Circuit Length: 4.381 Km
Lap Record: 1:19.071 = 199.461 km/h • Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 2004
Sebastian Vettel has done many things in his relatively short F1 career – but he hasn’t won in Hungary. In fact the Hungaroring is the only circuit left on this year’s calendar where the 26-year-old German has not triumphed either this year or in previous seasons. He has been to the podium just twice, for second place in 2011 and third in 2010.
‘Monaco without the barriers’: that’s how the drivers sum up the challenge of the Hungaroring, a Formula 1 venue since 1986. Most of its 14 corners come in the middle section, where Turns 4 through 11 provide a sinuous, tricky sequence that can make or break a lap. As Sauber’s Nico Hülkenberg puts it, “The second sector has several combinations that all flow on from each other. If you get off the racing line there, the whole sector is ruined. You have to be spot on.” The challenge is compounded, if you will pardon the pun, by Pirelli’s decision to revert to its 2012 constructions, albeit with the 2013 compounds, of which they will bring the Medium and Soft versions.
Being round 10 of a 19-race calendar the Hungaroring represents the pivotal point of the season. Let’s change things up a bit and see where everyone stands ahead of the summer break.
Leading the way again are Red Bull, whose 250-point tally puts them 67 clear of Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel has won four of the nine races to date but as we saw above he hasn’t yet won here. Mark Webber has no wins this season but his 2010 Budapest success was one of the most carefully-crafted races of his nine victories to date. “The favourite part of the circuit for me,” says the Australian, “is after the top chicane, the left-right; it’s the middle sector basically, which is really rewarding. It’s quite nice to put a Formula One car on the limit through there because it’s quite challenging for the driver.” Mark is fifth at the moment but he stands a good chance of leaving the sport as a member of the Constructors’ World Championship-winning team for the fourth straight year, and that’s something no other Aussie can boast.
Second overall are Mercedes, who have three-time Hungaroring winner Lewis Hamilton on their side this year. Hamilton hasn’t won for Mercedes yet, but teammate Rosberg has – twice, in fact, and the two men boast three poles apiece in 2013. “It will be an important weekend for us and we need to get off to a good start on Friday when we have the chance to try the new tyres for the first time,” says Lewis. “I’ve spent some time at the factory since we returned from Germany and I know that everyone there is working really hard to improve our overall performance and to address the issues that we experienced at the last race.” One big issue for Mercedes could be the Budapest heat. They have struggled in those conditions before, notably in Germany, and it’s forecast to touch 37 degrees in Hungary this weekend.
Ferrari are third in the standings, with the dogged Fernando Alonso now 34 points behind Vettel in the Drivers’ Championship. The Spaniard has won twice in 2013 despite clearly not having the fastest machine in the field, while Felipe Massa is again a long way off his teammate’s performance: the Brazilian is 66 points behind Alonso in seventh spot. On Budapest – where he had that horrible accident in 2009 – Massa says: “Overtaking is difficult, with changes of direction all the time, which make it a fun track. So it’s an old style race track and Sunday afternoon can be tough, but I like going back to these old-fashioned venues.” Old-fashioned Ferrari panache is required to bridge the gap to the front-runners in the second half of the year.
Fourth on the Constructors’ table are Lotus, for whom Kimi Raïkkönen is third behind Vettel and Alonso. Typically, Kimi is not happy with a Budapest record most drivers would envy: “I have finished second in Hungary too many times [four],” he says, “so I know how important it is to lead the race after the first corner. DRS or not, it’s never easy to overtake at the Hungaroring.” Melbourne was Kimi’s one race win of 2013 to date, but he is the only other driver to have passed the 100-point mark. The team sits 23 points adrift of Ferrari, but perhaps its focus in the remainder of the season will be on hanging on to its prize asset. “It’s clear that Lotus F1 Team is a desirable place to be and we know there’s been a lot of talk about Kimi’s future,” admits team boss Eric Boullier. “We all know that Kimi is an individual and he will make his decision in his own time. Naturally, we want him to continue in the sport and continue with Lotus F1 Team so we’re doing everything we can do to make that happen.”
Would anyone have expected Force India to sit fifth overall at this stage? Not even the man behind the team really did: “I think the first nine races have probably exceeded the expectations we set ourselves over the winter,” says V.J. Mallya. “The first mission was to start the year well and that’s what we’ve done. In fact, it’s been our best start to a season ever: we’ve shown good pace and had some excellent races.” They’ve also shot themselves in the foot a couple of times, but they have a landmark to celebrate this weekend in Adrian Sutil’s 100th Grand Prix. The German has never scored a point in Hungary, mind you, so he and Paul di Resta have their work cut out for them.
And if Force India in fifth is a surprise, what about McLaren in sixth? There’s no hiding from it: 2013 has been a dismal year so far for the Woking team, now a cool 201 points behind leaders Red Bull. They may have won the last two Hungarian Grands Prix and five of the last six, but that’s not a statistic they are likely to build on this weekend. Still, Jenson Button returns to the scene of his first win, back in 2006, and the place where he won his 200th race in 2011, in admirably upbeat mood: “In Germany, our tyre-usage, strategy and management of the race was as good as it’s ever been,” insists the 2009 World Champion. “It would be good to have a car with a little more pace to enable those calls to have a bit more impact at the front of the pack,” he adds ruefully.
Behind the once-mighty McLaren sit Toro Rosso with 24 points, 13 of them from Jean-Eric Vergne and 11 from Dan Ricciardo. The Australian was prominent in the recent Young Driver Test at Silverstone: on day two he topped the times in his Toro Rosso and was third in the Red Bull sister car despite an afternoon spin. “It was a good opportunity to get behind the wheel and experience two different beasts,” was how he summed it all up. Dan is clearly in the frame for Mark Webber’s seat next year.
With Sauber the last of the points-scorers on just seven, that leaves three teams with not a single point to show for 18 race starts (9 x 2 cars) this year. Two of them are perennial ‘newcomers’ Marussia and Caterham. Alas for British fans, the third is once-proud Williams. In the last few days Mike Coughlan has been shown the door and replaced at the technical helm by Pat Symonds, once of Benetton and Renault and, more recently, Marussia. A key figure in the early winning careers of Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, Symonds is living down the Singapore ‘Crashgate’ scandal and rebuilding his reputation, as he plans to do for his new team: “Williams is a team steeped in success and engineering excellence and I’m honoured to be asked to play a role in returning the team to its rightful place at the pinnacle of Formula One.”
Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes); 1:20.953 = 194.824 km/h
1st: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1:41.05.503 (av. speed 179.390 km/h)
2nd: Kimi Raïkkönen (Lotus Renault), gap 1.032s
3rd: Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault), gap 10.518s
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:24.136 = 187.453 km/h on lap 68