Rencken: Hungarian GP preview
25 July 2013, 14:12
Hungary - The 70-lap Hungarian Grand Prix, Round 10 of the 2013 Formula 1 World championship, will mark the mid-point of the season.
At last a driver has broken clear of the pack.
TAKING ON HUNGARORING
Having at last won his home race in Germany (held at the Nurburgring), Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, currently on 157 points, holds a 34-point lead in the title hunt over nemesis Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (123).
Alonso has kept his recalcitrant Ferrari F138 in the hunt through sheer doggedness when all seemed lost.
The 2013 Hungarian GP is cause for more friction between the two: only one driver has won on all 19 circuits on the 2013 calendar, namely Alonso. Missing from Vettel’s racing record is the Hungaroring, so expect him to go all out as Alonso protects his precious record.
Lotus star Kimi Raikkonen is third on the points log with 116 followed by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton on 99, despite not having won a race.
Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber is in fifth (93) followed by Hamilton’s team mate Nico Rosberg (84).
Regardless of the outcome of the Hungarian race, Vettel will head into F1’s post-Hungary three-week (European) summer break with the title lead, a crucial advantage given that all development work is banned for two weeks.
Teams may take their respective vacations at any point during the period but must attest afterwards that no work took place in their factories for 14 consecutive days and are obliged to submit copies of letters to suppliers and contractors as proof of shutdown.
Vettel’s points advantage is the equivalent of a win and third place, so even the worst-case scenario – Alonso winning and Vettel crashing out – has the triple champion headed to Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian GP on August 25 with a nine-point lead over Alonso.
LOW SPEEDS, NOT MUCH GRIP
Despite being a permanent facility, the tight and twisty 4.3km Hungaroring in a natural but dusty amphitheatre 20km east of the former socialist country’s capital, has all the characteristics of a street circuit. It offers low average speeds, very little grip and marked track evolution as the weekend progresses and rubber is laid down.
As such the challenges here for engineers are similar to those faced in Monaco – how best to optimise high-downforce performance, tyre grip, top speed and a winning strategy. Overtaking is almost impossible without a marked car advantage or powerful DRS system.
These factors are mutually exclusive, yet need to come together perfectly over a two-hour period to produce victory.
However, unlike Monaco, the pace car seldom gets used in Hungary, called to duty only twice in the past 10 years. During that period the winner has come from pole four times, with the highest winning grid position 16th - Jenson Button’s race-winning drive for Honda in 2006.
Rain is rare, with the weather generally hot and humid in late July. The weekend is unlikely to be an exception: long-term forecasts predict a scorching 30-35 with only a slight breeze blowing during qualifying and the race.
The expected combination of low speeds, stop-start layout, a single (shortish) straight, high g-forces and boiling temperatures, will place tremendous strain on drivers and machinery. Cockpit temperatures pass 50°C.
At least drivers have the benefit of built-in ventilation, while the poor pit crews will be stuck in sweltering garages whilst clad in fireproofs and helmets.
JOKER IN THE PACK
Apart from the weather, the joker in the pack is tyre degradation. Following delamination woes, Pirelli changed the specification of its sidewall construction, using 2013 compounds combined with 2012-specification Kevlar (in place of steel) sidewall belts. Thus, tyres are an unknown quantity during one of the hottest weekends of the 2013 season.
Given the change in construction, Pirelli has specified its Soft (yellow sidewalls) and Medium (white) compounds with the expected lap time delta between the two being a second. Given a manufacturing lead time of at least four weeks, this choice was made long before expected weather conditions were known.
Expect some strange race strategies, with the possibility of four stops for some teams.
Since the pits-lane incident in Germany, when a TV cameraman took the brunt of Webber’s wayward wheel, the FIA expedited a reduction in pits-lane speed limits originally slated for 2014 introduction, simultaneously mandating helmets for all pit crew and banning TV crews from the lane during the race.
The Budapest pits-lane is now an 80km/h zone, down by 20km/h, increasing the travel penalty by a sliver over four seconds, pushing teams towards fewer stops.
TWO, THREE OF FOUR STOPS?
This will affect Mercedes, whose WGP04 is known to be harsh on its rear tyres in hot weather. The team was prohibited from participating in the post-German GP tyre test session in Silverstone as part of its testing scandal punishment.
On the flip side, Lotus and Ferrari are particularly gentle on tyres, with Red Bull, McLaren and the rest somewhere between. Performing two, three or four stops will be Hungary’s burning question.
Of the circuit’s 14 corners (6L/8R) five are 180 degree hairpins, with three taken at less than 90km/h and none at more than 250. Average lap speeds are 190km/h under dry conditions in qualifying trim. Brake wear is rated as “high” and tyre energy as “low”; while just 43% of each lap is spent at full throttle of which the longest single burst lasts 10 seconds.
Significantly, these numbers are lower than the equivalents in Monaco.
During the pre-DRS and KERS era, the circuit had a reputation for delivering tedious processions. Driving aids have “spiced” the show and in keeping with the current trend F1's rulers have specified two DRS zones: the first on the main straight area in 2012, the second through turns 2 to 4.
The 28th Hungarian F1 GP will start at 2pm (CET/SA local time) on Sunday July 28, qualifying at 2pm on Saturday July 27.