Since its inagural bow on the F1 stage in 1986, the Hungarian Grand Prix has been branded as a circuit that has churned out some processional races in its time; but they have been countered by some truly epic spectacles.
Think 1989, Nigel Mansell. Think 1997, Damon Hill. Think Schumacher, 1998, Button, 2006, or 2011’s dramatic toe-to-toe duel between the latter and his fellow Brit and rival Lewis Hamilton.
As the first Grand Prix ever held behind the Iron Curtain, the Hungaroring was something of a novelty to otherwise commercially-starved Hungarians when it arrived in town for that first race in a time when communism ruled eastern Europe with an iron fist; although times have changed beyond recognition, the circuit remains largely the same facility it was back then.
Turning to more recent history, or more precisely the same track 12 months ago, can we glean anything that suggests who is going to be in the driving seat this weekend?
Lotus would stand out as the obvious candidate; a double podium finish in 2012’s event capped what had been a sterling effort from the Enstone based team, with qualifying producing the outfit’s only front row start of the season courtesy of Romain Grosjean’s 2nd place alongside polesitter Lewis Hamilton. With McLaren in dissaray this year, who would bet against Melbourne victor Kimi Raikkonen to fire himself back into the championship fight?
As a circuit rewarding tyre care and good downforce settings, the E21 primed by Lotus would appear to be a formidable weapon – it’s lack of relative power is negated at a circuit with only one major straight to speak of, a statistic that also plays into the hands of rivals, and World Champions, Red Bull.
The Hungaroring is one of those rare places in modern F1 – a circuit not yet conquered by Sebastian Vettel. He finally laid his Canadian demons to rest earlier this season, so what ssay he puts to bed a few sour memories of his 2010 defeat at the hands of Mark Webber this time around too? Currently firmly in control of the title race, Vettel has enjoyed a superb start to what is his 3rd consecutive title defence. With only a single retirement and not once failing to finish outside the top 4, the German has again dumbfounded his critics with yet another calculated run toward what, at half season distance, looks likely to be his 4th World Championship victory.
His RB9 has yet to exhibit any flaws or weaknesses and can hardly be counted as an also-ran this weekend.
Mercedes have been Red Bull’s closest rivals in 2013 thus far, and comfortably have the fastest car in qualifying trim. There’s no reason to expect they won’t wrap up another pole on Saturday, such is their 0.3 aggregate margin to their nearest opponents. Once again however, it is the spectre of 70 laps and 190 miles that separate the Silver Arrows from the chequered flag that remain the concern. Seeimngly over their tyre woes after ‘that’ post-Barcelona test, the Pirelli question came back to haunt them, particularly a frustrated Lewis Hamilton, in Germany. Hungary is not kind on its tyres, and unless some solution has been discovered in the intervening three weeks, you wouldn’t expect Merc to factor in your final podium prediction on Sunday.
The only hope for the disconsolate 2008 World Champion is Pirelli’s new tyres, tested at Silverstone in last week’s Young Driver Test. Both Nico Hulkenberg and Felipe Massa reported there to be little or no difference between the feeling offered by the upgraded rubber, but it remains to be seen whether increased durability will be a factor in the 2012-spec re-design.
The Hungaroring marks the half way mark in the 2013 Championship, and as such is a high water mark for several teams and drivers. Williams have yet to score a single point, Caterham and Marussia still endeavour to bag their first. While his team may still be some way off achieving that maiden flourish, few will argue Jules Bianchi has been the standout ‘newcomer’ of 2013, dragging his Marussia to some seriously competitive qualifying and race results since March; this weekend is his chance to head into the summer with that unofficial title still wrapped tightly in his grasp.
The weekend is forecast to be dry throughout, with a high of 37c on Sunday.