By Tom Keeble, USA
Fernando Alonso is looking to celebrate his 24th birthday in style at this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix, leaving the Championship all but sealed before Formula One goes on vacation. Having always shone at Hungaroring, and with rival Kimi Raikkonen facing a tough qualifying, the Spaniard's weekend is looking bright already. Tom Keeble previews the race and rates the teams' chances of success ahead of the thirteenth round of the 2005 season
The Hungarian Grand Prix is hosted at the Hungaroring, near Budapest. The circuit is like a barrier-less version of Monaco: twisty in nature and demanding the highest levels of downforce, overtaking is nearly impossible, placing the emphasis squarely on qualifying. High temperatures can stress the cars over the race distance, however, so good cooling is a must. Although there is a chance of thunderstorms on Sunday, there has never yet been a wet race here.
The Hungaroring is a track that allows the driver to make some difference, based on its technical, wearing nature: fatigue can play a part, though the modern generation of super-fit drivers are not really expected to suffer.
The characteristics of the circuit are uncannily like Monaco, but despite the similarity, there is a chance of a different outcome: at the earlier race, BAR were absent for their fuel-ballast indiscretion, whilst Renault made a mistake in setting up their cars, to the ruination of their tyres some way before race distance after a dominant start.
Track: The drivers will exceed 180mph on the main straight approaching the downhill, 180-degree right-hander, turn one. Following this 75mph corner, a short 140mph straight that leads to turn two, a long, 50mph second gear left hander that leads into a sweeping 140mph right turn, onto the back straight.
Hitting 180mph, the fast, left-hander of turn four is taken at 125mph before climbing uphill, to the long, bumpy right hander which is taken at 85mph. A short straight leads to a right-left, 55mph chicane of turns six and seven, before an 80 mph left hander in to a right flick for turn nine and left kink of turn ten, reaching 140mph before the tightening right hander of turn eleven. Turn twelve is a 90 degree right hander that leads to the 50mph left hairpin and final 85mph corner on to the start-finish straight.
Tyres: Like Monaco, the circuit requires relatively soft tyres to maintain mechanical grip, though careful consideration goes into ensuring they are not worn out from the constant acceleration and turning on what is actually a highly abrasive surface. The relatively high track temperatures should allow the Bridgestone runners to get heat into their tyres better, aiding their qualifying effort, but it could also harm their longevity.
Weather: A sunny, dry weekend is in prospect, though there is a limited chance of thunderstorms on Sunday. Highs in the 30s should offer track temperatures in to the 40s; the hot weekend will require teams to give their engine cooling options a good workout.
Strategy: From the outset, this looks like a clear cut two-stop race. The difficulty for passing means that shorter fuelling is unlikely to pay dividends, whilst the penalty of carrying a single stop load would cost too many places in qualifying to effectively make up in the race.
Qualifying high up the grid is not the only thing here, either: the even numbered drivers will discover they are on a considerably dirtier surface; this often costs a couple of places getting off the line.
Surprises: BAR are the dark horse in Hungary: they can be expected to upset any of the front four drivers who are off the pace this weekend. Both Red Bull and in particular Williams could qualify well. so more points are possible for these teams.
Conclusions: Renault and McLaren are clearly favourites to fight for the win, though BAR will again be snapping at their heels, looking for a podium spot if there are retirements or mistakes from front runners. Ferrari's qualifying form is better than it was for Monaco, but they could struggle to defend a good result through the race.
Team by Team
It has been a while since Ferrari went to a race where they faced the very real prospect of racing for only the last points paying places, but this is a danger they face in Hungary. If Michelin has done its homework properly, then BAR, Renault and McLaren all have an advantage that will be tough to overcome.
On the positive side, the relatively high track temperature combined with considerable work to improve the qualifying pace of the car since Monaco should mean they can do a better job: pole would be something of a stretch, but Ferrari can make life awkward and pick up good points if they can put in good qualifying performances.
