Summer around the corner for F1 but Hungary comes first…

Fernando Alonso’s German Grand Prix victory has given the Spaniard a commanding 34 point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship.

The Spaniard’s lead over Mark Webber extended in Germany following his rival’s poor showing and with Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel also struggling the momentum is now firmly with the Ferrari ace. While Alonso’s win was stunning effective the main story of the weekend was relating his primary rivals.

The furore over Red Bull’s engine mapping setting last weekend has died down with the FIA declaring that they will clarify the regulations and determine what is acceptable for the relationship between throttle position and engine torque. The team had used the system in Germany having won their appeal on race morning but it was clear that there was going to be repercussions from the governing body.

The season is now past the halfway point and while we have seen some surprise results, such as Pastor Maldonado winning in Spain, the frontrunners have made their advantage clear in recent races with the battle behind them growing increasingly competitive.

Ferrari and Red Bull have had a decided speed advantage of late, with McLaren and Lotus showing promising signs lately, but behind them the teams have interchanged. In Germany Sauber had a superb race with both drivers finishing in the top five. At Valencia it was Force India. In Spain it was Williams.

When the midfield teams find their form and “hook up” a full weekend they are capable of challenging at the front of the field but with the pacesetters clearly getting a much better understanding of the tyres the potential for a midfield team to fight for a win are greatly reducted.

The pace of the Lotus has been one of the more interesting storylines throughout the season. Kimi Raikkonen finds himself in fourth in the title chase but yet it seems that the Enstone team have generally failed to get the most out of their car.

Throughout the season we have seen Lotus primed to battle for a win yet they have consistently been unable to win. This weekend in Hungary though could play to their strengths. The high temperatures could make it very difficult to avoid high tyre wear but the Lotus is one of the kindest cars on the grid to its rubber.

This weekend’s race looks set to be a great battle with the potential for Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Lotus all to be battling at the fore.

The Hungaroring Circuit

The Hungaroring is one of the slowest tracks on the Formula 1 calendar but one that is not to be underestimated. The track is highly technical and because of the heat it is one of the most physically demanding races of the year.

The lap opens with one of the key overtaking opportunities, a second gear hairpin bend. The drivers have to shed 200 km/h in less than 100m and with the track falling away from them as they turn in it is exceptionally easy to snatch a brake and lock up. With the tyres set to be on a knife edge this weekend any damage done early in a stint is likely to put a driver at a severe disadvantage.

The middle sector of the lap opens with turn four, a fast left hander which drivers tackle in fifth gear and almost four Gs. This sector is one of the most technical of the season with a series of fast chicanes providing a true test for both car and driver. Turn nine leads drivers back towards the end of the lap and in the past this corner has been one where Red Bull have enjoyed an advantage over their opponents due to superior downforce; this year however their advantage has been eroded.

Mark Webber, the Hungarian victor two years ago, was keen to talk about the challenges facing the teams this weekend:

“The Hungaroring is a good little venue and we’ve had some good races there in the past,” said Webber. “Obviously overtaking has not been easy on that circuit, but it will be interesting to see how the cars perform there as it’s a hot race. The middle sector is very, very busy and you need to have a good balance over the top of the hill. In general, it’s a track that I enjoy.”

The physicality of Hungary is found in the constant bumps and the high cockpit temperatures. Webber’s teammate, Sebastian Vettel, knows the importance of being wary of the challenges facing drivers this weekend:

“The track itself is one of the slowest on the calendar, but as a driver you shouldn’t underestimate it, as there are a lot of opportunities to make mistakes,” commented Vettel. “It can be very hot and that means the track can be very demanding physically. In addition, the surface has many bumps which shake you around a lot.”

The upcoming conditions are on the minds of all the drivers this weekend with Kimi Raikkonen offering the following sentiment when asked about the challenging conditions facing drivers in Hungary:

“It is very hot and very demanding race,” said the 2007 world champion. “It’s only when you win that you don’t suffer at the Hungaroring. I hope I don’t suffer this time.”

Red Bull engine mapping

The news that Red Bull had been put under investigation on Sunday morning in Germany was met by a general reaction of “Red Bull doing it again.”

The previous scandals involved the likes of flexible front wings and the team has always been pushing the envelope of the regulations. This issue, which saw Red Bull exploit a loophole in relation to available engine power, saw the team mimic the effects of traction control and would have offered a large advantage to its drivers.

It was found by the race stewards that the Red Bull was outside the “spirit of the regulations” but did not contravene the actual wording of the regulations. Formula 1 is a unique sport in that the regulations are fluid.

Teams are provided with guidelines but if they find an avenue to exploit the FIA then has the ability to reword the regulations to try and ensure that the spirit and wording of the regulations converge.

Red Bull found an area that they alone were able to exploit and unfortunately for the team the FIA will move to stamp out their advantage.

It was interesting that Jo Bauer, the FIA technical delegate, also said that the engine mapping allowed Red Bull to alter the aerodynamic profile of their car. This led to speculation that they may have been able to create an effect similar to the exhaust blowing diffusers that were outlawed at the start of this season.

With Mark Webber suddenly off the pace in Germany it definitely gave rise to this line of thought given the Australian’s struggles last year to be competitive with the blown diffusers. This weekend’s race is crucial for Webber. If he can have a strong race he can enter the summer break confident of continuing his championship assault. However, a repeat of his German woes would make it difficult to envision a first world title for the likeable Australian.

