Verstappen arrived in Hungary for the concluding round before Formula One’s summer break as arguably the sport’s pound-for-pound star.
The Dutchman, still only 21, has won two of the last three races, including his sublime drive to victory at the recent rain-hit German Grand Prix.
He has finished in the top five at the last 20 rounds. No driver outside of Hamilton’s all-conquering Mercedes team has scored more points than Verstappen in the last year.
Verstappen’s boss Christian Horner raised eyebrows when he said ahead of last month’s British Grand Prix that his driver would beat Hamilton if they were in identical machinery.
Former world champions Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg, old team-mates of Hamilton’s, have both since echoed Horner’s sentiments. Indeed, Rosberg claimed that Verstappen would be leading Hamilton in the championship if he traded in his Red Bull for a Mercedes.
“I don’t say anything about this and I don’t care,” said Verstappen, 63 points behind Hamilton in the standings. “For me, the most important thing is to perform on track.
“I made a big jump into Formula One and I made mistakes when I started. I am still getting better. I am only 21 and you learn how to become better through experience.”
Horner et al could be accused of jumping the gun. Verstappen has won seven races. Hamilton, 42 points clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, is this year closing in on his sixth world title. He has 80 victories, too.
Verstappen is Formula One’s youngest starter, controversially just 17, and without a road licence, when he made his debut. He is the sport’s youngest winner, at 18, when he triumphed in his first appearance for Red Bull in Spain in 2017.
Verstappen’s orange army follow him across Europe. Such is Verstappen’s pull that remarkably one million people have applied for tickets at his home race in the Netherlands next May. A ballot will be held for the 110,000 seats available at the Zandvoort race, Holland’s first grand prix in 36 years.
Mercedes are courting Verstappen and there has been a suggestion they could move for the Dutch star as early as next year, putting him alongside Hamilton in a blockbuster line-up. It seems unlikely with 18 months still to run on Verstappen’s £20million-a-year deal at Red Bull.
“I have not heard from Lewis saying he wants to join Red Bull,” Horner joked when asked if such a driver pairing would be good for the sport. “You can see positives and negatives in that scenario.
“Max is still a young guy. He has been driving at a very high standard and he delivered a phenomenal performance last weekend to keep his head in varying conditions. Max is arguably the most in-form driver on the grid. His situation with us is clear.”
Lewis Hamilton edged out Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to finish fastest in opening practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The world champion, who was back on the track after his Hockenheim horror show, saw off Verstappen by 0.165 seconds.
Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel finished third ahead of Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly. Valtteri Bottas did not set a time after Mercedes discovered a fault with his engine.
Hamilton crashed from the lead at last weekend’s rain-disrupted German Grand Prix before crossing the line in 11th place.
The Briton had been battling a virus but, after revealing he slept for three days ahead of this weekend’s race, the last ahead of Formula One’s summer break, he returned to the summit of the time sheets.
No other driver has won the Hungarian Grand Prix more times than Hamilton, and the 34-year-old will go in search of his seventh victory here on Sunday.
Hot on his heels will be Verstappen, the 21-year-old who took advantage of Hamilton’s mistake-ridden afternoon in Germany, to claim his second win from the last three races.
The early signs suggest it could be a three-way fight for victory with Vettel, who drove from last to second at his home race, just one thousandth of a second slower than Verstappen.
Bottas should have reduced the championship deficit to Hamilton at the last race, but crashed out in the closing stages.
Bottas, now 41 points adrift of his team-mate, was sidelined on Friday morning, after Mercedes identified a problem with his engine.
Mercedes were forced to change Bottas’ power unit, leaving the Finn without a time to his name.
Kevin Magnussen finished fifth for Haas ahead of Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc in sixth.
British rookie Lando Norris ended the opening running in eighth, 1.3 seconds off the pace. George Russell finished ahead of Racing Point’s Lance Stroll and Robert Kubica in the sister Williams to finish 17th.
The London-born Thai Alexander Albon crashed out of the rain-interrupted second session after he lost control of his Toro Rosso through the final corner.
Eyebrows were raised around the paddock when Toro Rosso announced last September that they would be bringing Daniil Kvyat back to the team after he spent over a year in the Formula One wilderness. But 11 races into the 2019 season, it seems to be the right choice.
Toro Rosso found themselves on an F1 podium for the first time in 11 years on Sunday, as Kvyat took advantage of a dramatic German Grand Prix to finish third.
What made Kvyat’s podium all the more extraordinary was that it came from him starting 14th on the grid, with the Russian even sitting as low as 19th in the early stages of the race.
But he kept his nerve, stayed confident and showed impressive pace in the final laps to nip ahead of Lance Stroll and clinch his third-ever podium.
Kvyat’s stunning finish was the Red Bull feeder team’s second podium in history after a young Sebastian Vettel clinched victory at the 2008 Italian Grand Prix.
Remarkably, 25-year-old Kvyat wasn’t even involved in the sport last year after being dropped, joining Ferrari as a development driver, only to make his return this campaign after Red Bull called to fill a vacancy at Toro Rosso.
His recall represented a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for someone whose career appeared over not too long ago.
The Ufa native was relegated from Red Bull in May 2016 for Max Verstappen and, after joining Toro Rosso, was dropped towards the end of the 2017 campaign after scoring just five points to Carlos Sainz’s tally of 54 during the time they were team-mates.
However, right now, Kvyat is looking as strong as any one of the midfield drivers as he attempts to solidify his position in the sport for the long haul – whether that is at Toro Rosso or another side.
One only needs to look at his results this season to highlight his classy form, sitting eighth in the drivers standings on 27 points, with his stunning podium in Germany adding to other formidable displays in Barcelona, Monaco and Silverstone.
In contrast, his rookie team-mate Alexander Albon lies 15th on 15 points.
Could Kvyat’s consistent performances mean a potential promotion to Red Bull in 2020?
Pierre Gasly’s inability to match the pace of team-mate Verstappen since his switch from Toro Rosso for this season has sparked rumours about his future with the Milton Keynes outfit.
While Albon could be an option for Red Bull, it is unlikely he would get the nod for next year as a potential replacement, especially if Christian Horner and Co firmly believe that Gasly was promoted too quickly.
That would, in effect, leave Kvyat as the most likely candidate to move up, having already gained previous experience at Red Bull during the 2015 campaign and for the first four races of the 2016 season.
In saying that, his return may only be a short-term fix, but could present a long-term opportunity for Kvyat himself.
If he can continue to perform strongly for the rest of the campaign, opportunities may present themselves elsewhere on the grid.
His F1 experience would be viewed highly at teams such as Haas or Alfa Romeo, while Toro Rosso works to build its pool of young talent once more.
Rising stars Dan Ticktum and Patricio O’Ward are often name-checked as future Toro Rosso or Red Bull drivers and it could only be a matter of time before they get a run.
If, however, there is a change, it is unlikely Kvyat will make way. His display in Hockenheim is a huge statement, and proof that his latest chance in F1 is well deserved.