• Hungarian Grand Prix preview

Hunting Alonso in Hungary

Chris Medland July 26, 2012
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While it may have been tough to single out a team that was maximising its potential during the early part of the season, there was no doubting the standout driver; Fernando Alonso. In a Ferrari that was far from the quickest car early on - his average qualifying position remains sixth despite two pole positions in the last two races - Alonso got himself in position and now his car is competitive he's on a run of win-second-win. Having now chalked up 22 consecutive points finishes, the rest of the grid needs to start chipping away at his lead as we enter the second half of the season.

On form

Fernando Alonso doesn't do off form, but his recent performances have ensured that he's really taken this championship by the scruff of the neck. Back-to-back pole positions in the wet display his ability to make the most of the conditions even when his car isn't the quickest over one lap, and his triumph in Germany leaves him one victory behind fourth-placed Nigel Mansell in the all time list of winners. Yet to finish lower than ninth this season, Alonso knows that another solid points haul will leave him with a comfortable lead throughout the mid-season break.

Out of form

It's been a bit of a hit and miss season so far for Romain Grosjean, admittedly with more hit than miss. A poor German Grand Prix was not lost on Eric Boullier, though, who said: "We have all seen him have very good weekends, but we have also seen weekends where the results have not been as Romain or anyone in the team would have wanted. This means we need to ensure that he has solid weekends even when circumstances are against him, such as starting from the back of the grid. He's still learning. It's only his first full year. But as we all know he can do very well and we are working with him to ensure that he always puts in a solid drive. This includes making it through the first lap which is obviously very important." Likely to be a one-off that he soon recovers from, Grosjean needs to ensure a better time of things in Hungary as Raikkonen continues to rack up the points.

The Mercedes W03 should be stronger in Hungary © Sutton Images
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One to watch

When Nico Rosberg won in China, big things were expected from Mercedes this season. In reality, however, results have been a little disappointing with only two podiums recorded since then. It's the first of those two that gives an indication ahead of this weekend, with Rosberg having finished second in Monaco. He shadowed Mark Webber throughout the race and insisted that Mercedes had had the fastest car all weekend; remember Michael Schumacher had taken pole before a penalty. The Hungaroring's low average speed is third only to street circuits Monaco and Singapore, and Rosberg is cautiously optimistic it will be better for the W03: "The layout should suit our car but you just can't make predictions this year and you never know how it will work out over the weekend."

Talking points

Engine maps
This became the main talking point before the German Grand Prix when both Red Bull's were brought before the stewards after the FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer noticed a difference between the torque output at mid-range compared to previous events - effectively an engine map meant the torque being delivered wasn't linear to the throttle position and was resulting in a form of off-throttle blown diffuser. Red Bull successfully argued that it wasn't breaking the wording of the regulations because it didn't state previous events would be cited to find the engine's maximum performance, but the FIA has since closed that loophole by telling teams they must supply a previous engine map from the opening four races to be used as a reference. This will ensure that the torque being delivered is always within 2% of the maximum, but it remains to be seen if it will hamper Red Bull this weekend or if anyone else on the grid will be affected.

Overtaking rules
The podium line-up at Hockenheim wasn't the final top three come Sunday evening as Sebastian Vettel was penalised for his overtaking move on Jenson Button. The discrepancy was obvious; Vettel ran wide because he opened the throttle earlier than he would normally have done in order to out-drag Button out of the turn 6 hairpin, and completed the pass well off the circuit. The punishment seemed severe - a retrospective drive-through which equates to 20 seconds and dropped him to fifth place - but it was the only one the stewards could hand out. Vettel had the pace and should have finished second, he deserved to finish third, but it was his own error which cost him the points. Now the drivers will want to see consistency with the punishments, while the stewards will hope the issue deters others from running off track so often. With numerous concrete run-off areas at the Hungaroring (in fact, only one corner doesn't have some form of concrete run-off) then the issue could rear its head again this weekend.

