PREVIEW – Hungarian GP 2014 image

“The circuit is a decent measure of a car’s mechanical grip, due to the need of having good traction out of many slow corners. In terms of aerodynamics, the problem for the teams is the same as that faced in Monaco: namely to maximize performance at the high-down force of the spectrum”
Pat Symonds

Unbelievably, this “Mickey Mouse” track, not really esteemed by the drivers, has already hosted 28 F1 races, more than the mighty Nordschleife or the current crop’s outstanding scene – Spa-Francorchamps. Still, the short Hungarian racetrack is a special place in the calendar, giving us some classical demonstration of edgy driving and tactical brilliance, like the improbable win scored by Mansell in 1989 or Michael Schumacher’s stunning sprint in 1998, supreme achievement of the mix between the great German’s speed and the mastermind that is Ross Brawn. In 2014, chances for a memorable race are mainly influenced by the weather forecast, not the drivers’ quality.

The track

At just 4,381m, it is the shortest permanent facility of the entire season, the slowest and the most twisted. There will be 70 laps for a total of 306,670km, with an estimated average of about 195km/h. The track configuration and the dry heat of the Hungarian puszta turn the race into a dual challenge for the drivers, both physical and mental. For the first time after Monaco, the Power Unit’s force is secondary, as the Hungaroring is a reference for evaluating mechanical grip and downforce. Scheduling the race just one week after the German GP involves a huge logistical effort as well: cars, spare parts and motorhomes are hauled for 800km in less than 3 days.

As there are relatively few competitions on this track, the grip levels will improve considerably during the weekend. The bumpy surface and high asphalt temperatures will torture the tires, Pirelli bringing in the medium and the soft compounds.

“The Hungaroring is a relatively slow-speed track, but the race is often run in hot conditions, increasing the work on the tires. To provide a wide working range and increase opportunities for strategy, the medium and the soft tires will be brought to Hungary.” states Paul Hembery.

Slow corners and short straights call for maximum downforce, that comes in a package bearing resemblance to Monaco. The most common overtaking spot is the start-finish straight, where DRS can be activated for an estimated top speed of about 300-305km/h. As seen before, these assumptions are quite pessimistic and we can expect a new top speed record for this track, probably signed by a Williams or a Mercedes car. It’s interesting to see how drivers see the track next to Budapest as an excellent showcase for their qualifying skills, still they hate it for the limited chances of overtaking the next day.

This is why in Hungary you have less margins to choose the right strategy, compared to the previous races. Also, there’s a need to start from a good spot, as Mansell’s lesson back in ’89 was the sole exception. The key for an excellent lap around the Hungaroring is the optimal traction when exiting slow corners, the mechanical grip and shorter gear ratios, especially for the first 4-5 gears. You also need an optimal response from the engine when pressing the throttle and good stability under braking. As always this year, the brake balance can make a difference, as you can reduce the stress on the rear discs by switching forwards, being penalized with incomplete charging of the MGU-K, thus having less power when exiting the corner. The compromises will delight the ones fascinated by the technical side of racing.

As only 55% of the lap is spent on full throttle, consumption is not very high. Some teams, such as Williams, will try to underfuel the car. Brake wear is always high in Hungary, as 14% of the time is spent pressing the brake pedal. The pit lane is short and a complete pit stop takes about 16 seconds, encouraging a strategy with more stops. Lacking FRIC will once again challenge the engineers, accelerating tire wear and, worse than that, making it irregular. Predictions favor a 3-stop strategy, with cars pitting for the first time around lap 15.

As in Germany, there will be a couple of drivers going for the alternative two-stopper, requiring clean air ahead and a good gap behind, to avoid going defensive. There is a good case for attacking style, a bit more brutal, generating higher turn-in speed. You also need a sensitive foot when flooring the throttle out of the last turn and a good ability to quickly change direction without losing momentum.

Contenders and outsiders

All the bookies are favoring Lewis Hamilton, not just because of the technical superiority showed by Mercedes. The Briton won here four times between 2007 and 2013, sharing the record with Michael Schumacher. Nico Rosberg could think better and go for damage limitation. Williams brings here a technical upgrade that will partially cancel the lack of downforce, as the aggressive styles on display from Bottas and Massa suit the Hungaroring. Alonso’s Ferrari was the fastest car in the Hockenheim stadium section, so there’s still hope for the Prancing Horse. Kimi always felt comfortable on the Hungarian track.

After Monaco, the circuit near Budapest is the best chance for Red Bull to show the qualities of the RB10: a chassis on the same level as Mercedes and an unrivalled downforce, as Vettel’s way of tackling consecutive slow corners can give him a slight advantage.

The most important balancing factor can come from the sky, as there is a forecast for intermittent showers on race day. Whenever we had rain here, there was an unpredictable outcome. Remember 2006?

by Berndt