car is.

His fellow class of 2019 rookies impressed as well. It looked like slow pit stops would hamper McLaren's Lando Norris -- who really was superb all weekend -- and Toro Rosso's Alexander Albon on Sunday afternoon but both were able to keep their composure to snatch the final two points paying positions on offer. This could be a contender for the best rookie class of all time...

Two statistics worthy of mention:

  • Lewis Hamilton's first Mercedes victory came at the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix, his only win in his debut year with the team. Back then he had one world championship, and it was his 22nd victory. Fast forward six years and he has five world titles (and is rapidly closing on a sixth) and 81 victories, just 10 shy of Michael Schumacher's all-time record.

  • Max Verstappen could have started the 2019 season from the Austrian Grand Prix (four races ago) and he'd still have more points than Pierre Gasly right now.