As was the case in Monaco, the Hungarian Grand Prix approaches with a sense of expectation that this could be one of those rare occasions when Mercedes have a fight on their hands.
The threat from Red Bull around the twisty Hungaroring is real: Daniel Ricciardo not only out-qualified the W07s in Monte-Carlo, he got through Q2 using a harder set of tyres.
There is also a significant change to this long-familiar venue as the entire course has been resurfaced for this weekend’s race. It remains to be seen exactly how this will affect the racing; the new Austrian track surface was abrasive, while Russia and Mexico City provided a more slippery surface for drivers to contend with. However the Formula Three and Formula V8 3.5 races which have already taken place on the circuit suggest an Austria-type scenario, with more grip, fewer bumps and higher surface temperatures.
Teams can expect to do more set-up-chasing than usual thanks to the new surface. Any drivers forced to miss a practice session are likely to be at more of a disadvantage than usual.
This is the only venue where Mercedes hasn’t won in two attempts during the V6 hybrid power era. Despite this, Lewis Hamilton is tied with Michael Schumacher as the most successful driver in the Hungarian Grand Prix, each having won it four times.
Mercedes’ power unit may not offer as great an advantage at this track as at other circuits but their raft of detailed aerodynamic updates at Silverstone and the healthy advantage they enjoyed in qualifying shows the W07 wants for little in terms of downforce.
The pace of development has been disappointingly slow from Ferrari this year and have started to lag behind Mercedes and Red Bull in terms of aerodynamic capability, shown by their comparatively poor form at Silverstone. This could be another difficult weekend for the team.
Reliability is also becoming a real concern. The team rearranged the configuration of the gearbox, turbo and cooling systems ahead of this season in an attempt to slim down the rear of the car to improve airflow over the diffuser, but this seems to have had a knock-on effect on reliability. Such an integral philosophy shift cannot be reversed, so the team are going to have to engineer other solutions to the problem.
However Kimi Raikkonen’s characteristically track-dependant form will probably play in their favour here: he has taken seven podium finishes in Hungary, more than any driver currently on the grid.
This could be a difficult weekend for Williams who so far this year have lacked their former sparkle on low-downforce tracks and struggled even more on slower circuits – like the Hungaroring. They look increasingly under threat from Force India.
Felipe Massa does not have good memories of this track. In 2008 his championship hopes took a severe hit when his engine failed while he led in the closing stages. If that seemed unlucky at the time, much worse awaited him 12 months later when he was fortunate to survive a serious crash during qualifying.
For Valtteri Bottas, however, this is the closest thing he has to a home race as the Hungaroring typically welcomes a large contingent of Finnish fans.
The demands of this race track are very similar to Monaco, rewarding those with good traction and excellent downforce, which should play into the hands of Red Bull. Daniel Ricciardo, but for a painful pit stop error, had the pace to beat Mercedes in Monaco and Red Bull are aiming high again this weekend.
Both drivers have excellent form at this circuit. Ricciardo took a fantastic victory in 2014, overtaking Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in the last four laps of the race.
Max Verstappen brought his Toro Rosso home fourth in last year’s chaotic race, enduring Safety Cars, drive-through penalties and front wing damage along the way. Out-qualifying Ricciardo for the first time at Silverstone and picking off one of the Mercedes in the race will give him good reason to be confident for the weekend ahead.
Like Williams, Force India have generally endured a difficult time at the Hungaroring as the tight and twisty nature of the circuit places emphasis on grip and downforce rather than top speed. Both drivers will be keen to put memories of their spectacular crashes here last year behind them.
Vijay Mallya suggested that the design team had been working on the weakness in their chassis and hope they can improve their form on the low to medium speed corners that dominate this circuit. They have been closing in on Williams for fourth in the constructors standings and only trail them by 19 points.
Cyril Abiteboul, Renault’s managing director, has played down the team’s chances ahead of this weekend warning that “slow, twisty circuits don’t necessarily suit us well”. They are likely to struggle to progress beyond first qualifying and may come under attack from the Manor cars behind.
Jolyon Palmer won in 2013 in Hungary in GP2 and has enjoyed “some of my best races” around the circuit. He will need to put in a stellar performance this year as young gun Esteban Ocon, fresh from testing for Mercedes, will once again drive Palmer’s car in first practice one amid growing rumours he is being groomed for the place next year.
The excellent STR11 chassis should provide a stable platform and produce enough downforce around the Hungaroring circuit to be strong points contenders, as they have been in previous years finishing fourth in 2015.
Both drivers will aim to follow up from a double points finish at Silverstone. Since rejoining Toro Rosso, Daniil Kvyat has only scored two points compared to Carlos Sainz Jnr’s 22. The picture is somewhat skewed by reliability problems, but he needs to show he can compete with the Spaniard if he is to retain his seat for next season.
Yesterday Sauber announced the longed-for news that new investment into the team has been secured to ensure they remain on the grid.
They introduced a new rear wing package for Marcus Ericsson at Silverstone and will be rolling the upgrade out to both cars in Hungary. The team will continue to evaluate the aerodynamic benefit this brings on track over the next two races to guide development direction for the rest of the season.
In 2015 the team had a strong run to tenth and eleventh place and have set themselves a similar target for this weekend, but given the competition this year and their lack of consistent development to date this may be a difficult feat to achieve.
The team suffered a difficult weekend at Silverstone despite their upgraded power unit, but can expect to fare better around the twisty, comparatively low speed Hungarian track. Last year both drivers took points, led by Alonso in fifth position, which remains the best finish for the revived McLaren-Honda partnership.
Both drivers have won in Hungary. Jenson Button scored his maiden grand prix victory in 2006 in tricky weather conditions. This was the last time a Honda-powered car finished first in Formula One.
Emotions for everyone at Manor and many along the pit lane this weekend will be sombre and reflective as the F1 community marks the first anniversary of the death of former racer Jules Bianchi.
Manor struggled in the wet conditions at Silverstone with a lack of downforce and both rookie drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto ended their respective races in the gravel trap after aquaplaning. The race in Hungary is likely to be held in hot dry conditions, but the aerodynamic weakness will still be a hindrance to them.
Haryanto’s ride had been under threat, but his management team announced just ahead of the British Grand Prix that the required funding to retain his seat until the end of 2016 has been secured.
The newest team on the grid are making steady improvement with their tyre management with greater pace at Silverstone (in dry conditions at least) despite cooler than expected temperatures. The higher ambient temperatures at the Hungaroring should enable them to find the optimum working range for the tyres more easily.
They are also working hard to eradicate strategic errors and mechanical problems that still plague the fledgling team and will be hoping for their weekend in Hungary to progress more smoothly than in Britain.
The team has put their driver decision for 2017 on hold until after the European season has finished, giving Esteban Gutierrez a little more time to earn the right to retain his place next year. He has had plenty of mechanical failures, but needs to show he can match Grosjean’s pace.
2016 driver form
|Driver||Grid average||Race average||Race best||Race worst||Classified|
|Carlos Sainz Jnr||11.10||8.63||6||12||8/10|
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2016 Hungarian Grand Prix
- 2016 Hungarian Grand Prix team radio transcript
- Raikkonen’s rise to sixth earns Driver of the Weekend win
- Rosberg ‘surprised Hamilton is suddenly a fan of safety’
- Drivers to demand yellow flag clarification
- Few excited by Hungarian GP “chess match”