Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Hungarian GP Preview

The Hungaroring is one of those tracks that would be great to have a race at in a low downforce car like a Formula Ford 2000 or a Formula Renault. Exactly the sort of thing I used to drive in fact.

The circuit is full of long corners, close together, and a series of elevation changes that make it fun to drive, especially if you have the track to yourself. Unusually, the circuit has five corners that are hairpin-shaped, although they are reasonably quick ones, and only a few gentle curves. The result is that it's a slow circuit and consequently high speed drag is of little relevance.

So the cars will be running very high downforce, and the resulting turbulence will make it very hard to get close to the car in front, and consequently almost impossible to overtake. The only real chance is at the end of the finish straight, which was reprofiled a few years ago to make overtaking more of a possibility. Anyone that saw the 1990 race will remember Senna's frustration at not being able to pass Thierry Boutsen, and understand why it's often compared to Monaco.

To be fair, the circuit did see one of the most dramatic passes ever, back in 1987 when Mansell passed Senna, when the Brazilian was momentarily baulked by a slower car. But this year's race will more likely be determined by qualifying and strategy.

Those strategy options are helped by the fact that safety cars have been rarely deployed at the Hungaroring. This may be due to the fact that cars don't get too close to each other, so the only likelihood is at the first corner of the first lap. And maybe the second…

The Hungaroring sits slap bang in the middle of all races on the calendar in terms of time lost in the pitlane, so it's unlikely that a team will opt for three stops, unless they are really struggling with tyres. It will certainly be interesting to see if the Brawns have got over the problems they had at the Nürburgring.

The heat should suit the Brawns though, and help them get back amongst the Red Bulls, especially as they have new a parts package this weekend. Mind you, most other teams will have upgrades as well - it would be fascinating to compare the results of a Barcelona test now with the pre-season times. Each team is making such massive progress.

Ferrari and McLaren are certainly not to be written off, and neither are Williams and Renault. Which just leaves Toro Rosso (who will get the new Red Bull package, and the youngest driver ever to start a Grand Prix) Force India, Toyota and BMW. I'd like to think Toyota could do well, but they really struggled in Monaco so it could be the same here. As for BMW, if they get to Q2 they will have done very well.

My prediction? The three podium slots will be split by Red Bull and Brawn, with Button just sneaking through after a brilliant strategy call by Ross. The Ferraris and McLarens could well put the cat amongst the pigeons at the start, as their KERS systems could prove very useful on the drag to the first corner. Strategists will have to take that into account.

But if it's on-track excitement you're after, I'd recommend watching Q1 on Saturday. It's likely to feature one of the most exciting few minutes of dry qualifying ever as everyone squabbles over the last few places on a shortish track. Q2 won't be much different, and the fight for pole will be fascinating as always.

I think it'll come down to Jenson and Sebastien for pole, but you can't rule out Mark or Rubens. And would you bet against Lewis or Felipe? Probably best just to watch and find out.

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