Hungarian Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

Three weeks without F1 is always a painful experience however, as the paddock arrives in Hungary anticipation for the latest installment of the 2013 season reaches a crescendo. Following the YDT at Silverstone, the Pirelli tyre concerns seem to have abated yet now attention turns to mastering and understanding the new compounds. In terms of the complex battles within both championships, can anyone catch Sebastian Vettel? Can McLaren overturn the deficit to Force India? Can Lotus maintain momentum following their impressive double podium in Germany?

Flashback 12 months and Hungary provided one of my favorite races of an action packed 2012 season. Lewis Hamilton managed to consolidate his pole position, leading throughout the race, yet faced considerable pressure from the Lotus’ behind as the high track temperatures suited the E20. The Enstone team faced a hair raising moment after the second round of stops, as Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean came perilously close to contact into turn one.
Raikkonen fiercely hunted down Hamilton yet eventually ran out of laps to reel in the McLaren driver who finished just one second ahead of the Finn. Further back, Sebastian Vettel completed a disappointing race, finishing in P4. The German was squeezed out be Grosjean at the start and dropped behind Jenson Button. Vettel remained trapped under Button’s rear wing for the entire first stint, which left him with considerable amounts of work to do. Sebastian is still yet to win at the Hungaroring and will hope to change that this weekend.

Massa Hoping For Hot Hungary

Felipe Massa is currently under the spotlight once again following a serious downturn in form which has seen the Brazilian score just 12 points from the last four races. In this critical phase of Ferrari’s season, they are somewhat reliant on Felipe’s role within the team, in order to claw back the deficit to Mercedes and support Fernando Alonso in his title challenge. While the Hungaroring should suit the RB9’s characteristics, Felipe is optimistic that the sweltering temperatures which are currently predicted for the weekend will bring Ferrari into contention.
“We are trying everything we can to improve the car and make the car better,” he said earlier this week. “Even if Hungary is normally a good track for Red Bull, I hope we can be competitive there. It should be hotter; we didn’t have so many hot races this year and I think it’s important to get the hot conditions as they’re always a big help for our car. So I hope we can be competitive there.”
Ferrari’s frighteningly fast start to the season struck fear into Red Bull, as the prancing horse was menacing on both Saturday and Sunday. However, the team have speculated that a part which was fitted to the car in Monaco has had a negative effect on their overall performance. The issue at hand is trying to identify which of the numerous upgrades are having this detrimental effect.
The recent drop in pace has seen Mercedes rise above Ferrari in the constructors standings, yet Felipe Massa is confident that the team can gain ground on the German outfit this weekend, predicting that they will suffer similarly high degradation levels to that of the German Grand Prix. Asked if Mercedes could also be a big threat this weekend, the Brazilian replied: “In the qualifying, yes. In the race maybe a bit less. You always look at Red Bull as the more complete car talking about qualifying and talking about the race. Mercedes is normally the quickest car in the qualifying and they normally struggle a little bit more in the race. Maybe even now that we cannot swap tyres anymore they struggle even more.”

Practice Mileage Is Critical For Mercedes

Following their exclusion from the YDT, Mercedes are heading into this weekend on the back foot, after not being able to complete any mileage on the latest compounds which Pirelli have built. Consequently, the team have admitted that the three practice sessions are going to be crucial and have the capabilities of making or breaking their weekend. 
Toto Wolff voiced the team’s concerns yesterday. “First, we will need to do extra homework on Friday to understand how the new tyres work with our car,” he said. “Then we will have to get to grips with the high temperatures, a demanding circuit and the soft and medium compound Pirelli tyres. During the race at the Nurburgring, we were overheating the tyres and we want to minimise the chance of suffering a repeat problem in Hungary, where the track temperatures will also be high.”
It has been a busy few weeks for Mercedes, despite their testing embargo as the team have worked to bring updates to the W04 in order to consolidate their current standing in the constructors. “The team has worked thoroughly since Germany to improve the situation and we will find out how the new tyres will affect that situation, too,” he continued. “Our motivation is high to score a good result that we can take into the summer break but we know there is plenty of good work needed to achieve that.” 
This weekend is likely to be a damage limitation affair for Mercedes. It seems that everything is conspiring against them at the moment. The circuit characteristics of the Hungaroring do not suit the W04, while the high degradation is only amplified by the exceedingly hot track temperatures, which are expected to top 50 degrees. A typically strong qualifying performance is crucial to Mercedes this weekend, if they are to salvage anything come Sunday.

FIA Introduce Two DRS Zones

In what appears to be a bid to increase overtaking, the FIA have introduced a second DRS zone for this weekend’s race, despite the lack of long straights at the tight Hungaroring circuit. There will once again be only a single detection point positioned at Turn 13 with the first activation point after Turn 14, which is just before the start-finish straight. However, this year drivers will also be able to activate DRS at the exit of Turn 1, which should increase their chances of passing in the notoriously difficult overtaking area in Turn 2. Hopefully this does not have the negative effect of making overtaking too easy. On the other hand, it may prevent the possibility of a train forming behind the Mercedes duo early on.

Final Thoughts

While it may not promote on track action, the Hungarian Grand Prix is a favorite of mine. The high speed nature of the circuit, coupled with the packed grandstands simply adds to the spectacle. This years race promises to be a classic, with several unknown factors which could decide the outcome. 
The sizzling temperatures, (with a scorching 38 degrees ambient temperature predicted for Sunday), Lotus and Ferrari should become Red Bull’s biggest challengers. However, considering Ferrari’s lackluster pace recently, the top three from Germany may well become the main protagonists in the battle for P1. Throw Mark Webber into the mix and a classic Grand Prix is in the script. 
Who would dare bet against Mercedes for the Qualifying glory. Hamilton’s record around the Hungaroring is impressive to say the least, as the Brit has managed to clock three victories in six appearances. Inevitably, he has to head into qualifying as favorite to snatch pole position, yet Nico Rosberg is never far behind. With 11 victories in total, McLaren are the most successful constructor when it comes to Hungarian Grand Prix triumphs, yet even 2006 winner Jenson Button will admit that a 12th success in 2013 is unlikely for the team.
Keep track of all the weekend’s events, including the action from Friday, Saturday and the all important race on Sunday. After each and every session, I will upload in-depth analysis of the events giving you my personal take on the action. Personally, I cannot wait for FP1 tomorrow morning and  for the weekend to begin!    

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