The Hungarian Grand Prix follows hot on the heels of Germany and is the last race before the three week summer break and testing ban. The championship battles are getting closer every race, both the drivers' and constructors' titles, and...
The Hungarian Grand Prix follows hot on the heels of Germany and is the last race before the three week summer break and testing ban. The championship battles are getting closer every race, both the drivers' and constructors' titles, and currently Ferrari has the upper hand on track, if not in the points. But can Renault put a damper on the Scuderia charge?
The Hungaroring is a slow, twisty, dusty circuit that rarely produces interesting races, at least from a spectator's point of view. It's been compared to Monaco but only characteristically -- it can hardly be said to have any of Monaco's glamour and atmosphere -- as it has the reputation of being almost impossible to overtake on.
"Hungaroring is a particularly technical circuit where it is crucial for the driver to find a good rhythm round the lap as the corners come in quick succession," said Williams technical director Sam Michael. "The track's configuration demands maximum downforce while set-up must take into account the propensity for some understeer."
Due to the layout it's not a track that overtaxes engines in terms of power requirements but the heat can be a problem. "In Budapest we've often had to contend with extreme thermal loads on the engines," explained BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen. "The heat builds up in the depressions of the race track, and there's no long straight either. Cool air is in short supply."
The frequent cornering and the usually high temperatures mean the tyres need good heat durability. "The nature of the circuit also means that good rear traction is required and the track surface is relatively smooth so we shall be using tyres from the softer end of the compound range to give our teams the necessary grip," said Bridgestone technical manager Hisao Suganuma.
For the drivers it's one of the most physically challenging events on the calendar. "One thing is always certain at this race and that is the extreme heat," said Ralf Schumacher, who scored his first podium with Toyota in Budapest last year. "You have to be really fit to drive in such high temperatures and still be able to concentrate at the end of the race."
Ferrari's current form looks hard to beat: three straight wins in a row for Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa on the podium in the last three races is impressive. Some people took it for granted in previous years that Ferrari would be impressive but last season the reds' competitiveness bit the dust. Now Schumacher is back in the title fight.
"This is our main aim: to keep our feet on the ground and keep fighting," said the German. "We will take a step at a time. Employing this approach is the only way that Hungary can be another positive round for us. Our objective has to be a clear one: to take as many points as possible and reduce the gap to Renault and Alonso."
Championship leader Fernando Alonso had a dismal time in Germany and lost six points to Michael -- while Ferrari dominated, Renault suffered blistering tyres and although the absence of the mass damper device was played down by the team, it contributed to the lack of performance. The device will be back in Budapest but will Renault's form be back?
Alonso, who took his first F1 victory in Hungary in 2003, believes it will. "I don't think we will see a repeat of what happened in Germany," the Spaniard remarked. "People are talking about Michael closing in, but I was never over-confident when I was leading -- and I am not panicking now. I am confident we can have a strong race."
Kimi Raikkonen was a welcome sight on the podium at Hockenheim. The Finn overcame a qualifying fuel blunder and an awkward three-stop race strategy to be the best of the rest behind the Ferraris. Pedro de la Rosa's hopes were scuppered early on in the race by a mechanical failure but overall McLaren seems to have upped its game a little.
"The MP4-21 was definitely quicker in Germany than the previous race, and it had great balance," said Raikkonen, who took the victory in Hungary last year. "We have made a step forward and I am looking forward to getting back out on track again this weekend and racing for another podium finish."
Honda also showed improvement in Germany; Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello qualified fourth and sixth and Button went on to finish fourth in the race, although Barrichello retired with an engine failure. At one point Button was in line for the podium but couldn't hold off Raikkonen's charge. The Englishman fancies his chances for the podium again.
"Our new aero parts and a few of the other developments that we had in Hockenheim should also help us in Hungary," Button commented. "I'm looking forward to the race and hopefully we can replicate the strong performance from last weekend with another points finish, and maybe even go one better."
This weekend F1 will see its first ever Polish racer when BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica lines up on the grid. The team's test and third driver will replace Jacques Villeneuve, who apparently isn't 100% recovered from his crash in Germany. The situation has, inevitably, given rise to rumours that Villeneuve may not return.
Whatever the case, Kubica is an notable young driver and it will be interesting to see how he performs. "I had prepared myself for a whole year without actually competing in any races, so I'm even happier to get this opportunity," he said. "I'm proud that the BMW Sauber F1 Team has such confidence in me. I'm determined not to let them down."
MF1 doesn't usually attract a great deal of attention for its hard work at the back of the grid but was in the spotlight after the German GP when both Christijan Albers and Tiago Monteiro were disqualified. The ever-lurking spectre of overly flexible rear wings was the culprit and the team did not appeal the decision.
"We'll have changes in place for the next race," said technical director James Key. "It's not going to affect the performance of the car in any way; that wasn't part of it at all. We'll just go away and correct it, either by modifying the existing bits or by producing new parts in time for Hungary."
Super Aguri debuted the new SA06 in Germany but it was not an auspicious start as both cars retired with driveshaft and gearbox problems. However, team principal Aguri Suzuki is optimistic. "The team now understands the new car's weak point and we will try to rectify this problem for (the Hungarian) weekend," he commented.
The biggest surprise in Hungary would be if we got any on-track excitement. Given the nature of the circuit and a history of dull, processional races it's hard to imagine that we might get any thrills. The title fight itself is starting to get tense but there probably won't be much to get wound up about on Sunday. I'm trying to tempt fate here…