Hungarian Grand Prix 2012: Preview


As the chequered flag was waved for race-winner Fernando Alonso at the German Grand Prix on Sunday, it signalled not only the end of the race at Hockenheim, but also that the first half of this 2012 season was over.

Things move quickly in Formula 1 though, and the second half will get underway this weekend in Hungary.

But before looking ahead to round 11 of the championship, let us take stock of what has happened so far. It has, up until now at least, been one of the most closely-fought seasons in the history of the sport, with (arguably) more than half of the cars on the grid capable of winning a race on their day – McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and Williams have all taken at least one win, Lotus and even Sauber have come close.

For much of the year, this has led to unpredictable racing, resulting in the much-talked-about record seven drivers winning the first seven races. The championship leader has changed six times since Jenson Button left the first race in Melbourne at the top of the standings and, right up until about three races ago, nobody could say, with any great conviction, who will be the 2012 champion.

However, that has changed since Formula 1 left Canada and returned to Europe. Lewis Hamilton was leading the championship at that point, but with wins in Valencia, and last weekend at Hockenheim, and a second place at Silverstone, Fernando Alonso now has a 34-point lead in the title race.

Alonso gets a shower of champagne and gold paper after his win in Germany on Sunday, and now has a healthy lead in the championship – Photo Credit: Ferrari

 

The second half of the season is clearly going to have a slightly different complexion to the opening 10 races – it looks as though a pecking order between the teams, which was non-existent at the start of the season, has now getting established. What remains to be seen in the remaining 10 races is who, can challenge Alonso in his quest for a third title.

Although 34 points is a significant margin, more than the number of points awarded for a race win, it is far smaller than the 77-point lead that Sebastian Vettel had after 10 races last season. However, one advantage Alonso has over his potential rivals is the fact that he does not have a team-mate that will take points of him. Felipe Massa's performances may have improved as the season has gone on, but he is still not challenging Alonso at the sharp end of the grid, and Ferrari would not allow the Brazilian to do so even if he was capable.

Contrast this with Red Bull and McLaren, where the two driver pairings seem evenly matched this year, and where the two drivers will still be able to fight one another for race position until one of them is mathematically out of contention, and it becomes difficult to see if anybody can mount a consistent challenge to Alonso over the second half of the campaign.

In particular, there is little to choose between Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel this season (which seems a strange thing to say, considering Vettel's utter dominance in 2011). Webber has two race wins to Vettel's one, and ten more points, but that is hardly a confirmation of number-one status within a team such as Red Bull.

The situation at McLaren is a little more clear-cut. Hamilton has 24 points more than Button, and so would be the logical driver on which the Woking-based team should focus their efforts. However, with Button claiming second place in Germany, the team are very unlikely to be putting all of their eggs into one basket for a little while yet. What's more, with Hamilton now 64 points behind Alonso, it will be difficult for him to challenge for the title anyway, even with the total deference of his team-mate.

Alonso is unlikely to have it all his own way between now and the season finale in Brazil though.. After the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend, Formula 1 heads off on its summer break before the Belgian Grand Prix at the start of September. Despite the two-week compulsory shut-down of all the team's factories, there will no doubt be plenty of updates appearing at Spa-Francorchamps, which could elevate one team, McLaren possibly, into contention for title glory.

This weekend, however, Ferrari and Fernando Alonso head to Hungary with a huge amount of momentum, and it will be up to the other teams and drivers to stop the Spaniard from extending his championship lead before the summer break. He will be aiming to claim victory number four of the season at the track where he claimed his first ever F1 win nine years ago.

This is Fernando Alonso leading from the start of the 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix, on course for his first-ever F1 victory. The Spaniard has not won at the Hungaroring since – Photo Credit: LAT Photographic

 

Red Bull may find it difficult to challenge Ferrari this weekend though. The team were called to the stewards before the German Grand Prix to defend their engine mapping configurations. They appeared to introduce some form of off-throttle blowing of the diffuser which, of course, was banned over the winter. In Germany, the car was allowed to race, as the rules were not clear enough for the stewards to rule the RB8 illegal. The rules should be clarified this week though, and any advantage that Red Bull have in that area will be eliminated for this weekend.

Although their drivers are trailing in the title race, McLaren should pose the greatest threat to Alonso at the Hungaroring. The team have won the Hungarian Grand Prix four times in the last five years, and Button and Hamilton have each won the event twice in their careers. Button took a fantastic victory at last season's race – his 200th grand prix – after once again demonstrating his prowess at managing changeable track conditions.

Hungary is fantastic venue for Formula 1 and, despite the Hungaroring being characterised as a slow, narrow and twisty track with little opportunity for overtaking, it throws up some great races. After my visit last season, I wrote this piece about how this grand prix is somehow just that little bit different from all of the other tracks on the calendar, and why it deserves its place amongst the 20 venues that F1 visits each year. Hopefully, this weekend, it will once again leave us with some great memories to take into the long summer break.

Button celebrates on the podium after an excellent win in last season’s Hungarian Grand Prix. The Hungaroring was also the venue of Button’s first victory, back in 2006 – Photo Credit: Pirelli

 

  • Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix begins on Saturday at 13:00 BST. The race will begin at the same time on Sunday.
  • Live coverage in the UK is available on Sky Sports F1 HD and BBC Radio 5 Live.
  • For reports and reaction throughout the weekend, visit us here at thecheckeredflag.co.uk