Daniel Ricciardo’s signature smile could be as big as it gets this weekend at one of his favourite circuits on the grand prix calendar.
If his Renault RS20 can do the job the Hungarian Grand Prix will be an all-or-nothing event for the Honey Badger.
Formula One is wrapping its first triple-header in Hungary after back-to-back races at the Red Bull Ring with the Austrian and Styrian Grands Prix.
Mercedes-AMG is still the team to beat, and plenty of people will be hoping Ferrari can recover some lost ground after two dismal events for the red car, but Ricciardo is thinking about himself.
“I can’t wait to get back to Budapest. It’s one of my favourite circuits,” says Ricciardo.
“I’m pumped to have a good one this time around and trying this year’s car on a high-downforce circuit for the first time. I’m quite enjoying these back-to-back races.
“Since we’ve been competitive in Austria, I know we’re going to have a chance in Hungary for a good result.”
Renault F1 has battled overheating through the Austrian events and the team is working flat-out on a solution. It thought the problem was solved after the Austrian event, but it returned when Esteban Ocon had to park during the Styrian GP.
“This poor reliability is not acceptable,” says team boss Cyril Abiteboul.
“We put a lot of effort in to return and examine the parts in the UK before sending them back to the track but clearly we missed something.”
With just five days between Styria and Hungary there’s no guarantee the issue has been resolved, however Ricciardo believes his car will get stronger as the race wears on.
“In race trim we’ve still got a bit to improve but our cars suffer less with dirty air.
“Our downforce is more efficient and as the laps tick over, when we’re on low fuel the rear improves a lot. Compared to our overlays from last year, we’re getting traction and full throttle earlier.”
Hungary is one of the tracks where Ricciardo developed his reputation for late braking dives after a brave pass on Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari in the rain in 2014.
The dramatic move set-up his win just a few laps later after pulling off a seemingly-impossible outside move on Lewis Hamilton at Turn 2.
Ricciardo repeated these decisive moves in 2018 when he fought through the field, driving from 16th to fourth.
While the cracks of three weeks racing back-to-back are showing at Renault and Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz continues to race off into the distance.
Red Bull looks relatively close, with Max ‘makes-things-happen’ Verstappen as best of the challengers, with the latest Racing Point car – nicknamed the ‘Pink Mercedes’ – the surprise packet of 2020.
Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have a win each with the second place by Bottas last Sunday giving Mercedes its 54th one-two finish in Formula One though, worryingly for their rivals, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes there’s still more to come.
“There was probably more last week in Lewis but it’s always easier to lead than to follow, however we haven’t seen the full potential of the Mercedes,” Wolff says.
He concedes though, that his cars will be vulnerable to the Red Bulls through Hungary’s slow-speed corners.
“We lost to Red Bull in the slow Turns 3 and 4 in Austria so it’s a different ballgame with lots of downforce, slow and medium corners.
“The Hungaroring has always suited Red Bull and they’ve shown their strength in the slow corners again this year, so they will be very hard to beat.
Despite this, Hamilton has seven wins to his name in Hungary, more than any other driver, so he remains odds-on favourite for Sunday.
The Mercedes-powered Racing Points of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll could again be the surprise package despite a protest from Renault which resulted in the cars being impounded following last weekend’s race.
Perez charged through from 17th to sixth and traded fastest laps with the Mercedes and Red Bull, resulting in the former minnows going to Hungary holding fourth place in the Constructors Championship.
When Red Bull team boss Christian Horner is asked if he was worried by Racing Point’s new pace, he says every team should be concerned.
“Perez was quicker than the Mercedes at one point. Remembering that Bottas was on tyres that were within one lap of the Racing Point, yet Sergio was four tenths quicker,” he says.
Ferrari’s 2020 nightmare continues with the worst start to an F1 season since 1992.
Reports during the week suggest that team principal, Matteo Binotto could be replaced by Ferrari GT boss Antonello Coletta if nothing gets better.
The Scuderia is fifth on 19 points, 61 off Mercedes after both drivers crashed into each other on the opening lap and into retirement.
“It was very painful to see both our cars back in the garage,” Binotto says.
“However difficult moments can bring out the best in people and I’m sure that will be the case now.”
The floor and front wing aero tweaks due for Hungary but rushed through for last weekend failed to improve in either wet and dry conditions while the engine remains off the pace with no Ferrari-powered car finishing any of the Styrian GP’s four track sessions in the top eight.
“After the poor showing last weekend in Spielberg it’s good that I can get straight back on track,” says Vettel.
“It’s also a track that attracts a lot of Ferrari fans and supporters from Germany too, so it will be very strange racing without seeing them cheering in the grandstands.”