The Hungarian Grand Prix has a bit of a reputation for not being the most exciting race on the calendar but it's just as capable of producing unexpected results as anywhere else. In last year's rain-soaked event Jenson Button took his and Honda's...
The Hungarian Grand Prix has a bit of a reputation for not being the most exciting race on the calendar but it's just as capable of producing unexpected results as anywhere else. In last year's rain-soaked event Jenson Button took his and Honda's maiden victory but after the copious amounts of rain experienced at the Nurbrugring recently, Button and the rest might not wish for more of the same in Hungary this time.
Despite last year's conditions (left), the Hungaroring often experiences some of the hottest temperatures of the season. This makes it quite physically challenging for the drivers and puts strain on the engines, as there are not really any long straights the power plants can use for cooling. The twisty layout of the circuit is comparable with Monaco and has the lowest average speed after the Principality race.
"There's one turn after another and the start/finish straight is fairly short," said BMW Sauber technical director Willy Rampf. "As a result, maximum downforce is the order of the day. There are hardly any passing opportunities, which makes it very important to get a good starting position. The track picks up a lot of sand from day to day and the grip level is low, making good traction a crucial factor."
The track surface is notably smooth and the tyre compounds for this weekend are from the soft and super-soft ranges. "The circuit characteristics are very inviting for graining to be suffered on the tyres, mainly on the front," explained Bridgestone's Kees van de Grint. "Normally the temperatures in Budapest are quite high, which means a real challenge for the softer compounds."
Some folks might find the Hungaroring boring but Renault's Heikki Kovalainen believes that generally the drivers like it. "The corners follow quickly one after the other, the track surface is quite bumpy and you have to maintain concentration over 70 laps," he commented. "We all enjoy tackling challenges like that, feeling the car on the limit and trying to push a little bit more to go even faster."
Unfortunately, the ongoing spy saga between Ferrari and McLaren has cast a shadow over the championship, with the accusations flying back and forth and the initial WMSC decision of no penalty to McLaren to be appealed. It's a sorry state of affairs and one the sport could well do without, but it isn't going to go away any time soon. The on track battle is just as heated and for the moment McLaren is ahead.
Fernando Alonso snatched victory from Ferrari's Felipe Massa in Europe and aims to keep the momentum going. "A stable front end is very important so the car feels completely under control in the slow, long corners and you can really push the car despite the slower speeds," the Spaniard said of the Hungaroring. "The MP4-22 has performed well at this type of track so far this season, so I am feeling positive for the race."
Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari suffered a hydraulic problem at the Nurburgring that put him out of contention and he consequently dropped behind Massa again in the standings. However, McLaren's leader Lewis Hamilton did not score either, so there's still less than 20 points covering the top four in the fight for the drivers' title and only two between Hamilton and Alonso.
Despite McLaren leading the drivers' and constructors' standings, Ferrari now looks to have slightly better competitiveness -- when reliability issues aren't getting in the way. "I still believe that it's possible for me to win the title," Raikkonen stated. "Just look at the last race and you can see that everything can happen. A bad race for my competitors is enough to immediately reduce the gap."
BMW Sauber teammates Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica remain the best of the rest but BMW was not impressed when the pair clashed at the start in Europe. Both went on to score points, Heidfeld ahead, but it was a bit of a wasted opportunity for BMW. Hungary 2006 has good memories for the drivers as Kubica made his debut there and Heidfeld scored BMW's first podium finish with third.
"It was a chaotic race," Heidfeld recalled. "Normally Budapest in August means very hot weather, but last year it was raining. The circuit was wet at the start of the race, and it remained cool throughout the weekend. I have a lot of fond memories of the Hungaroring. It was there that I also secured an early title win in Formula 3000 back in 1999 -- and celebrated in style."
Red Bull celebrated Mark Webber and David Coulthard's third and fifth places in Europe but over at Toro Rosso there was trouble brewing when Scott Speed and Tonio Liuzzi both crashed out. The subsequent argument between Speed and team principal Franz Tost resulted in BMW reserve driver Sebastian Vettel replacing Speed for the rest of this season. Reportedly Speed will make an announcement about his future after Hungary.
There's a change at Spyker too, with former Super Aguri driver Sakon Yamamoto to partner Adrian Sutil for the remainder of 2007. "It was a surprise to get the call from Spyker, but at the same time I was, and still am, really glad to come back to Formula One," said Yamamoto. "Obviously I haven't had a normal testing programme this year, but I drove an F1 car in February, and I do not think this will be a problem."
Button is a bit fonder of the Hungarian GP than he used to be but isn't expecting a repeat performance of 2006. "It was never really one of my favourite races before, but for obvious reasons that all changed last year," he said. "It will always be a special place as the scene of my first win. Obviously it will be quite a different race for us this year but hopefully we can keep up the steady progress we have been making and take another step forward."
Hungary is the last event before the three week summer break and testing ban, so everyone will want to go away from it with a positive result. Of course, it's not likely that everyone will and with areas of Europe still suffering from floods it's entirely possible that the Hungaroring could turn into a swimming pool again. The current forecast predicts a dry weekend but which of the teams and drivers will be soaked with champagne after the race?