Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
The Hungaroring is a funny place in the history of F1. Starting life with the mid-80's claim of being the first race from behind the now long gone iron curtain, it should by rights, have long since disappeared from the calendar to have been replaced by a Tilkedrome in some far off and distant corner of the world.
The tight, twisty track that sees little racing all year round and remains relatively dusty and dirty all weekend is often claimed to be a place where few can overtake and not much happens. A quick thumb through F1's history pages can soon dispel this myth. From the first race held in 1986 which gave us the four wheel power slide overtake by Nelson Piquet on Senna, as shown above, to Mansell's first victory for Ferrari coming from 12th place to win. Via Mansell confirming his world title here in 1992 right up to maiden wins for Damon Hill, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Heikki Kovalainen this track is never short of a surprise or two.
It seems like an agonizing 3 week wait before we get to the track and of course in that time we have the young drivers tyre test and the latest changes to the tyre range for the remainder of the season. Perhaps, due to the tight and twisty nature of the track, out right speed is less of an issue here and so the cars tend to find themselves on a much leveler playing field.
The Red Bull's will be going into the race a lot more confident about where they are in relation to the tyres and knowing that the car is well balanced and definitely the one to beat at the moment. As for Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus(Renault) nipping away at their heels, for Mercedes this race marks a vital moment in their season. Denied the chance to test at Silverstone they will have the least amount of information regarding the new 2012 structure / 2013 compound tyres. Already proven to be one of the fastest cars on the grid they seem to suffer tyre degradation a lot more than their nearest rivals. All hopes will be for a repeat of their performance at Monaco, another tight and twisty track, and that they can get on top of the tyre data given only 3 hours of running on the dusty surface at Friday practice. For Ferrari it seems that tyre wear is less important than finding a bit more pace in the car. While Alonso really pushed hard in the last few laps of the German GP, overall the weekend looked like something of a backward step for Maranello resulting in different strategies coming in to play. Finally, if only Lotus(Renault) could find some sort of consistency to capitalize on the abilities of Kimi (and Romain if he can keep it on the black stuff) they to could be troubling the front runners all weekend.
Battle has been joined in the midfield by a suddenly motivated Toro Rosso pair who sniff a race seat at their Big Brothers team. Rumors continue to surround where either driver may end up if anywhere at all so it is vital they keep the pressure on. Force India were strangely off the pace in Germany and will be looking to restore that advantage and increase their gap over McLaren in the constructors championship while they can. Meanwhile the boys at woking will have been encouraged by their showing at the Nurburgring but will it be enough to build on and at last turn around what after Hungary could be their worst season in the long history of the team?
Another team showing a slight improvement on their recent performances is Sauber who will have been pleased with the way they ran in Germany. Rumors of financial issues at the team including the non-payment of wages to Nico Hulkenburg show they could be heading for troubled times if results don't start to improve. Nico's name is now being spoken off in relation to a couple of drives elsewhere next season and his opportunities to live up to his talent hang in the balance unless Sauber can show the same pace they had last season soon.
Williams are officially having their poorest ever season. Just missing the points with three 11th place finishes can't hide the fact that they are squabbling for the crumbs off the table. It's clear that there are too many things wrong with the car to point the blame in any one direction but who would have thought that after 9 races there would not be a single point in the bank. It must be worrying for the whole team and you tend to wonder how long it will be before the last sparks of their reputation burn out?
And so finally we come to the back of the grid, it's clear that both the "young teams" as they are described on Sky F1 have taken a huge step backwards. You only have to look at the ever growing spaces on the Marussia to know that sponsorship is an issue (as it also appears to be for Sauber and Williams to some extent) and I would place a small bet now that which ever of these two teams fails to gain Bernie's hand out for 10th at the end of the season will be sold quickly or more likely as in the case of HRT last season, will be pulling down its pit shutters for the final time.
So, while we have three weeks to wait, there is still plenty to talk about in the run up to the Hungarian GP. Who can put more pressure on Vettel ? Will Mercedes performance suffer as a result of missing out on the young drivers tyre test ? Can Ferrari regain their early season pace ? Questions, Questions. (And a long time until we find those answers).