Rain has affected a number of sessions so far this season © Press Association
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McLaren's title hopes
Having appeared to be on the brink of a full-on crisis, McLaren responded in Germany when its large upgrade package worked well and Jenson Button challenged for victory. It was a less productive weekend for the team's leading driver in terms of championship standings, however, with Lewis Hamilton retiring and falling 62 points behind leader Fernando Alonso. While the car now appears to be competitive, the cold hard facts are that both Hamilton and Button need to start consistently challenging for race wins to bring themselves back in to play, but the car's lack of pace in the wet could undermine any attempts to fight back.

Weather forecasts
It's been an unusually wet Formula One season so far this year, with the cars being frequently tested by rain at a number of races. It's a factor that has helped Alonso's cause - the Ferrari probably wouldn't have been able to secure back-to-back pole positions in the last two races had qualifying been dry both times - but has hampered the likes of McLaren and Lotus. The early forecast this weekend? You've guessed it: wet. Sunday looks like it could be hit by heavy thunderstorms, while Friday could well be affected too. That will concern McLaren particularly, with Jonathan Neale saying this week: "Rain would be unpredictable for everybody but right now asking me personally I'd prefer it was dry" and Hamilton admitting: "We still have work to do to in order to fully understand the heating characteristics of the Pirelli tyres in wet weather."

Jenson Button's first grand prix victory came at the Hungaroring in 2006 © Sutton Images
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Trivia

  • The Hungarian Grand Prix was the first to be held in the Eastern Bloc when Formula One made its debut in Budapest in 1986
  • McLaren is the most successful team at the Hungaroring, securing ten victories. Williams has won seven times at the circuit, and Ferrari on five occasions
  • The circuit was the scene of Felipe Massa's serious accident after he was hit on the head by a spring that had fallen off Rubens Barrichello's Brawn, resulting in a fractured skull.
  • Jenson Button secured his first grand prix victory at the Hungaroring - at the 114th time of asking - when he came through to win from 14th place on the grid in 2006.

Fast Facts

  • Tazio Nuvolari won the first Hungarian Grand Prix, held in Nepliget Park in Budapest in 1936.
  • There were 54 overtaking manoeuvres during last year's race; more than the total from the previous five years put together
  • The lap record of 1:19.071 is held by Michael Schumacher, set in 2004 for Ferrari
  • Drivers make 48 gear changes per lap

Circuit

The Hungaroring is a slightly unique track in its similarity to a street circuit despite being outside Budapest. The tight and twisty nature leads to a low average speed of 183kph, which means high downforce is required. The low and medium-speed corners require good traction on exit, while a car that is good over the bumps is important, especially for drivers who like to attack the kerbs. The main overtaking opportunity comes in to turn one, although we also saw passing taking place in to turn three last year.

FIA driver steward

Former Tyrrell driver Danny Sullivan returns as the FIA driver steward for the third time, with his appearance at the Hungaroring this weekend being his second in Hungary. He also fulfilled the role in Singapore in 2010.

© ESPNF1
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Weather

As mentioned above the weather for the weekend is unsettled, with hot spells seeing thunder storms build up which are likely to hit the circuit at some point. Friday's running could be affected by such rain, while Saturday is expected to be dry for FP3 and qualifying. It's race day that will concern the teams, however, with the greatest chance of thunderstorms likely to hit in the early afternoon.

Betting

On the back of his third victory of the season Fernando Alonso is now the bookies favourite at 11/4. Sebastian Vettel is expected to bounce back from his Hockenheim problems at 3/1, while Lewis Hamilton is 5/1 in the updated McLaren. Jenson Button is at 9/1 after returning to form in Germany . Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean are attractive at 11/1 and 16/1 respectively, but the best bet is Nico Rosberg to finish on the podium at 6/1.

ESPN prediction

Off the back of his disappointing home grand prix when he was demoted to fifth place Sebastian Vettel is the ESPNF1 tip to recover this weekend. Though July remains the only month in which Vettel is yet to win in his Formula One career, the Red Bull was strong in both Silverstone and Hockenheim despite the wet qualifying sessions costing it pole. With Saturday set to be dry, Vettel is the best bet to secure P1, and we all know how well he leads from the front.

Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Chris Medland is assistant editor at ESPNF1 Chris Medland, who in his youth even found the Pacific GPs entertaining, talked his way in to work at the British Grand Prix and was somehow retained for three years. He also worked on the BBC's F1 output prior to becoming assistant editor ahead of the 2011 season