It’s not even been a week since the German Grand Prix, and already we’re in Budapest for Round 11 of the 2012 F1 season, the Hungarian Grand Prix. Being the closest venue to Finland (after Austria, which is not on the calendar anymore), the Hungaroring usually sees a lot of Finnish F1 fans turning up in numbers to support their ‘home’ heroes. The track has come under a lot of criticism in the past, due to its tight, constant-radius turns and a relatively slow nature (The cars spend barely half the lap at full throttle here); and the general difficulty level in overtaking. In setup terms, it is similar to Monaco, without being as painfully slow as Monaco in its slowest parts. The track has been hosting a Hungarian GP since 1986, and has seen alterations to its layout twice, 1989 and 2003 to make it quicker and more conducive to overtaking, but met with limited success. The track length is 4.831km, and it is located in a natural bowl, making for good spectator viewing, and also some challenging elevation changes.
The cars sprint down the 700m start-finish straight, reaching top speeds of under 300kph (yes, you read it right. under 300kph) before braking hard for the right handed hairpin at turn 1, taken in 2nd gear. This section of the track was extended in 2003 to make it a longer straight and a tighter corner in hope of creating a genuine overtaking opportunity. Good traction out of this corner means either a getaway from a pursuing car or an overtaking move that sticks. A short climb up leads to the left handed 3rd gear turn 2, at the top of the climb. The exit road drops down sharply as the cars head down through the right hander at turn 3. The slop into turn 3 can catch one out if taken too aggressively. The road bottoms out through the kink, and gradually climbs up the hill, allowing a flat out ride through turn 3 and the straight, reaching upto 290kph in top gear. The exit of turn 3 had a chicane in the original layout, but was changed to quicken the track up, in 1989.
The cars enter sector 2 flying in over the hill in top gear, lifting off slightly to drop down a couple of gears through the very fast left handed kink at turn 4, in 5th gear, 210kph. Good mechanical grip and bravery on the brakes can earn a lot of time through turn 4. The long 180 degree right hander at turn 5, requires the cars to drop down into 3rd gear, 150kph, in preparation for the twisty inner section. The cars are constantly in a corner for the rest of the lap, somewhat like the turn 3-4-5-6 sequence at Suzuka. First comes the 2nd gear right-left chicane at turn 6-7, with high kerbs and no run-off if you miss the braking point. Exit turn 7, and keep left to line up a faster left-right sequence of bends at turn 8-9, turn 8 taken in 4th gear, 171 kph, followed by a slight brush on the brakes to hit turn 9 in 3rd gear, 150 kph. blast yourself out of turn 9, immediately pulling the car left, to line up the entry into the next, even faster sequence of left-right corners at turn 10-11, turn 10 is taken in 5th gear, 240 kph, while by the time the cars exit the right handed apex at turn 11, they’re already up to 6th gear, and out of the twisting maze.
A short spurt out of turn 11, at full throttle brings us into a slow 90 degree right hander at turn 12. The cars need to brake from 270 kph to 100kph for this corner, leading into another slow left handed hairpin at turn 13. The apex is slightly deeper than what appears, and is made tougher to hit due the the slope that runs down into the corner. The exit leads into the final turn, another 3rd gear right handed hairpin bend turn 14, and a slingshot back on to the start-finish straight. The track modifications of 2003 also changed the turn12-13 sequence. It earlier used to be a tight chicane at turn 12, throwing the cars into the penultimate corner, which used to be a 90 degree left hander. The current layout provides an opportunity to capitalize on any mistakes made in the tight inner sector by a leading car.
The 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix will be run for 70 laps around this track. Hungary is usually hot and dry around this time of the year, and it is tough work for the drivers and engines due to the twisting inner section and low deviation in speeds. The setup requirements are similar to Monaco, as we said earlier, due to the twisty inner section, and the relative difficulty in overtaking. The ideal setup here means a car with good rear end grip and high torque to get a good push out of the slow corners, a stiff front suspension and high front wing angle for downforce and turn-in response, and relatively soft rear suspension to be able to ride the kerbs well, and manage rear tyre wear that will be generated due to the demands of the longer corners. Pirelli will be bringing their Soft (Yellow) and Super Soft (Red) tyres, which will make tyre strategy that much tighter. Of course, a wet race nullifies that, but brings on its own set of challenges. The weather forecasts for this year are for a dry Saturday and a wet Sunday, which should make for an interesting race weekend.
The last time (which happens to be the only time) we had a wet race start here, Fernando Alonso did a magical first lap to go from well in the midfield to being right at the front with his blue Renault. A pit stop error cost him a wheel, and the race win went to Jenson Button; his first ever F1 race victory. Incidentally, Hungaroring in 2003 was also the site of Alonso’s first career victory, which at that time made him the youngest Grand Prix winner in F1 history. Heikki Kovalainen gets an honorable mention for winning his first race here as well, in 2008 for McLaren (replacing Alonso at McLaren). It was also at the Hungaroring that Michael Schumacher cemented his total domination by taking the 2005 world title with plenty of races to spare. And, another trivia, the Alonso-Hamilton rivalry became a feud in the McLaren garages, in 2007, at Hungaroring!
Clearly, Fernando Alonso has a lot of memories linked to this track, and he’ll be hoping to add another winning memory this weekend. Sebastian Vettel (who incidentally made his debut for Toro Rosso here in 2007) needs to step up his game a bit more to stay well and truly in the hunt for his third successive championship going into the 3 week long summer break. Renault may try out their new evolution of a ‘Double DRS’ update, which might just help them stake a firm claim for the #2 position in the Constructors’ Championship standings. As the summer break looms large, teams up and down the grid would be looking to finish on a high before sitting down to take stock of the season’s progress. Let’s hope that makes for some great all-out racing throughout the field!