The three week summer break seems to have gone by quickly and the Hungarian Grand Prix is only a few days away. There were enough driver announcements over the holiday to keep us entertained, some expected and one that was a bit of a bombshell....
The three week summer break seems to have gone by quickly and the Hungarian Grand Prix is only a few days away. There were enough driver announcements over the holiday to keep us entertained, some expected and one that was a bit of a bombshell. Even BAR was dumbfounded by Williams announcing that Jenson Button intends to return to the team in 2005.
There are a whole host of reasons that have been suggested in regard to Button's unexpected defection but that's another article all together. There have been mutterings about people's morals, or perhaps lack of them, but at the end of the day F1 is no playground. It's a cut-throat business and should somebody's throat need a sharp edge, so be it.
Both BAR and Williams are claiming Button's services for 2005 and at the time of writing, the situation was still unsolved. BAR's third driver Anthony Davidson, Jarno Trulli and Mika Hakkinen have all been touted as replacements at BAR should Button manage to escape to Williams.
Renault and Williams released simultaneous announcements of Giancarlo Fisichella moving to the former for 2005 and Mark Webber to the latter. Webber's move had been anticipated for some time and Fisichella's was not a big surprise. There was some behind-the-scenes wrangling going on in that little set up but it was managed without the implementation of throats and knives. At least in public.
Toyota has given Cristiano da Matta the heave-ho in favour of third driver Ricardo Zonta for the remainder of the season. It was a little bit of an eyebrow raiser but not something anyone appeared to get particularly excited about. Da Matta has not exactly shone this season and the team may as well give Zonta a chance.
This week Toyota also announced that Norbert Kryer (general manager of race and test engineering) and Ange Pasquali (team manager) are to leave the team. "Structural changes" have been cited as the reason -- Toyota will be a whole new outfit by next season at this rate.
So, to Hungary, where presumably Button's pit garage is going to need that sharp knife to cut the atmosphere if nothing else. With no testing in the recent weeks there's not a great deal to speak of in the way of developments, save for whatever technical tweaks teams are bringing to Budapest.
Williams has abandoned the 'walrus' nose and reverts to a standard front wing configuration, which will work better with other aero improvements, allegedly. Ralf Schumacher remains absent from the cockpit for Hungary and Belgium, and for this weekend is again replaced by Antonio Pizzonia. "I like the Hungaroring, as it's quite a different track from the rest of the Formula One circuits," said the enthusiastic Pizzonia.
"It's a bit tricky, with a lot of slow speed corners, and is extremely dirty, mostly on Friday and Saturday. Budapest is a great city so, all in all, I am really looking forward to the next Grand Prix."
Renault will introduce another evolution of the B spec RS24 engine that came in at Hockenheim. Fernando Alonso won his first F1 race in Hungary last year, and became the youngest ever driver to win a Grand Prix. The Spaniard made the podium in Germany and would like to do the same again this weekend.
"It is going to be a special race for me I think," said Alonso. "This was always one of my favourite circuits anyway, and it is a nice feeling to look back and remember last year. I am feeling confident: we were fast in Hungary in 2003, we have been fast with maximum downforce already this season in Monaco, so I hope we can have a good race, and maybe be in with a chance to win."
McLaren has been hard at work in the wind tunnel and using computer simulations for development of the new car over the break. "During the three-week gap in racing, preparation for Hungary and the continued development of MP4-19B has been unrelenting at Woking, Brixworth and Stuttgart," said CEO Martin Whitmarsh. "The Hungaroring provides an interesting technical challenge and its characteristics demand a well balanced car."
Sauber has a further improved aero package for Budapest, which Felipe Massa hopes will help him gain a few more points. The Brazilian youngster hasn't raced at the Hungaroring for two years. "I'm looking forward to the race," he commented.
"I had a very good one in 2002 when I finished seventh after all of the top teams' cars finished, and I fought my team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella (who was at that time with Jordan) all the way. This year I know Bridgestone will have a good tyre for the track, so hopefully I can score a similar result to earn some more points for the team."
The 4 km Hungaroring is very difficult to overtake on and was slightly modified last year to include a longer pit straight and a wider turn 12. The tight, twisty layout has lots of slow to medium speed corners that require high downforce and the track surface is often dusty, so tyre wear is a factor.
Budapest is usually very hot so a good cooling system is essential. "It is common for this circuit to require the most cooling we can muster," said Sauber technical director Willy Rampf. "This is partly because of the very high ambient and track temperatures, and partly because of the nature of the circuit."
It's been opined that Ferrari will face its hardest challenge yet in Hungary. The circuit has previously suited the Michelin runners well and teams with a nifty chassis, such as Renault and BAR, should work well on the tight layout. But, of course, Ferrari and Michael Schumacher have been rewriting the rulebook this season, so nothing is pre-ordained.
Behind the dominant Scuderia, Renault is just managing to keep its second place ahead of BAR. The fight between the two could really go either way but Renault is consistent whereas BAR suffers from a lack of continuity. The trauma between Button and BAR will surely not help but it will do neither any good to let it get in the way of what has been a stellar season.
Williams and McLaren still trail BAR but are closing the gap. Williams is yet to really shine in 2004 but determined hard work is gradually making a difference. The new McLaren is a vast improvement on the previous chassis but unexpected rear wing failures do nothing for Kimi Raikkonen's temper or McLaren's aspirations.
Outside the top five it's all a bit hit and miss. Sauber is holding its own and heading the other midfield teams and could yet make its presence felt. Toyota and Jaguar have been disappointments, through car deficiency rather than anything else. Rumours surrounding Jordan selling out to Dubai fail to go away and Minardi parted company with its title sponsor recently.
Lest we forget, in Hungary Ferrari faces its second chance this season to win the constructors' championship. "I am convinced that this title cannot be taken away from us and sooner or later it will be officially ours," said Michael. "We will certainly try to win it in Hungary but if we don't manage to do it, then it will happen later on."