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Issue 62: 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix Forecast

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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.

@TheWheelspinner

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Issue 61: 2015 British Grand Prix Post-Race Analysis

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22 July 2015

Race Summary: Lewis Hamilton won a chaotic British Grand Prix from team-mate Nico Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel grabbed third place ahead of the faster Williams of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas in fourth and fifth places. The Russian charger Daniil Kvyat took sixth place and Fernando Alonso claimed his first point of the season.

Silverstone served up a rip-roaring race providing a much-needed antidote to the bad press F1 had attracted after two pedestrian Grands Prix in Austria and Canada. The British Grand Prix had plenty of drama and suspense: an unexpected early fight for the lead, a safety car period, rain and a British winner!

Jules Bianchi – RIP 

However, the warm glow around F1 following the British Grand Prix was punctured two weeks after the race by the tragic news of former Marussia driver Jules Bianchi’s untimely death from injuries sustained in his crash at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. The extinguishing of a great up-and-coming talent is a significant loss for F1. He will be truly missed. Bianchi’s unfortunate death is shocking in itself, but the emotion is rawer given the length of time between Bianchi’s death and the last fatality in F1: Ayrton Senna in 1994. Indeed some F1 fans have never witnessed death as a direct result of motor racing.

Following Senna’s death, a raft of safety measures designed to reduce the risk to drivers, marshals and the viewing public were introduced. These laudable efforts, overseen by Prof Sid Watkins and others, were so effective that no fatalities occurred for 21 years and serious accidents became rare. Some in the sport were lulled into a false sense of security: death as an occupational hazard of racing in F1 had seemingly been banished to history. However, Bianchi’s sad demise must surely alter any latent perception that racing in F1 is without risk. F1 is still dangerous. True, the statistics show that the risk of death or serious injury following an accident have been reduced considerably in the last two decades, but as last season’s Japanese Grand Prix showed, freak or unusual accidents have not been fully eliminated and probably never will be. Extreme and unexpected scenarios are in the nature of a sport that involves imperfect human beings travelling at over 200mph and engaging in sharp acceleration and deceleration in close proximity to other cars, sometimes in poor atmospheric conditions. Sadly, things are going to go awry on occasion.

Silverstone’s a winner…despite the ticket prices

The post-race commentary after the British Grand Prix focused largely on ‘what might have been’ for Williams and to a lesser extent Nico Rosberg in his challenge to Lewis Hamilton. Did Williams’ strategy really lose them the race win or at least a podium?

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My view is that Williams’ strategy team have been unfairly pummeled by some pundits and fans for their strategic choices during the British Grand Prix. After Massa had seized the lead at the start of the race and the new Flying Finn had followed his team-mate by Hamilton after the early safety car period, Williams could either run line astern as they did or back their faster driver to build a gap at the front. Bottas lying second claimed he could go faster than Massa. But, studying the lap charts, it certainly isn’t a nailed on certainty that Bottas could have gone much quicker than Massa. Sure, the Finn looked faster, but the most relevant strategic question here is whether Bottas really had the pace to build a sufficient gap to Hamilton to protect the lead of the race for Williams. I’m not convinced that he had the speed in his FW37 to build the required lead and presumably neither did the strategists otherwise they would have given the order to Massa to move over. A look at the lap data shows that rather than Bottas being consistently faster than Massa, the Williams drivers exchanged quick times lap after lap. And on the laps when Bottas was quicker than Massa it was generally by approximately only 0.2 seconds. In the 12-14 laps available before the first round of stops, Bottas pulling away from Massa (with Hamilton right behind) at that rate each lap would probably not have been sufficient to guarantee that Williams retained the lead after the tyre stops.

As it turned out, Mercedes seized the initiative on Lap 19 and pitted Hamilton, which forced the Grove squad to react rather than lead.

In any case, I think more fans should be commending Williams for electrifying that first phase of the race. Massa and Bottas gave us what sporting contests need: unpredictability. I’m sure that almost every fan watching in the stands (including me) had expected Mercedes to run and hide at Silverstone, but Williams had other ideas.

The most well-timed pitstop in F1 history?

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The rain had been coming. In fact, it had arrived on Lap 35 in the Luffield/Woodcote area of the track. However, large parts of the track remained dry. At this stage of the race, Rosberg was still chasing the two Williams having failed to undercut them in the first pitstops. However, the Williams drivers had lost tyre temperature quicker than Rosberg and within a few laps the German had dispatched both Bottas and Massa. Rosberg then set about the leader closing on Hamilton at a vast rate of knots. This was nail biting stuff. Hamilton had this race locked down only a few laps ago. But now, who knows? It was surely only a matter of time before Hamilton lost the lead.

However, the championship leader couldn’t have timed his second pitstop better. He pit on Lap 43. The rain arrived in force seconds later. Hamilton on Intermediates cut through the standing water. His team-mate slithered round for another lap on slick tyres. The argument for victory had been settled.

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Did Williams’ decision not to pit their cars on Lap 43 cause them to lose third place to Ferrari? The post-race commentary suggested it did. However, another look at the comparative lap times between the Williams and the Ferrari of Vettel showed that the German was simply a lot quicker in wet conditions. For example, in a five-lap stint between Laps 39-43, Vettel set laps that were seconds faster than the Williams. Slow out-laps for the Williams didn’t help them either. However, even if Williams had stopped on Lap 43, Bottas and Massa would probably have been in closer contention for the podium, but Vettel would still have snatched the glory.

@TheWheelspinner