Drivers: Although the Hungaroring is often considered a circuit that allows the driver to make a bit of a difference, Rubens Barrichello has often outperformed his teammate here, so don't be surprised if he at least qualifies ahead of Michael Schumacher this weekend. Which is not to say that the World Champion will have a bad weekend: his dominant performance last year was a clear example of what to expect when he gets everything right.
Objectives: solid qualifying and hold on for the race - aiming to beat BAR. A podium would be unexpected.
Landing on the podium in Germany was a solid result for BAR, who knew they would struggle to get on terms with McLaren and Renault. Jenson Button was clearly never a threat to win the race, but he showed that BAR are making solid progress in closing down the leading teams.
Having been banned from racing in Monaco, the team are something of an unknown for Hungary as their maximum downforce package has not been seen; however, they were they strong last year, so it would be no surprise to see them in the hunt for good points.
Drivers: Takuma Sato can be expected to have a good weekend in Hungary - he seems to know how to get more out of the car here than elsewhere; however, eyes will generally be on his team leader as Jenson Button has been in good form. The Briton will be looking for another excellent qualifying session - and would expect to take points off any Renault of McLaren driver who doesn't have a perfect weekend.
Objectives: qualify strongly and finish with both cars in the points; aiming to beat Ferrari - a podium finish would be tough.
Clearly, Renault need to ensure they don't have a repeat of the Monaco mishap that saw their cars falling back through the field at a rate of knots by the end of the race through excessive tyre wear. The team have resolved their set-up issue that caused the wear, but as a consequence, they are not likely to have any advantage over McLaren in qualifying, excepting Raikkonen's early qualifying slot. They have, however, put together some surprisingly quick qualifying performances recently - and there are no prizes for guessing they should be quick on race day.
Although the Drivers' Championship is not decided yet, Renault have to pay attention to the McLaren's rapidly closing them down in the Constructors', so neither of their drivers will be backing off. And this is a circuit which the team expect will play to their strengths.
Drivers: Fernando Alonso played the dubious role of 'fastest of the rest' behind the dominating Ferrari outfit last year, after struggling with grip through the whole weekend, so he will be looking for an opportunity to do fight for a win this year. Giancarlo Fisichella is no slouch here: a solid performance for Sauber last year brought the team a well earned point. Provided his luck holds - and he doesn't stall during the stops - his prospects are also excellent. Both drivers will be disappointed if they fail to finish on the podium.
Objectives: aiming for the race win, with both cars on the podium.
Although the Williams package was competitive in Monaco - both cars finished on the podium - the evidence so far from this half of the season is that they will have their work cut out to repeat the performance.
The performance in Germany underlines the team's disappointing form. They have been struggling to get to grips with the revised aero package. They should be able to pull a reasonable qualifying performance from the car - but doing so is likely to be at the cost of tyre wear, which would prove costly at the end of the race.
Drivers: Mark Webber has been struggling with poor luck recently, but the Australian will be looking for a repeat of his Monaco performance. A noted qualifier, he has to perform immaculately on Saturday to give the team any hope of doing well. Nick Heidfeld is no slouch; he has been consistent on race day, pushing along in the races and picking up places whenever they have fallen to him; this consistent approach has been less spectacular than Webber, but it has netted him more points.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten and finish in the points.
A fantastic showing by Montoya in Germany to finish second from the last spot on the grid illustrated just how much of an advantage McLaren hold over most of their rivals. Renault will be looking to compete in Hungary, but on their current form, McLaren have to consider themselves favourites in terms of outright pace.
That is not to say they can be complacent: Montoya has made some mistakes this year, and Raikkonen may be compelled to anticipate qualifying off the front couple of rows, which would force the team to utilise pit-strategy for him to progress through the field. This in turn could make it impossible for him to win as the leader on a clear track should be able to open a reasonable gap.
Drivers: Having retired from the last event, Kimi Raikkonen will face the prospect of an early qualifying slot on Saturday, which significantly reduces his prospects for starting on pole, a fact that Juan Pablo Montoya will be looking to leverage for his own benefit. Should reliability problems not occur, both drivers will be looking for a podium, though Montoya must be looking for the win to make up for his qualifying mistake in Germany.
