23 July 2015
It’s tight, twisty and bumpy. It’s the Hungaroring. The surface is dusty, dirty and low on grip off the racing line. And there are few overtaking opportunities. These aren’t the ideal track conditions for a thrilling Grand Prix. However, Hungary has offered up surprisingly good races in the past, not least in 2014 when a sprinkling of rain and a dispute over team orders at Mercedes livened things up no end.
The difficulty of overtaking means that strong single-lap qualifying pace is the cornerstone of a good result at the Hungaroring. In the race, the best shot at overtaking is under braking for the slow right-hander at Turn 1. However, there’s a sting in the tail for the overtaker because the racing line switches sharply on the exit of Turn 1 for the tight left-hander of Turn 2. The defending driver usually has the opportunity to cut back under and reclaim their position on the inside of the corner. There has been some great wheel-to-wheel action here over the years. Likewise, the fans have witnessed some daring passing moves further up the road at Turn 4 before now, but pulling off an overtake here needs nerves of steel as the apex is unsighted.
To smooth out the bumps and ride the kerbs well, especially in Sector 2, strong mechanical grip and compliant suspension are vital vehicle attributes. This is largely because a quick time in Sector 2 requires the driver to attack the chicane at Turns 6 and 7, riding the kerbs but without getting too greedy. Cars that generate good mechanical grip from the Pirelli tyres and slow-speed downforce from the chassis will also be best-placed to set the quickest times in the slow- and medium-speed Turns 8, 9, 11 and 12. Finally, getting a good exit at Turn 13 and entry into the final corner (Turn 14) will be critical in the race in order to have the best chance of being within a second of the car in front to get the DRS benefit down the start/finish straight.
The weather forecast for practice, qualifying and the race is hot – over 30 degrees centigrade. To cope with the heat, Pirelli is bringing its Soft and Medium compound tyres. The Soft tyre is a high working range compound designed to withstand hot track surfaces, which will be necessary given the high level of thermal degradation. The tyres must deal with high vertical forces that are the result of high downforce levels and lateral forces due to almost non-stop cornering as well as stand-up to constant braking and traction events. The brakes also take a pounding round the Hungaroring as the absence of long straights mean that the brakes do not get a chance to cool down. Hotter ambient temperatures also mean bigger cooling ducts in order to reduce the likelihood of brake failure. Expect bodywork to be opened up all over the cars to cool vital internal components.
Finally, the twists and turns of the Hungaroring mean that only 54% of the lap is spent on full throttle. Cars down on power will be less compromised than usual.
Red Bull rising?
Who can stop them? Those all-conquering Silver Arrows. It’s very hard to see anyone challenging either Hamilton or Rosberg round the Hungaroring. Their W06 Hybrid has it all: power, slow-speed downforce, high-speed downforce, tyre durability and reliability. Mercedes will battle with themselves once again. And once again, I think it will be a case of Rosberg doing what he can to stop the Briton. Hamilton is peerless at the Hungaroring: four wins and three poles from eight starts. If he gets pole and a clean start, Hamilton will probably leave Rosberg trailing.
What about the chasing pack? Expect a mini-Red Bull revival round the Hungaroring. Ricciardo and Kvyat struggled at power sensitive circuits in Canada, Austria and Britain, but they will be more competitive in Hungary. Will the Red Bull drivers have enough to take on Ferrari? At Monte Carlo, the last comparable track to the Hungaroring, Ricciardo set the third best time in Sector 1 and the quickest times in Sectors 2 and 3. These times bettered Vettel’s, who was the quickest of the Ferrari drivers. However, I suspect that Ferrari will have just enough to keep ahead of Red Bull in Hungary. Yet, the Scuderia will come under pressure if they qualify poorly or make any more mid-race strategic or operational errors.
Watch out for Toro Rosso. Max Verstappen set some very competitive sector times in Monaco, including the fastest first sector time. Expect Verstappen and Sainz to qualify in or near the top 10 on the grid and race well. McLaren is also likely to be looking forward to Hungary given that the MP4-30 is still probably about 100 horsepower down on the Mercedes and Ferrari motors. The Honda powertrain is still being run in a conservative mode to protect it as far as possible but this will not hurt the Mclarens as much in Hungary. Points are a possibility for Alonso and Button.
Williams performed so strongly at Silverstone where they lit up the Grand Prix. However, the Hungaroring does not play to the FW37’s strengths. They suffered from a lack of slow-speed grip in Monte Carlo and while they have made improvements to the chassis since Monaco, I don’t expect that to be enough to lift Bottas and Massa to the dizzying heights of leading the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Finally, spare a thought for Jules Bianchi when the red lights go out. He should be on the grid racing.