Issue 25: Hungarian Grand Prix Preview

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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.

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