Objectives: aiming for the race win - with both cars on the podium.
Sauber did well to score a point in Germany after a relatively poor weekend. Felipe Massa struggled in qualifying, whilst Jacques Villeneuve was involved in almost every accident on the track. However, the race day pace of the cars was encouraging, so there is some optimism that more points can be taken in forthcoming events.
This weekend in Hungary is not likely to be one of them, however. Unless the team can coax a brilliant performance from the car in qualifying, they simply won't be able to make up the places on race day.
Drivers: Although Villeneuve is having a largely forgettable season, the '97 World Champion finally looks to be on top of the car and in a position to offer the team some better performances - when he is not caught in incidents with the backmarkers, anyway. Massa will be hoping for a better qualifying session than in Germany this time around, though: even with a repeat of the lightening start he had there, points will be hard to come by.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten; score a point - beat Red Bull.
Another couple of points in Germany have helped continue to improve the standing of David Coulthard in the paddock. Despite limited development going into the car this year, the team have been able to keep their race pace within reach of the midfield: whenever they put together a reasonable qualifying run, they have a chance to score.
In Hungary, with a premium on the qualifying session, it will be tough to make headway against the manufacturer-backed teams. Targeting a top ten result on Saturday would leave hope for a point at the finish, but it will take an exceptional performance to do so. In the Championship, BAR are closing fast, but the team simply don't have the pace to do anything about that - rather, they will be focused on protecting their ten-point advantage over Sauber.
Drivers: Despite scoring in seven of the twelve events so far this year, the odds are against David Coulthard finishing in the points in Hungary, unless he can qualify well or make another fantastic start.
Objectives: qualify in the top ten, score a point. Beat Sauber.
One good thing that came out of Germany for Toyota was their improved race day form: Ralf Schumacher finished in sixth place on merit, though Jarno Trulli had a day to forget as he suffered an opening lap puncture. On the downside, the improved race pace seems at least partially to be derived at the cost of qualifying form: Trulli was clearly not the threat he has been in earlier events.
Hungary presents a tough challenge for the team. BAR are now faster on race day, so the top five or six points scoring places are largely taken; accordingly Toyota are finding themselves fighting Williams and Ferrari for the final point scoring spots.
Drivers: This weekend could play into Trulli's hands - should he recapture his qualifying form from the first half of the season, then at this circuit with very limited overtaking opportunities, he should be able to hold on for a decent result, even if tyre wear is problematic towards the end of the race. Ralf Schumacher, on the other hand, has quietly got on with his races; his qualifying form has not been a match for Trulli's efforts, but the German has made up places on race day where his teammate has given them up. This is not ideal in Hungary, but a good session on Saturday will make him a clear threat for a point.
Objectives: target points finishes; aiming to beat Williams.
The result in Germany was something of a disaster for Jordan. Although their drivers made it to the finishing line, it was to the tune of being slower than a Minardi - certainly not a result they want to repeat, as it is likely to cost them the limited sponsorship opportunities that remain open.
On the other hand, their new car's debut continues to be delayed, so there is little prospect of change in the short term. The Hungaroring is going to be a tough challenge as there is little doubt Minardi are getting to grips with their new car, and it definitely has an aerodynamic advantage. Their race day pace is a weakness, so Jordan may have to be resigned when it comes to qualifying, but they will need their drivers to be on song to finish ahead of their rival here.
Drivers: Narain Karthikeyan broke his run of poor luck with mechanical failures in Germany, but failed to beat the Minardi of Albers, largely due to a penalty for failing to pay attention to blue flags. Barring a similar penalty, Karthikeyan will be carrying the hopes of the team to stay ahead of Minardi until the new car is ready. Tiago Monteiro has continued his excellent run of finishes, with more solid but uninspiring work at the back; perhaps without coming together with Jacques Villeneuve in Germany he would have taken a better result.
