Hungarian Grand Prix 2011: Preview


Formula 1 begins its summer holiday next week, but first the teams must rush straight from Germany to Hungary to complete the third set of back-to-back races of 2011.

The Hungaroring, situated just outside the Hungarian capital Budapest, has hosted a grand prix every year since 1986. It holds a special place in the emotions of Damon Hill, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Heikki Kovalainen as the venue where all four drivers scored their maiden F1 victories (in 1993, 2003, 2006 and 2008 respectively).

The circuit is quite technical, and has a lot of corners, most medium to slow in terms of speed, and not a lot of time for the drivers to recover between each one. This makes it physically difficult for the drivers, who also have to content with high temperatures.

It is also one of those circuits notorious for being difficult to overtake on, and so extra importance is often placed on qualifying and getting pole position. However, in the last five years, only one driver (Lewis Hamilton in 2007) has actually won from the front of the grid. In fact, Button's win in 2006 came after he started from P14, albeit in a wet race. Interestingly, that 2006 race, the 21st grand prix held at the circuit, was the first wet Hungarian Grand Prix.

 

Damon Hill takes his first Formula 1 win at the 1993 Hungarian Grand Prix

 

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see whether the combination of Pirelli tyres, KERS and DRS can encourage more passing moves, as it did in Barcelona and Monaco but, sadly, not in Valencia. Tyres and track temperature in particular are likely to have a significant effect on the running this weekend.

Pirelli are bringing the PZero yellow soft tyres and the red super-soft compound to this track. To quote the DK Eyewitness Travel guide for Budapest: 'July and early August are generally very hot'. This could have a big effect on tyre wear, particularly for the super-soft option tyre, which will be the faster of the two provided. Therefore, different strategies could well come into play for qualifying and the race as the teams try to find the optimal combination of speed and degradation.

Regardless of whether or not there are vast amounts of overtaking and pit stops, this race should still prove pretty intriguing. In fact, it is arguably a race that could be pivotal in deciding the destination of the 2011 drivers' crown.

Yesterday in Germany was the first time that Sebastian Vettel had finished outside the top two all season, the first time this year that he had failed to win in two consecutive grand prix, and the first time that both Ferrari and McLaren had better race pace than the Red Bull. Is this a blip, or will Vettel's title rivals continue to chip away at his huge points advantage?

Ferrari has clearly made a huge step forward. In the last three races (Valencia, Britain and Germany), Fernando Alonso has finished within the top two and collected more points than any other driver. As Stefano Domenicali was keen to point out yesterday, the team have been strong on three different types of circuit, in a range of weather conditions, and under three different sets of engine-mapping regulations.

However, to have any chance of overhauling the 86 point advantage Vettel holds over him, Alonso will need a strong McLaren to take points of the German. Likewise, McLaren need a strong Ferrari for the same reason. Hamilton is currently sitting third in the championship standings, albeit 82 points behind Vettel but his performance at the Nürburgring yesterday suggests that he cannot be counted out of this title race quite yet.

Of course, if Vettel takes pole position and an easy win this weekend then Red Bull can rest easy, as can all his German supporters. He will have put the difficult home race behind him, reasserted his dominance, and effectively have one hand on that championship trophy already.

However, what if Vettel fails to recover in Hungary – a venue at which Red Bull went exceptionally well last year – and McLaren and Ferrari continue their resurgence?  The odds of Vettel picking up a second consecutive title may start to lengthen.

Of course, Mark Webber will also be looking for a win this weekend, especially after missing out in Germany yesterday. He won in Hungary last year after starting second on the grid alongside team-mate Vettel, who was on pole.

 

Mark Webber celebrates victory in the 2010 Hungarian Grand Prix - the Australian has not won another race since

 

Jenson Button, who can rule himself out of the championship hunt after two successive retirements, will celebrate his 200th grand prix start this weekend, whilst Nico Rosberg celebrates his a century of races. Lewis Hamilton will be aiming to take a hat-trick of victories at the Hungaroring whilst Michael Schumacher, the driver with the most wins around this track, will be (very optimistically) hoping for his fifth winners' trophy.

After the chequered flag falls in Hungary on Sunday, it will be four long weeks before the Belgian Grand Prix, the next time Formula 1 cars will take to the track again. Enjoy the racing this weekend.

 

  • Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix begins at 13:00 BST on Saturday, and the race will start at 13:00 BST on Sunday. Full coverage in the UK is on BBC One and BBC Radio 5 Live.