VODAFONE McLAREN MERCEDES 2008 HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX PREVIEW The Hungarian Grand Prix has become a staple on the Formula 1 calendar since its introduction to the world championship in 1986. The first Eastern Bloc grand prix, the race is as...
VODAFONE McLAREN MERCEDES 2008 HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX PREVIEW
The Hungarian Grand Prix has become a staple on the Formula 1 calendar since its introduction to the world championship in 1986. The first Eastern Bloc grand prix, the race is as famous for its tight and twisting track configuration as its arid and scorching climate - both of which conspire to create a uniquely demanding event for teams and drivers alike.
Ayrton Senna has won at the Hungaroring for McLaren on three occasions, in 1988, '91 and '92. More recently, Mika Hakkinen ('99 and 2000) and Kimi Raikkonen ('05) have triumphed for McLaren-Mercedes - much to the delight of the huge Finnish contingent, who have made this race a home from home for many years. Lewis Hamilton won the race from pole position last year.
The Budapest circuit has been modified from its original configuration twice: in 1989, the tight hairpins following Turn Two were ironed out; in 2003, the 180-degree first corner was extensively re-profiled into a sharper hairpin to increase overtaking opportunities. This weekend's race will mark the 23rd running of the event.
Two wins in the last two grands prix and now a return to the Hungaroring, where you won last year. Do you feel confident ahead of this year's race?
"I'm wary about making any strong predictions; yes, we were strong in the last two races, but we encountered difficulties in the two before that, so it's impossible to call it this weekend. All I can say is that our car feels fantastic at the moment and I'm really enjoying driving it: it feels like you can keep fine-tuning it to extract more performance from it, which is a fantastic feeling for any racing driver."
The Hungaroring is quite a unique circuit - what makes it stands out?
"Hungary is very different from Germany; Hockenheim is a track that allows you to slipstream and pass other drivers fairly easily, the Hungaroring is the opposite of that. Qualifying will be crucial, and strategy will also be important in determining the optimum fuel-weight for the opening stint. It will be hot and tiring too, so keeping your focus and concentration will be vital. I don't go into this weekend surfing any particular wave of confidence: it's such a different type of circuit that it's difficult for anybody to feel certain about their chances."
The last two victories have given your championship hopes considerable momentum - are you now thinking about driving consistently with an eye on the title?
"It's easy to say that you'll treat each race with a certain amount of respect. But the reality is that I haven't changed my style: it seems to work for me and I enjoy pushing hard to achieve a good result. That's when I feel I am operating at my maximum and it's potentially dangerous to start thinking about changing your approach at this point in the season. I'll be honest: my approach has served me fairly well so far and I'd need to give it some serious thought before attempting to change it. Let's just say it will be business as usual in Hungary this weekend."
What's the secret to a good lap around the Hungaroring?
"It's a circuit where you've got to make the car work for you: it's not a track where you can drag the laptime out of the car, it's more about working patiently with the set-up to make your life easier on raceday. If you end up fighting the car, the heat and the constantly twisting nature of the track mean you'll be exhausted by the end of the weekend. Like Canada, it's also a place that punishes you if you go offline. So driving well at the Hungaroring is all about neatness and patience."
What's your previous record in Hungary?
"It's a circuit I enjoy. I've done a couple of GP2 races here but my best performance was last year when I had one of the best races of my F1 career. Okay, I finished only eighth, but I was fighting with Rosberg for lap after lap, really pushing 100 per cent all the way to the flag. It was one of those dices that never gets shown on TV, but I felt proud and satisfied afterwards because I'd pushed for the whole afternoon. This year, it would be nice if I could reward the team with another strong result."
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
The drivers have described the MP4-23 as being particularly well-balanced in high-speed corners, how do you expect it to cope with the low-speed twists and turns of the Hungaroring?
"The two circuits on the calendar that most resemble the characteristics of the Hungaroring are, bizarrely, Montreal, which is dusty and low-grip, and Monte Carlo, which requires a high-downforce set-up to cope with the minimal straights and numerous low-speed corners. And the reality is that we were reasonably competitive at both those circuits. While it has been true to say that one of the key strengths of our car is its pace in high-speed corners, we've done a lot of work to the package to strengthen its weak spots. At Silverstone, we were comfortable with our pace through the last sector, and at Hockenheim, we were comfortably quickest through the stadium section of the track, which is tight and reliant on good mechanical grip. We won in Hungary last season and travel to Budapest confident that we have strengthened the weaknesses of our package. Nonetheless, we are fully prepared for a battle with our rivals, whom we can never under-estimate."
Heikki proved rapid in practice and qualifying in Great Britain and Germany but didn't seem able to exploit the car under him to the same extent during the race. Is the team working to alleviate some of the handling problems he has encountered?
"Firstly, let's not forget that Heikki is a brilliant racing driver. His pass of Robert Kubica at Hockenheim reminded anybody who needed reminding that he has all the speed and skill to be battling at the front. But there's no magic in Formula 1 and we still need to work with Heikki to extract his full potential. At Hockenheim, he didn't get the best out of himself or the package and we need to work on how we fine-tune the car's set-up and how Heikki is involved in that process. He was at MTC on Tuesday to carry out his pre-race programme and is working hard with his engineers to find a set-up that allows him to maintain his speed throughout a race stint without suffering from some of the rear-end nervousness he has encountered in recent races."
With the traditional F1 testing ban coming into effect immediately after the Hungarian Grand Prix, how has the team structured its development programme for the rest of the summer?
"The whole team has been incredibly busy and productive this year. Throughout the summer, we've been working hard to evaluate several substantial developments at each test and were able to sample major new aerodynamic steps at both the Silverstone and Hockenheim tests. This week's Jerez test was no different: as well as evaluating the latest iteration of Bridgestone slick, we also tried out antler wings on the nosecone to improve the front-end flow as well as a number of more detailed aero solutions. Over the three-week break, we have also scheduled two 50km shakedowns and will be working hard back at Woking and Brixworth to enable us to keep the development programme on schedule before we resume the season in Valencia."
Norbert Haug, vice-president, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
Two weeks ago you said that Silverstone and Hockenheim were so-called 'engine circuits', which suited McLaren-Mercedes. What are your expectations for the twisty Hungaroring?
"The characteristics of the circuit just outside Budapest are quite different to those at the previous Grands Prix in Silverstone and at the Hockenheimring. The average speed per lap of almost 200km/h is the second lowest speed after Monaco, where we won. In Hungary, we have clinched four victories out of the last 10 races; Lewis was our most recent winner last year. Four times we started from pole in Hungary, the last time also in 2007 with Lewis, and we have posted four fastest race laps."
What are the main challenges in Hungary?
"As overtaking on the Hungaroring is almost impossible, apart from into turn one, a good grid position is even more crucial than on most other circuits. Nevertheless, at the Hungaroring, we will hardly see spectacular overtaking manoeuvres as demonstrated by Lewis on his way to victory in Hockenheim when he passed Felipe Massa and Nelson Piquet. To be fast through the many corners, which make up the largest part of the circuit, a lot of downforce will be key. At the Hungaroring, this is more important than good top speed. The high ambient temperatures at this race are among the highest which often put a lot of strain on car, engine cooling, tyres and of course the drivers."
What factors will influence the strategy for the Hungarian Grand Prix?
"The requirements in Hungary are similar to those in Monaco: we need efficient cooling and a lot of downforce, but we also have to cope with high tyre wear. The weight of the car, and thus the fuel load, have a bigger influence on the lap times than in the previous races."
How do you estimate your competition after Vodafone McLaren Mercedes clearly dominated in Hockenheim?
"Hungary will present a different picture. We have no reason to expect a walk in the park."
HUNGARORING TRACK INFORMATION
Circuit length 4.381km/2.722 miles
Race distance 306.663km/190.560m
Number of corners 14
Inaugural Hungarian GP 1986