If Fernando Alonso was cruising to the title before his German Grand Prix victory, expect him to be coasting around the Hungaroring with one hand on the wheel this weekend.
Meanwhile title rival Kimi Raikkonen will be flat-out all the way on the off chance that his MP4-20 permits him a trouble-free weekend and maybe, just maybe, Alonso’s luck will run outâ€¦
Raikkonen will have it tough enough to begin with on Saturday as he will be first to qualify on the dusty, seldom-used Hungaroring, by dint of being the first retiree in Germany. If team mate Montoya, running second to last in qualifying, can keep it together in qualifying he has the best shot at victory even though he is renowned critic of the tight, twisty circuit.
Renault, with their exceptional traction and immaculate reliability, will be a more serious threat to McLaren than they have been at recent races. But with Alonso being perhaps more circumspect than usual Giancarlo Fisichella may be back at the sharp end. Whether his team will allow him to impede Alonso’s progress towards the title remains to be seen.
Williams showed flashes of respectability in Germany and the Hungaroring may play into their hands – they ran to second and third at Monaco at a similar circuit where aerodynamic efficiency is not as important as simply extracting the maximum downforce from the car. If Mark Webber can pull off an exceptional qualifying performance as he did in 2003 he could seriously upset the pattern of the race.
A similar roll of the dice by BAR or Ferrari could yield an interesting front row – Jenson Button, qualifying third to last, could be a good bet for pole. So could Michael Schumacher. Sadly the inevitability of refuelling stops means were are unlikely to see a repeat of Thierry Boutsen’s 1990 feat of leading from lights to flag in a patently inferior car.
Hungarian Grand Prix History
When Formula One first visited Hungary, in 1986, it was a high point of the season – the first ever Grand Prix in the Eastern Bloc. Nowadays it is viewed with some derision – yet another European race on a calendar stretching to become ever more global, and the slowest road course on the calendar.
In the turbo heyday of 1986 passing was possible as the drivers could vary their maximum power output on demand. By this very method Nelson Piquet executed a breathtakingly audacious passing move on Ayrton Senna to win the inaugural Hungarian Grand Prix. He took a second in 1987 through the rather more devious means of neglecting to share a newly developed differential with team mate Nigel Mansell.
Mansell’s first – and only – win at the track came in 1989, and was perhaps his greatest ever. He struggled for qualifying pace and lined up 12th, but with a race setup bang on the sweet spot of his Ferrari 640. On one of the most difficult circuits on which to overtake he rose to second by lap 52 and five laps later out-fumbled Senna behind a slow backmarker and darted through to win.
Although these early races (and Boutsen’s 1990 win, above) are fondly remembered, the Hungarian Grand Prix has been regularly among the least entertaining of the season since the early ’90s. Indeed, the 2001, 2002 and 2004 races must rank among some of the worst ever.
In its very original guise the track featured an extra twist on the exit of turn three, which was straightened out after three years. Then in 2003 the run to the first corner was extended and the bend tightened. This improved the viability of overtaking into the corner, but Rubens Barrichello bemoaned the reduced run-off areas when his driveshaft disintegrated and pitched him off during the Grand Prix.
The circuit clings to its place on the calendar by dint of its strong economic support, but its unpopularity among the drivers and fans is inescapable. With the present aerodynamic regulations clearly inhibiting good racing as it is, Sunday’s race is not an overly enticing prospect.