Objectives: make a showing, beat Minardi.
Having beaten Jordan in Germany, Minardi have achieved all their realistic targets for the year, so anything else they achieve is a bonus. The last race was testament to the power of staying out of trouble, as Christijan Albers not only beat both Jordans, but he was classified ahead of Trulli and Villeneuve to boot.
Hungary offers a different challenge. In Monaco, Minardi qualified ahead of Jordan, but were comprehensively outclassed in the race: this is an opportunity to show that they have made progress and neither the Monaco qualifying result, nor the German Grand Prix were a fluke. Clearly, beating Jordan again is the goal.
Objectives: complete race distance - beat another Jordan.
Hungary arrived with Michael Schumacher and Ferrari in dominant form - only Rubens Barrichello continued to threaten the reigning World Champion, and he was a distant second. At the tight Hungaroring circuit, much like Monaco, qualifying was always going to be half the battle: and after Trulli's Monaco victory, this was considered the best chance remaining to beat the dominant Ferraris.
From the outset it was clear that Ferrari were not caught out as they had been in Monaco: they had the perfect tyres for the weekend and were clearly the class of the field. Accordingly, Schumacher put in a perfect lap for pole with Barrichello alongside on the grid.
Behind the Ferrari's, the BARs filled the second row with Takuma Sato enjoying a rare advantage over Jenson Button, who was mired in the throes of controversy concerning the then anticipated move to Williams.
Fernando Alonso put in a steady performance for Renault, very nearly looking on the pace as the team struggled for grip. Antonio Pizzonia led the Williams pair - a very nice effort as it was only the second time Juan Montoya had been out-qualified by a teammate so far in 2004. Both drivers complained of light rain impacting their lap.
Eighth place fell to Giancarlo Fisichella and Sauber, as the team looked to be on top of their single lap qualifying problem, so were able to carry the same fuel load as their competition: a top ten performance resulted. Jarno Trulli on the other hand had his lap for Renault hurt by the brief shower, ending ninth and half a second off his teammate.
Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren made a mistake on their tyre choice, leading to the Finn sliding in qualifying and lucky to finish tenth, two places ahead of a similarly afflicted David Coulthard.
As always in Hungary, the dirty side of the track was going to be a factor, so a dry start to the race delivered the even numbered drivers no favours: Schumacher led off cleanly at the start whilst Barrichello struggled to contain Alonso, who had made a lightening start from fifth. Both BAR drivers suffered: Sato struggled with clutch to fall down to eighth whilst Button was lucky to be passed only by Montoya, dropping to fifth. The opening corner saw some action as Zonta was punted by a Jordan in to Webber, causing him to spin and drop to the back.
With passing just about impossible, the procession worked its way to the first pitstop with Schumacher slowly opening a gap to Barrichello. The stops saw little change except for Trulli moving up a place to sixth - before Raikkonen retired with yet another mechanical failure.
The second round of stops saw Barrichello use Schumacher's rig after a scare in the first round, but was otherwise uneventful - though Pizzonia moved back in front of Trulli as the Renault driver struggled with the front end of his car; his struggle was to no avail, however, as the engine expired on lap 43, promoting Fisichella in to the points.
The final stops also made no impact to the running order, though Button tried hard to take fourth from Montoya, so the finish saw Schumacher take an easy win over his teammate, with the nearest competition in the form of Alonso's Renault some forty seconds further back.
Point Paying Positions
Pos Driver Team-Engine Time 1. M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) 1h35:26.131 2. Barrichello Ferrari (B) + 4.694 3. Alonso Renault (M) + 44.599 4. Montoya Williams-BMW (M) + 1:02.613 5. Button BAR-Honda (M) + 1:07.439 6. Sato BAR-Honda (M) + 1 lap 7. Pizzonia Williams-BMW (M) + 1 lap 8. Fisichella Sauber-Petronas (B) + 1 lap Fastest Lap: M.Schumacher, 1:19.071, lap 29 Classified: 15 from 20 starters