The Formula 1 teams head into the third back-to-back race weekend of the season, and will have little time to recover from the German Grand Prix last weekend as they set up shop in Hungary for this weekend’s Grand Prix.
A surprisingly dull race last weekend was made only more interesting by the team orders scandal that broke out in the wake of Ferrari’s place-switching antics, and it might actually be the only thing to liven up his weekend’s proceedings if the Hungaroring’s reputation as a snooze-fest continues.
|FORMULA 1 ENI MAGYAR NAGYDIJ 2010
|Date:||1 August 2010||No. Laps||70|
|Lap Length:||4.381km||Race Distance:||306.630km|
|Lap Record:||1:19.071 – Michael Schumacher (2004, Ferrari)|
Constructed in the rolling countryside some 20 kilometres outside Budapest’s city centre, the Hungaroring is a sadly typical embodiment of the rather soulless autodromes for which Hermann Tilke seems to have replicated in the subsequent years.
Its corners are largely slow, and the narrow dusty circuit limits overtaking opportunities, which has led to frustrations for faster drivers and plenty of collisions between drivers.
The first corner – a tight right-hander that drops into the valley on its exit (it was reprofiled and tightened in 2003) – is really the only overtaking spot, but the preceding main straight is generally too short for a faster car to get enough of a tow to blast past.
The track continues its plunge into the valley and towards Turn 2, a tight left-hander that almost immediately feeds into Turn 3, an opening right-hander that brings out understeer in F1 cars.
The track then climbs up towards the other side of the valley and through Turn 4, a fast, blind left-hander that feeds into Turn 5, a slow right-hander that takes forever. Thereon, the track continues along a sequence of twists and turns before eventually being fed onto the start-finish straight.
The final corner is a tight right-hander, through which drivers must tuck under the rear wing of the car ahead if they want to have a hope of getting by along the straight.
In the opinions of many, the Hungaroring is an opportunity wasted to make motorsport truly take off in eastern Europe, and its narrow, twisty nature provides little than anything but a follow-my-leader procession.
The History Bit
Conceived by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone as a way of getting Formula 1 behind the ‘Iron Curtain’, the Hungarian Grand Prix made its debut in the 1986 season. Despite initial concerns, the inaugural race was an astounding success and huge crowd of over 100,000 fans turned up on race day to watch Nelson Piquet have one of his greatest drives, defeating Ayrton Senna with two sensational passing manoeuvres.
In spite of the circuit’s reputation for providing particularly tedious races, conversely, the Hungaroring has also provided a home for some of the most thrilling Grands Prix in history.
One such example was the 1989 race, which saw Nigel Mansell storm to victory for Ferrari from a lowly 12th on the grid, taking the lead from Ayrton Senna with a typically brilliant opportunistic pass while the Brazilian was trying to lap Stefan Johansson’s Onyx.
The 1990 race proved to be more of a race of stealth, with Ayrton Senna hunting down Thierry Boutsen’s Williams after the Brazilian had crudely shoved race-leader Alessandro Nannini off the circuit. Somehow, the Belgian driver withstood the most enormous pressure for lap after lap from the Brazilian maestro to win by just a car’s length.
In 1992, Nigel Mansell finally achieved his coveted World Championship crown, but not without a typical piece of drama along the way, as he recovered from a late-race puncture.
Damon Hill has proved to be another driver who has enjoyed considerable success in Hungary, taking his first race victory at the circuit for Williams in 1993, and repeating the feat a year later.
Indeed, Damon was denied a third victory in 1997 when he hauled his unfancied Arrows into the lead with an outstanding passing move on Michael Schumacher into Turn 1, and leading until the final lap when his throttle failed.
The 1998 race provided fans with one of the first examples of the Ross Brawn – Michael Schumacher partnership at its best, when the German made an unfancied three-stop strategy work in favour to take a sensational victory and keep him in the championship hunt. Many regard it as among the German’s greatest of his 91 race victories.
Other drivers to enjoy a maiden victory in Hungary were Fernando Alonso (2003) and Jenson Button, who took his (and BAR’s) first ever win in 2006 after managing the wet-dry conditions the best of all the teams in a chaotic race (pictured left).
(An interesting and particularly useless statistic is that three of the drivers to have their maiden F1 victory at the Hungaroring have each gone on the win the World Championship three year’s later! Could Heikki Kovalainen achieve the same feat in 2011?)
Last year’s event gave fans and the F1 fraternity its most frightening incident in recent times, when Felipe Massa had a freak qualifying accident and suffered severe head injuries from which, thankfully, he has recovered.
What to expect?
If Fernando Alonso and Ferrari’s rivals are hoping that the goings-on will upset the applecart in the Maranello squad, they’re dreaming – the Spaniard has typically proven himself to be one of the toughest drivers when the odds are against him.
The excellent 1-2 achieved by the red cars last weekend could well be the omen of things to come as the team finally begins to sort out its 2010 package, and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the team can repeat the feat this weekend.
With overtaking proving notoriously difficult at this circuit, a good qualifying result is more crucial than ever here. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see another all-out qualifying session like we saw last weekend – where pole and second place were split by just 0.002 seconds!
This weekend will prove a true test of character for Felipe Massa, who had to cede to his team-mate last weekend and will be returning to the scene of his near-death accident a year ago. Having to deal with whatever psychological scars still remain from that event is one thing, but his confidence might be battered after the team effectively declared that he was not a championship-winning consideration for 2010.
One question that will be interesting is whether Ferrari might find itself trying the same stunt again if it happens to find Massa running ahead of Alonso this weekend. With the threat of further sanctions looming with an upcoming meeting of the World Motor Sports Council, Ferrari won’t want to risk things further, one would think…
For chief rivals Red Bull, the team will be left scratching its head and will be wondering why its supreme qualifying pace seems to desert it on race day. Particularly for Sebastian Vettel, who has qualified on pole for the last two races, yet not led a lap of either.
However, with team-mate Mark Webber having to slow his charge last weekend due to oil pressure concerns, that stormy cloud known as unreliability seems to have returned to the Red Bull camp as well. The team certainly doesn’t want to throw away valuable points with more technical failures…
Red Bull and Ferrari will be very much hoping to pinch more points off the current championship-leading McLaren outfit, which has not shown anything like the sparkling form that took it to its last race victory in Canada.
When one considers McLaren’s form on the high-downforce circuits – or rather, lack of it, if you use Monaco as an example – then this could prove a tough weekend for Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, with the team needing to fine-tune its work on its own iteration of the ‘blown diffuser’ concept.
Contrastingly, the Renault team had its strongest weekend at Monaco, and the similar circuit characteristics possessed by the Hungaroring could put Robert Kubica (who qualified on the front row and finished third at the Principality) in good stead this weekend.
The warm August weather should see tyre management play another crucial factor in the race, and the circuit’s lack of passing opportunities will make passing backmarkers a particular issue this weekend.