You simply cannot put a foot wrong in Hungary
The Hungaroring, which stages the Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend, can be a strange and solitary place. My best result there was a third place finish in 1997 and that was a funny race. It was very lonely for me because I did not have many cars around me for much of the afternoon.
I was on a one-stop strategy in my Sauber and I was able to look after my tyres and keep up a good pace, something a lot of other drivers could not do. This meant they were making one or two more stops than me, allowing me to move up without having to do much overtaking. But I finished ahead of both the Ferraris, who were strong at the time, and that was a very pleasing result for me. I always enjoyed racing there as there are a number of technical corners that are not easy but you need to get them exactly right if you are to get the optimum lap time.
Fast forwarding to Sunday's grand prix and it has all the makings of being a critical race in deciding where this year's world championship goes. Coming straight from Germany, which was a medium downforce track, to Budapest, with its high downforce track layout, will tell us a lot about the competitiveness of the front running cars in different conditions. Ferrari will go into the event full of confidence after their dominant display at Hockenheim last Sunday, and they will expect to be battling for the victory again as they have shown good pace on similar tracks already this season.
Fernando Alonso was fast in Valencia last month before the safety car ruined his race, and both he and Felipe Massa were quick in Monaco, but for various reasons had to be happy with sixth and fourth spots respectively. But there is no doubt that the Ferrari chassis does enjoy tracks with low speed corners and tight turns, and the Hungaroring certainly ticks those boxes. Alonso will be confident of challenging for victory and improving his revitalised championship challenge further, after cutting the gap to Lewis Hamilton, the title leader, to 34 points following his controversial triumph in Germany.
He will also be keen to do it on his own terms and not need his teammate to move out of the way for him, as was the case in Hockenheim. There had been glimpses of Ferrari's potential earlier in the season, but the new developments to the chassis have really pushed the team forward and made them a genuine match for the Red Bull-Renaults in terms of pure pace. I would expect the Ferraris and Red Bulls to be duelling for victory, as in Germany, with the McLaren-Mercedes cars perhaps a little closer to the pace after their below-par showing last weekend, which saw both drivers finish more than 25 seconds behind Alonso, the race winner.
Alonso's first grand prix victory came at the track in 2003, but he is not the only driver to go well there. Hamilton has won there twice and taken two pole positions, while his McLaren teammate Jenson Button triumphed there for Honda in the wet in 2006. The only question marks are the two Red Bull drivers as Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel have just one podium there between them at the circuit, Overtaking is difficult, but not impossible, at the Hungaroring, so qualifying tomorrow afternoon will be very important.
The track often comes in for criticism due to the layout and because it offers so few passing opportunities other than down the start-finish straight and into Turn 3. But it is a circuit that the drivers do enjoy racing on as it does create challenges. The run from Turn 1 all the way down to Turn 8 is very busy and with it being dusty off line you cannot afford to put a wheel wrong. It can get very hot there and that could also be a factor. The drivers are so fit these days that it will not be an issue physically, but it could well affect the tyres and that will be something that all the teams and Bridgestone will keep an on.
Johnny Herbert is a former Formula One driver who competed in 161 races, winning three times. email@example.com
Published: July 30, 2010 04:00 AM