Hungarian Grand Prix Preview

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The eleventh round of the Formula 1 season will take place this weekend at the Hungaroring, home of the Hungarian Grand Prix. The 32nd edition of this Grand Prix will take place at the seldom-used twisting and dusty circuit outside the town of Mogyorod, near Budapest.

Hungarian Grand Prix Preview

The History

The Hungarian Grand Prix (‘Magyar Nagydíj’ in the local dialect) joined the F1 calendar in 1986 as the first race to be held behind the then Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. Nelson Piquet won the inaugural race. This is the track closest to Finland – a country with a considerable motorsport tradition but does not host a Grand Prix. As a result, the Hungaroring attracts a sizable Finnish crowd every year. The two Finnish drivers on the grid, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas will receive very vocal support from their countrymen, making it almost like a home race for them.

The first few races at the Hungaroring saw many gripping battles between the likes of Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet. Mansell’s win in 1989 from 12th on the grid (on a circuit that offers few overtaking opportunities) ranks among the more dramatic races there. The circuit has witnessed the maiden Grand Prix wins of the future world champions’ Damon Hill (1993), Fernando Alonso (2003) and Jenson Button (2006).

The Teams and Drivers

Nelson Piquet won the first two races of the Hungarian GP for Williams. The first decade of this Grand Prix was dominated by this team, as Williams won seven of the first twelve races. Since then the pendulum has swung towards McLaren, with the British team emerging winner a record eleven times and in five of the last ten races. Ferrari with six wins is the third most successful constructor.

Lewis Hamilton (2007, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2016) with five wins moved ahead of Michael Schumacher to the top of the leaderboard last year. Schumacher has won this race four times – once with Benetton and thrice with Ferrari. The great Ayrton Senna (1988, 1991, 1992) with three wins is third on the list. The other former winners on the current grid are Sebastian Vettel (2015), Daniel Ricciardo (2014), Kimi Raikkonen (2005) and Fernando Alonso (2003).

 The Circuit

The 4.381 km Hungaroring circuit with 14 corners (slow and medium-speed corners) and one long straight is one of the slowest tracks on the F1 calendar, with an average speed of only 190 km/h. The twisting, bumpy and narrow circuit is front-limited with the predominantly long and slow speed corners demanding a high downforce setup. The laps are done at full throttle 56% of the time and the fuel consumption is high. The slow nature of the corners in the extremely high heat and dry conditions leads to high brake-wear. As the track is rarely used, it offers very low grip during the practice sessions and the track conditions evolve and change significantly by race day.

Sectors, Corners, and DRS Zones

Sector 1 (Turn 1 to Turn 3) has one of the longest runs to Turn 1 at 610 meters, followed by a tight hairpin and the downhill run to Turn 2. The best overtaking spot on the track is after Turn 1. The sharp left-hander at Turn 2 is followed by a kink leading to Turn 3, which is followed by a short straight.

Sector 2 (Turn 4 to Turn 11) starts with an uphill climb to Turn 4, followed by a sharp right-hand corner at Turn 5. This leads into the bumpiest part of the circuit with a lot of twisty corners and chicanes from Turn 6 to Turn 10. The last corner at Turn 11 is a fairly fast right-hander leading to a short straight.

Sector 3 (Turn 12 to Turn 14) starts with the short straight leading to a sharp right-hander at Turn 12 followed by a hairpin at Turn 13. The final corner at Turn 14 is a fast right-hander leading into the start-finish straight.

There are two DRS zones this year with a single detection point. The DRS detection point will be before Turn 14. The first DRS activation point will be after Turn 14, before the start/finish line. The second DRS activation point will be after Turn 1. This track was known for its rare overtaking opportunities in the early years and the track layout was changed in 2003 to improve this. The pole sitter has won only two out of the last nine races surprisingly, but all too frequently the circuit has produced processional races.

Tyre Strategies

Pirelli tyre choices for this race are the white-striped medium tyres, yellow-striped soft tyres and the red-striped supersoft tyres. The drivers have chosen six or more sets of the supersoft tyres of the thirteen sets allocated to them. The race has traditionally been a two-stop race, but with the durability of the tyres this year we could well see mixed strategies. The very hot and dusty conditions at this track, the slow corners and the high downforce of the 2017 cars could well create some unknown variables as far as tyre durability goes.

Tyre Choices:

Current Form

Mercedes (330 pts) has a 55-point lead over Ferrari (275 pts) now. Red Bull Racing (174 pts) is in third place and has shown improved form and will bring big updates to the race in Hungary. Force India (95 pts) is in control of fourth place, followed by Williams (41 pts). McLaren brings up the rear of the field with two points.

Mercedes is in the top spot and firmly in control in the constructors’ title race. After the poor race in Monaco, they have sorted out some of the setup issues that plagued them early in the season. If not for the rather unusual headrest problem that Lewis Hamilton had in Baku, the Silver Arrows would have won the last four races. Equally Ferrari has not won since Monaco and is under pressure to deliver a win in Hungary.

Sebastian Vettel (177 pts) leads the drivers’ title race by a solitary point now. Lewis Hamilton (176 pts) is second place and Valtteri Bottas (154 pts) has closed the gap to the leaders. Daniel Ricciardo (117 pts) and Kimi Raikkonen (98 pts) complete the top five in the drivers’ championship.

Hamilton has shown great form since the Canadian GP. The Briton came into the British GP after two disappointing races in Baku and Austria which were not really due to his mistakes. After heavy criticism for not attending the F1 fan event organized by the new owners of F1 in London, the Briton answered his critics with a blistering performance at Silverstone that saw him tie the legendary Jim Clark with four consecutive wins and five overall. Hamilton is the form driver and it will be interesting to see if the long wheelbase of the Mercedes W08 that has caused problems for the team at the narrow, twisting street circuits will again rear its head at this slow, twisty track. On a track where he has excelled, Hamilton will be bidding to take pole position and tie the legendary Schumacher at the top of the all-time pole position list with 68 poles.

Vettel and Ferrari are on the backfoot, but this is a track where the team will be much closer to Mercedes and offer a stiffer challenge. With the late tyre dramas in Silverstone, the German’s lead was cut to just one point and he will be battling Hamilton hard to go into the summer break with the lead in the drivers’ championship. Teams like Red Bull, Renault and McLaren will have a better chance at this circuit which is not engine-limited and offers teams with a good chassis a chance at a good haul of points.

Every race of this 2017 season has thrown up drama and intrigue and this last race before the month-long summer break in the season could be no different.
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