Preview of the Hungarian Grand Prix
Formula One heads straight from Germany and off to Hungary and into the second half of the season… And then it promptly shuts down for a month. Before the teams can enjoy a well deserved rest, however, there is still the matter of what is a deceptively tricky and technically challenging circuit. Fernando Alonso will be hoping to extend his lead in the Drivers’ Championship while McLaren will be hoping for a dry race so as to exploit their updates which looked promising at Hockenheim. Red Bull, meanwhile, were referred to the stewards over irregularities with their engine mapping in Germany. They were eventually given the nod but a rule clarification is likely, potentially ahead of this weekend’s race, and could be a set back for the outfit.
So what should you expect this weekend?
Track and Conditions
It may seem a little like an overgrown go-kart track, but the Hungaroring is a terrific circuit at which to watch, with many parts of the track viewable from the paddock. Cars look spectacular here, bouncing off the kerbs while low camera angles give an impression of speed at what is really quite a low-speed circuit. The drivers enjoy it too because it’s so involving. Each corner leads into the next, and there is very little chance to pause and catch one’s breath. That said, the racing can be very processional unless exception circumstances or changes of weather conspire to shake things up.
The constantly changing gradient makes the track interesting to race on, and precision is of key importance because the car is turning for a large part of the lap. The track runs along one side of a valley, drops down into the sweeping Turns 1 and 2, and then rises up again. It’s at this first corner that the only real chance of a passing move lies. The final section of spoon curves allows cars to bunch up tightly behind each other, all looking to catapult themselves past on the straight.
Typically hot and sunny, Hungary occasionally throws up some rain and indeed the long range forecast hints at the potential for showers, possibly thundery, on Sunday. The natural bowl-like landscape makes it a great circuit for spectators but it also helps trap the heat and can contribute to producing one of the hottest races of the year.
Most of all, the emphasis is on downforce and teams will run maximum wing. This is all about maximising traction out of the low-speed corners, braking stability and dialling out understeer. The car also needs to ride the kerbs a lot, so a soft front end suspension setup can assist.
Good driveability is required from the engine rather than peak power – again it’s about traction out of the corners. The only relatively serious braking point is into Turn 1, after that the braking demands are fairly light although high temperatures can give teams something to think about in terms of cooling.
The Hungaroring is little used outside of the Grand Prix weekend and therefore the track can be quite dusty and low on grip at the beginning of the weekend. The surrounding landscape doesn’t help and if the wind gets up, a covering of dust can soon descend on the track again. Last year, Pirelli provided its two softest compounds but for 2012 they’ve taken a step up with the medium and soft tyres. Given that the supersofts were only good for around 15-16 laps of what is a 70-lap race, that’s probably a reasonable decision. What was a three- or four-stop race last year will now more likely see a two- or three-stop strategy from the front runners – if it remains dry.
Hungary sees little in the way of first lap incidents, with no early retirements in the last five years. Indeed, the low speeds and adequate run-off has produced the second lowest rates of accidents and only one safety car in that period. Mechanically, it’s a different story and Budapest ranks sixth on this year’s calendar for retirement-causing car problems – almost 14% of all starters in the last five years have succumbed.
1998 produced one of Michael Schumacher’s most remarkable drives. With McLaren having locked out the front row, he had to run a three-stop strategy, being instructed to run every lap as if it was a qualifying lap. This he promptly did, getting ahead of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard at their second stops and edging out enough of gap to still be ahead after the Ferrari driver’s third.
Ones To Watch
McLaren have shown a habit of coming good around the Hungaroring’s twists and turns in recent years and Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton have two victories apiece at the circuit. Further back in the field, Heikki Kovalainen should mark his 100th race start at the circuit where he won his (so far) sole grand prix victory back in 2008.
Food for Thought
Who do you think will win in Hungary? How will the Drivers’ and Constructors’ standings look going into the summer break?
Circuit Profile – Hungaroring
2011 Hungarian Grand Prix – Button Triumphs in Hungary
The 1936 Hungarian Grand Prix
Photos: Red Bull Racing/Mark Thompson/Getty Images, Mercedes AMG Petronas, Pirelli Tyres, Williams F1/Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic