Month: July 2014

Issue 25: Hungarian Grand Prix Preview

cropped-combined-new3.jpg

24 July 2014

Qualifying and race strategy critical at the Hungaroring

The Hungaroring is next up on the 2014 calendar. The circuit is tight, twisty and mostly made up of low- and medium-speed turns. It’s a track that’s rarely used during the year, which means the surface is low on grip and slippery due to the lack of tyre rubber laid down by other racing series. A slippery layer of dust always affects running in the early sessions at the Hungaroring and off the racing line remains dirty throughout the race. There are few opportunities to overtake round the Hungaroring, even with the benefit of DRS, so like Monaco, qualifying as high up the grid as possible and executing the optimum race strategy is more critical than usual. The only real overtaking zone is at the end of the start/finish straight into Turn 1. The main straight is not long enough to get passing moves done before the corner – and this year the DRS zone here has been shortened – so drivers being overtaken in Turn 1 generally have opportunity to cut back under their pursuer and attack them on the inside line in Turn 2. Turn 4, at the beginning of Sector 2 of the lap sometimes offers a half-chance for an overtake, especially if the quarry is slow accelerating out of Turn 3. However, pulling off a move in Turn 4 requires bravery, not least given that the approach to the corner is a little unsighted.

To set a quick time in Sector 2 at the Hungaroring, it is crucial to have a car with supple suspension in order to best cope with a bumpy track surface as well as the kerbs, especially in Turns 6, 7 and 8. Drivers must attack the kerbs in the chicane at Turns 6 and 7, but not get greedy on the kerbs as that will unsettle the car. Generating good mechanical grip and aerodynamic downforce is a necessity for the quickest times in all three sectors, but is particularly the case towards the end of Sector 2 and in Sector 3. Cars that hold the aces when it comes to generating grip from the tyres and downforce from the chassis are ideally placed to gain the most time in Turns 6, 7, 11 and 12. The exit of Turn 13 and the approach to Turn 14 are also important because this is where the DRS detection zone is located. To be in with a chance of passing down the main straight, cars will need to follow the car in front closely through Turn 13.

As usual for the Hungarian Grand Prix, the forecast is for hot ambient temperatures, although there is a chance of rain during the race and qualifying. The heat will put a premium on cooling vital internal components, so expect teams to open up the bodywork on their cars. The brakes and tyres will also suffer in the heat. The Hungaroring is tough on brakes in any case as there are no long straights for the brakes to cool down, but hot temperatures are likely to mean a higher chance of brake failures. The front tyres in particular must stand-up to vertical (high levels of downforce) and lateral (almost non-stop cornering) forces and cope with the constant pattern of braking and traction. Hotter temperatures will only add to these demands on the soft and medium tyres that Pirelli have selected for this race.

Another tight battle at Mercedes; Red Bull vs. Williams for the podium

If there is one circuit on this season’s calendar where Lewis Hamilton could do with breaking his poor run in qualifying, it is the Hungaroring. Qualify in front of Nico Rosberg and he will be hard to stop; qualify behind Rosberg and Hamilton will struggle to claim track position over his team-mate. Both drivers are in equal equipment, are closely matched and rarely make errors, even under extreme pressure. Hamilton is jointly (with Michael Schumacher) the most successful driver in the history of the Hungarian Grand Prix with four wins in seven starts and he could do with winning again this year. It’s obviously Mercedes’ race to lose, however, they cannot be completely confident of a smooth victory or 1-2 finish. The W05 Hybrid has shown itself to be a little vulnerable to hot track and ambient temperatures, especially at circuits that are tough on brakes like the Hungaroring.

Williams have led the chasing pack for the last three races. However, there’s reason to think that Red Bull will re-assert themselves as leader of this battle for runners-up spot. In the twisting final sector at the Hockenheimring, which bears plenty of similarities to the Hungaroring, Daniel Riccardo’s best sector time was 0.6 seconds faster than Valtteri Bottas’ quickest sector time, demonstrating that the RB10 still develops superior aerodynamic downforce. The absence of long straights at the Hungaroring will help to minimise Red Bull’s power deficit to the Mercedes runners and negate Williams’ power advantage, even if Williams will still enjoy better driveability. Williams are planning to bring a Hungaroring-specific upgrade, most likely adding downforce to the FW36, but expect Red Bull to get the better of the former world champions this weekend. Red Bull’s main weakness at the Hungaroring, like Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham, will probably be need to manage the well-documented cooling needs of the Renault powertrain.

Fernando Alonso will no doubt insert himself into the battle between Red Bull and Williams such has been his driving prowess this season. Nevertheless, expect a Red Bull to grab third place.

Likewise, McLaren have fared well at circuits with lower cornering speeds this season, although they did perform well at Silverstone with its high-speed sweeping corners. However, the MP4-29 appears to have a narrow operating window, which means that when McLaren are forced to open up the bodywork to cool internal components, their car’s performance has suffered. A points finish for McLaren in Hungary, but no more.

Issue 24: German Grand Prix Review

cropped-combined-new3.jpg

22 July 2014

Race Summary: Nico Rosberg won a straightforward victory at the Hockenheimring. Valtteri Bottas finished a superb second hotly pursued by Lewis Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel claimed fourth ahead of Fernando Alonso who beat Daniel Riccardo by no less than a tenth of  a second. Felipe Massa crashed heavily in a first corner racing incident with McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen.

Blockbuster in Baden-Württemberg

Fast cars starting out of position makes for one hell of a Grand Prix! Hamilton’s charge through the field lit up the race. The Briton, after starting in 20th place due to a brake failure preventing him from taking part in Qualifying 2 and a subsequent gearbox change, cut through the backmarkers leaving many of them for dead. After that, the overtaking action hit another gear when Hamilton first met meaningful resistance in the form of a recovering Daniel Ricciardo. They dueled initially for 12th place, but in their battle they encountered a struggling Kimi Raikkonen and simultaneously passed the Finn in spectacular fashion, Hamilton on the inside and Ricciardo on the outside at the Hairpin. Hamilton locked up his tyres and clipped Raikkonen. Yet he somehow managed to avoid serious damage and succeeded in clearing the tenacious Ricciardo too.

This was edge-of-the-seat stuff.

In his pursuit of the podium, Hamilton then challenged Jenson Button on Lap 30. Button left a yawning gap on the inside line at the Hairpin and Hamilton dived down the inside. They made contact. Hamilton came away with front wing damage. Button complained about the incident and about Hamilton’s driving post-race, highlighting the fact that this was not the only contact the 2008 World Champion had made in the race (Button later stated that he ‘overreacted’ after reviewing footage of the incident). That Hamilton took risks with his car throughout the race is clear. However, they were calculated risks that for the most part needed to be taken in order to minimise his championship points deficit to Rosberg. In passing Button, Hamilton did what any racing driver should do when they spot a gap – go for it. Indeed, it was Ayrton Senna who said that when a racing driver sees a gap and doesn’t go for it, he’s no longer a racing driver. In Hamilton’s case, there was overtaking to be done – and quickly. It was somewhat surprising that Button, for all his tactical astuteness and experience, seemed to want to fight Hamilton for his place. No racing driver likes being overtaken, but when the pursuer is driving a car that’s almost 1.5 seconds a lap quicker, why fight the inevitable? Surely it’s better to keep tyres intact in order to fight those cars can be realistically challenged.

Adrian Sutil’s spin on Lap 50 gave Mercedes – and Lewis Hamilton – a tactical dilemma. Hamilton had made hay from Lap 43 on a new set of supersoft tyres, but he needed to pit again around Lap 55 for a new set of supersofts. Sutil’s car was jammed on the start/finish straight, albeit off the racing line. Nevertheless, it could easily have forced a safety car period and at that moment in the race, it was a big gamble to make that there would be no safety car. Had the safety car been deployed and Mercedes had not pit Hamilton that would have left the Briton stranded in a closely bunched pack of cars on tyres with little life left in them. He would have lost countless places when Mercedes eventually pitted him and almost certainly a shot at the podium. Mercedes’ best option was the one they took: pit Hamilton slightly early than planned for new supersofts in the anticipation of a safety car and gamble that the tyres would hold together for 16 laps instead of 13 laps. In the event, there was no safety car period, but by pitting their driver early and lengthening the final tyre stint, Mercedes ensured Hamilton finished on the podium.

Aside from Hamilton’s charge, it was Alonso’s battle with the two Red Bulls that made for thrilling viewing. It was a fantastic result for the Spaniard to split the Red Bull drivers at the chequered flag given the technical shortcomings of the Ferrari F14-T compared to the Red Bull RB10. A great start by Alonso (from 7th) meant he held fourth place in the early running, harrying Vettel. Then, towards the end of the race he defended stoutly from Ricciardo to hold fifth place. A comparison of Alonso’s laptimes with those of the Red Bulls reveals that he was more or less able to match Vettel and Ricciardo for pace throughout most of the race, indicating that Ferrari’s deficit to Red Bull was not as great round the Hockenheimring. Take nothing away from Alonso, though. His was a feisty drive.

Williams moving on up

Williams continues to rise like the proverbial phoenix in 2014. It’s been a pleasure to watch their resurgence after a run of poor seasons. The team from Grove are still far short of their most recent peak in the early to mid-1990s when they dominated the field Mercedes-style, challenged only by Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher. It’s not just that the FW36 is packing a Mercedes powerplant. Williams have obviously designed a neat car that’s quick in a straight-line (Bottas was third quickest through the speed trap and set the highest maximum speed over the finish line) with good high- and low-speed aerodynamic grip and balance. Bottas set quicker laptimes than Ricciardo for most of the Grand Prix, except in the laps immediately following the Australian’s tyre stops. On high- and medium-speed tracks they now lead the chasing pack, not Red Bull. However, Red Bull is still likely to achieve parity or better Williams at tight and twisty circuits given that both Red Bull drivers were much quicker through the Stadium complex than Bottas during the race.

What the FRIC?

After all the fuss about the ban on FRIC (front and rear interconnected suspension), its effects on the competitive order were barely noticeable at the Hockenheimring. Bottas finished 20 seconds behind a cruising Mercedes while Red Bull and Alonso reached the flag over 40 seconds after Rosberg won. Lotus looked to be the main loser as a result of the ban on FRIC given that the E22 was more of a handful in the corners. In spite of that, Grosjean still managed to get near the top 10 by around Lap 20 after falling back to 16th in the early laps.