Can Massa support Alonso?

Felipe Massa returns to the scene of the accident in 2009 that almost killed him. For the two years since Massa has been a shadow of the driver that challenged for the title against Lewis Hamilton in 2008.

The Brazilian has shown signs of improved form of late and were it not for the changeable conditions in qualifying at Germany he would have been able to have had a strong race. As it was he qualified mid pack and lost his front wing at the start of the race.

The Ferrari has improved immensely from the start of the season but it has taken Massa a much longer time to find his form. Silverstone showed that Massa can still challenge for a podium and race consistently but given that Alonso has effectively been racing without a rear gunner it is imperative that Massa can start to race in the top five on a consistent basis and start taking some points from the Spaniard’s title rivals.

Alonso’s form throughout 2012 has been nothing short of superb. The year started with the Ferrari clearly off the pace and nothing more than Alonso’s incredible talent offering resitstance to the speed of the McLaren’s and Red Bull’s. Now however it is equally clear that the Ferrari is at least a match for the opposition and with Alonso racing better than ever the Prancing Horse and the Spaniard are forming a superb partnership.

Lotus need to make the final step

After Kimi Raikkonen’s podium in Germany it seemed, once again, that the true pace of the Lotus didn’t really come to the surface.

Throughout the season we have been waiting for the Enstone squad to show their potential but given that Raikkonen is fourth in the championship the team needs to start living up to their potential.

The team’s failure to capitalise on their potential was a point that Raikkonen was looking to make this week with the Finn saying:

“If you had told me in January that we would be fourth halfway through the season, I think I would have been pretty pleased,” said Kimi. “It’s not a bad place to be, but I think we have a car good enough to have scored more points.”

If Raikkonen is to be able to challenge for another title the team need to find more speed from the car and be able to utilise it throughout a Grand Prix better. His teammate, Romain Grosjean, has shown a superb turn of speed throughout the season and has firmly established himself as a genuine contender at some races.

The summer break will be crucial for Lotus as they try and develop the car to provide their drivers with the opportunity to challenge for wins. For Grosjean it is clear that he is learning more and more throughout the season but after a difficult German race he is looking to ensure that both he and the team avoid making the same mistakes again:

“We’ve had some very good results and some very bad races,” said the reigning GP2 champion. “The last race was maybe one of the worst – so let’s work, analyse and try to understand so I don’t make mistakes any more. Stay out of trouble and qualify better, this is the key. And from that we can go forwards.”

Setup challenges facing teams in Hungary

The challenges in Hungary all relate to getting the best balance for the highly technical infield section and finding a car that handles the bumps well. Sauber’s head of track engineering, Giampaolo Dall’Ara commented on the issues that teams face this weekend:

“The Hungaroring is traditionally a high downforce circuit, and it requires almost the same level as Monaco,” said the Italian. “This is mostly because of the time the drivers spend cornering compared to the time they spend on the straights. So the main focus is on downforce. The difference to Monaco is that the corners – mainly slow and medium speed – are flowing. Therefore it’s important to work on the balance for these kind of corners.

“Also the changes of directions are important. There are several of those at different speed levels from the slow chicane at turn six to the high speed corners two and three. Also important is the fact there is only one racing line, which makes qualifying even more important. Left and right of the line it’s often dirty. It can be windy over night and blow the sand back on the track. So the way the tyres behave changes a lot from Friday to Sunday. Pirelli is allocating the soft and the medium compound tyres, which is one level higher than one year ago. With lower temperatures this would be a conservative choice, but for the race weekend hot weather is expected, so this should work out well.”

As ever the engines face a difficult weekend also with Renault Sport’s Remi Taffin commenting that:

The Hungaroring has the second lowest average speed of the year, after Monaco,” said the Frenchman. “The high number of corners and lack of straights means one lap is taken at just over 180kph, therefore requiring extremely good low speed torque response. Cooling also becomes critical due to the lack of opportunity for the engine to ‘breathe’ and the high ambient temperatures, plus the high level of dirt and grit from the dusty surrounding fields that can be ingested into the inlets and radiators.”

Formula 1 revolves around Pirelli tyres

The team’s have gained a much better understanding of the Pirelli tyres of late but Paul Hembery knows that this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix will see his Pirelli tyres tested to their limits:

“Hungary will provide a very stark contrast to the circuits that we have just come from, being the slowest permanent track on the calendar,” said the Pirelli motorsport boss. “This does not make it any less demanding on the tyres though: in fact a twisty and slippery circuit will often put more heat through the tyre than a fast and flowing layout as the tyre is moving around more – particularly when the ambient temperatures are high. Having said that, in Hungary last year we saw some wet weather, so it’s important not to make any assumptions.

“Consequently, we are still lacking some information about the performance of our slick tyres under race conditions at the Hungaroring. Balancing the demands of speed and durability will be key to getting the most out of the tyres in Hungary, in order to keep degradation under control.

“Overtaking is traditionally difficult, so the drivers have an opportunity to use strategy in order to gain track position. Because of this, the work done in free practice will be vital when it comes to preparing the race strategy: an opportunity that has been denied to the teams recently because of bad weather in the build-up to the last two Grand Prix.”


Weather for this weekend

Late July in Hungary generally sees soaring temperatures and little wind to offer any cooling and this weekend will be no exception with the weekend set to see clear skies and temperatures of 30c. Friday however looks set to have thunder storms rolling in across Budapest.

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