Hungarian Grand Prix 2006 Preview

Hungarian Grand Prix 2004 StartThe Scuderia hammered the opposition in Indianapolis, Magny-Cours and Hockenheim. Now they are bearing down upon the Hungaroring with every indication that they will continue the red-wash.

Their chief opponents, Renault, have just one ray of hope to cling to: they will be able to use their mass damper system that had been banned before Hockenheim.

But will it be enough for Fernando Alonso to halt Michael Schumacher’s championship charge?

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Michael Schumacher, Ferrari, Hockenheimring, 2004In the last three races Michael Schumacher has cut Fernando Alonso’s championship lead from 25 points to 11. Schumacher cannot take the lead of the championship at the Hungaroring this weekend, but he can tear another huge chunk out of Alonso’s advantage.

The championship battle is incredibly close – but little of it is being fought on the track. Only at Bahrain and Imola this year have we seen Schumacher and Alonso duel on-track.

Nelson Piquet, Williams-Honda, 1986Don’t expect that to change at the Hungaroring. This is the 20th anniversary of the first Hungarian Formula One race, and although that round was won by Nelson Piquet after a stunning pass on Ayrton Senna, precious few Hungarian races have been won that way since.

In the modern, refuelling-era Formula One, teams plan their races to spend as little time racing in the company of other cars as possible. An optimised strategy is one where the car runs the whole race in clear air.

And nowhere is that more important than at the Hungaroring. Apart from that first race and Nigel Mansell’s inspired storm to first from twelfth in 1989, it’s largely an overtaking-free zone.

In 2006 then, the Hungarian Grand Prix is a prescription for yet another processional, unsurprising race. We may get a surprise – we did three years ago – but this is more likely to be the sort of race best watched from behind close eyelids.

Everyone will be talking about Renault’s performance, of course. If they are instantly back on the pace, there will be intense speculation about the role their temporarily reinstated damping system has played.

But even with that back, the gap to Ferrari is surely too much to overcome and Alonso will be firmly into damage limitation mode.

Jenson Button, Honda, Hockenheimring, 2006Worst-case scenario for Renault will be ending up behind the McLarens and Hondas again, for which read Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button, who continue to exert an advantage over their team mates.

McLaren have not confirmed whether Pedro de la Rosa will keep his McLaren seat for the rest of the season. In his two races since stepping in for Juan Pablo Montoya he’s scored points in one, and retired with mechanical failure in the other.

He needs to raise his game if his objective is to be racing in 2007, but his position for the rest of this season seems secure.

Robert Kubica, BMW, Hockenheimring, 2006For the third race weekend in a row we have a driver change – first de la Rosa, then Sakon Yamamoto, now Robert Kubica who will stand in for Jacques Villeneuve at BAR. The Hungaroring is a tough place for a rookie to make a debut, so this could be the making or breaking of the highly rated young Pole.

If Jarno Trulli gets a trouble-free weekend, he must be the dark horse pick for a podium. He managed seventh from the back of the grid at Hockenheim. With one of his trademark qualifying fliers he could cause Renault some headaches once again.

Assuming Toyota manage to screw his car together properly which so far this year they’ve managed, ooh?????? once. I think.

Mark Webber, Williams-Cosworth, Hockenheimring, 2006Toyota aren’t the only team having problems with reliability. In fact Williams have completed fewer racing laps this year than everyone bar Super Aguri. This is enormously frustrating for Mark Webber, who could be having his best season ever, but instead is on six points, 14th with six rounds to go.

Vitantonio Liuzzi, Toro Rosso-Cosworth, Hockenheimring, 2006Toro Rosso are providing perhaps the most intriguing inter-team battle. Vitantonio Liuzzi struck back at improving team mate Scott Speed in Hockenheim – at this rate, both should keep their seats next year but one of them could score an upgrade to the ‘first team’.

Lastly, the debut of the Super Aguri SA06 was bittersweet. Takuma Sato outqualified Tiago Monteiro’s Midland F1, but both the Aguris retired during the race. After the chequer, both Midlands were thrown out for having flexing rear wings – so perhaps the new SA06s are quick enough to seriously embarrass the Russian outfit?

It could well be the most entertaining battle we see on the track this weekend.

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