Hungarian Grand Prix Preview

Wednesday 24-July-2013 17:06

It may only be three weeks, but the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring seems like a lifetime ago. So it's good to be previewing a return to Budapest and the Formula 1 Magyar Nagydij 2013.

Drivers enjoy the city and the welcome from the Hungarian (and Finnish) fans, and a few of them actually like the circuit too, which in many respects is a glorified kart track. It has a succession of slow corners, one leading immediately onto another, making it the second slowest track on the calendar. It is only just faster than Monaco, but without all the tax-dodging.

As Renault motorsport boss Remi Taffin says, it's not about engine power: "Outright engine power is not a major concern. As a result we generally use engines on the third race and work to deliver good low-speed torque response and driveability."

Since the Nurburgring, Pirelli have been working to supply F1 with new tyres - everyone bar Mercedes got to run with them at the Young Driver Test and the reaction was positive from the teams.

Pirelli have modified their P Zero tyre with a reversion to the 2012 construction which is now married to the range of softer 2013 compounds. Their motorsport boss Paul Hembery, having weathered the storm that the F1 teams created after the Silverstone GP, is looking forward to a good old-fashioned strategy battle at the Hungaroring. Even though 10 teams got to run the tyres at the Young Driver Test (and Mercedes received the data) Hembery believes that Friday set-up work will be crucial to figuring out strategy.

"Overtaking at this circuit is never an easy task, "said Hembery, "so the teams will be looking to use strategy to maximise their opportunities to gain track position. The selection of medium and soft tyres should provide plenty of chances to help them do that, based on the data that all the teams gain with different fuel loads in free practice."

Many Fridays have been ruined in previous grand prix weekend by Friday rain, but at the Hungaroring it's expected to be Scorchio all weekend with ambient temperatures of 32C, 33C and 36C for the race.

Looking after your rears may well be the order of the day, but Hembery believes that the Softs and Mediums will just lose performance rather than disintegrate. "With levels of lateral energy relatively low, tyre performance rather than durability will be the limiting factor and this will form the basis of the strategy selected."

The added durability of the new tyre may well be to the advantage of Lotus, Force India and Ferrari who will be able to eke out performance on the Soft tyres, while Mercedes and Red Bull may be forced into using the slower Medium tyres. A lot of computing and brain power will have gone into solving degradation issues since the last race, none more so than at Mercedes who had to sit out the Young Driver Test.

Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff should have been a lot more upbeat about the weekend in prospect. In the last race at a tight, twisty circuit - Monaco - his cars locked out the front row and won the race. But that was on a different tyre. "We are under no illusions that we have a number of challenges to overcome," Wolff said. "First, we will need to do extra homework on Friday to understand how the new tyres work with our car. Then we will have to get to grips with the high temperatures, a demanding circuit and the new Soft and Medium compound Pirelli tyres. "

At least he'll have a couple of pumped up drivers. Lewis Hamilton has won the Hungarian Grand Prix three times before and Nico Rosberg just wants to beat Lewis Hamilton.

There may not be any Hungarian drivers on the grid, but ever since the days of Mika Hakkinen, the race has attracted a lot of Finnish fans. Some of them may be cheering Valtteri Bottas, but the majority will be hoping that Kimi Raikkonen doesn't have to step onto that hated second step of the podium again.

"I have finished second in Hungary too many times," grumbled the Ice (Cream) Man, "so I know how important it is to lead the race after the first corner. DRS or not, it's never easy to overtake at the Hungaroring. To get the weekend right, you have to have good sessions in FP1, FP2 and FP3, then a strong qualifying session and finally a perfect start to the race."

"Many times Hungary has been called 'the Grand Prix of Finland'. A lot of Finns go to this race every year and it is always nice to see the blue and white flags waving. Hopefully we get the result we are looking for."

One thing that Raikkonen was concerned about was the dust at the Hungaroring, especially on the dirty side of the grid. Often teams worry about starting on the dirty side of the grid and nothing dreadful happens, but at the Hungaroring it can be a problem. And with teams able to re-arrange their drivers by changing a gearbox and hence changing the left-side starters to right-side starters, it is a lottery that can still be manipulated. (Maybe the FIA should have the power to impose a six-place penalty for a gearbox that they believe has been changed for tactical reasons?)

Red Bull will be hoping to battle it out with Lotus and Mercedes for the win, and having gone quickest on the new Pirelli rubber at the YDT they will obviously be hoping to add to Mark Webber's win at the circuit. It's been an interesting week with the team announcing a July 6th 2014 date for an Austrian GP at the Red Bull Ring. So presumably next year this will precede the Hungarian GP and may even elbow aside the 2014 German GP.

The Hungarian race marks the start of the F1 holiday season and after this it will be another four weeks until the race in Spa. Traditionally the grand prix was promoted by one of Bernie Ecclestone's companies and the good burghers of Budapest erected a statue of Bernard Charles at the Hungaroring looking, if truth be told, a little like a cross between Eric Morecambe and Elvis Costello. The way things are going with events in Munich, this may be the closest we get to Bernie's attendance next year...

Like the Australian Grand Prix, the tight confines and atypical nature of the circuit will only give a small piece of the picture about the teams' relative performance on the new tyre. The Belgian GP with many high-speed corners will provide much more of the picture. Butit's going to be a fascinating glimpse of the battles ahead.


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