Lap record: 1m 16.207s – Michael Schumacher, Ferrari (2002)
The Hungaroring is a permanent circuit built in 1986 but in many ways its characteristics are similar to those of a street circuit. It’s a tight and twisty track with 14 corners and an average speed in the region of 180kph: this makes it the second-slowest circuit of the year after Monaco. The cars actually spend a lower proportion of the lap on full throttle than they do even in Monaco, with 10 of the 14 corners taken at 155km/h or lower. The circuit is not extensively used for many other races during the year, which means that the surface is often ‘green’ at the start of the weekend. As more cars run through the track a clean line emerges, but because there is only one clear line around the narrow circuit, a lot of dirt, dust and marbles accumulate off the racing line, making the problem of overtaking even harder. There are two DRS zones this year, one on the start-finish straight and a second between Turn One and Turn Two, which will help passing - but pole position is coveted almost as much as at Monaco. Pirelli are taking their new-specification tyres to Hungary, in which 2013 rubber compounds will be matched to a 2012 construction. The tyres were successfully evaluated at Silverstone’s Young Driver Test earlier this month, and the teams will now work hard to get the maximum from the Medium and Soft compounds that are being supplied at the Hungaroring.
Race strategy highlights from last year
The 2012 Hungarian Grand Prix will not go down in history as a thriller but it was an interesting strategic battle from which Lewis Hamilton ultimately emerged victorious. The McLaren man was unassailable in qualifying but confounded pre-race expectations by failing to pull clear of Romain Grosjean, the Lotus driver staying in touch throughout the first and second stints. Hamilton pitted on lap 18 for the medium tyre, while Grosjean stayed on softs, committing him to run mediums in the third stint. Raikkonen, now running in fourth and closing down Sebastian Vettel, made hay when the Red Bull and sister Lotus pitted, staying out until lap 45 and undercutting both to emerge second on the road behind Hamilton. Despite closing to within a second of the McLaren, Raikkonen was unable to find a way past and it was Hamilton who took the chequered flag to record his second win of the season.
What to look out for in 2013
Following the introduction of new tyres following the Silverstone saga, this weekend could confirm a few tweaks to the expected order of things on track. The new tyres - consisting of the 2012 construction with 2013 compounds - were found to degrade less during the Silverstone Young Driver Test, and this could influence the preferred rubber used during races. Throughout 2013 the tyre most commonly regarded as 'best' for the race has been the harder of the two chosen compounds, with strategies geared around minimising time on the softer rubber. That limited the ability of teams like Lotus and Ferrari to use an alternative strategy because they couldn't use their tyre wear advantage to give themselves a chance in the race. If what we saw in Silverstone stays the same, teams that have historically been able to preserve their rubber could again come into play.
An additional factor that will play into the hands of those teams is the enforced lower pitlane speed limit, which will lengthen the overall time to make each stop and push strategists towards making fewer stops, thereby favouring teams who are kinder on tyres. This should see Lotus regain the advantage over Mercedes, who have retained their one-lap pace throughout the season but look set to be disadvantaged by the tyre changes, as we saw in Germany with Hamilton on pole but fading to 27s off the leader by the end of the race, a loss on average of almost half a second per lap.
Who has the best record in Hungary?
Hamilton (left) and Alonso wave to each other in 2007It’s the Brits who dominate proceedings at the Hungaroring, with Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button leading the win charts with three for the Mercedes man and two for McLaren’s Button. Jenson scored his first grand prix win here in 2006, while Hamilton was triumphant the following year, that being the race where the intra-team rivalry between Lewis and Fernando Alonso blew up publicly with Alonso blocking Lewis in the pitlane during qualifying, denying him the chance to take pole position from the Spaniard. Hamilton went on to win the race and also recorded victories in 2009 and again last season. Button’s second Hungary win came in 2011, another wet-dry race allowing him to demonstrate his supreme skill in changeable conditions. While Hamilton and Button have only made it onto the podium as winners in Hungary, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber have both won and scored podium finishes here, with Raikkonen’s victory complemented by podium finishes in 2003, 2007-9 and 2012. This is one of only three current circuits at which Sebastian Vettel has never won, his best finish being 2nd to Button in 2011.
How important is pole position?
Somewhat surprisingly given its layout, pole position in Hungary isn’t the guaranteed precursor to victory that you might expect. Since 2004 only three polesitters have gone on to win the race, with victories in that timespan also coming from 2nd (twice), 3rd (once), 4th (twice) - and of course there is Jenson Button’s maiden F1 victory from 2006, where the Honda triumphed in a wet-dry race from 14th on the grid. In the entire history of the Hungarian Grand Prix being on pole results in victory 44% of the time, with 12 winners from 27 races held at the track.
Pirelli switched the tyre allocation for this race, opting to bring the soft and medium compounds as opposed to the medium and hard previously selected. The track is not generally too hard on tyres so most will plan to stop twice, with a third stop only if absolutely necessary.
With a lack of real high-speed corners the cars will run high downforce settings to maintain grip and speed in the 10+ corners taken at less than 155km/h. Turn 11 is the quickest on the track, taken at close to 250km/h (155mph).
Average speed: 3/10
Described as ‘a big go-kart track’, the Hungaroring is a quick circuit by any normal measure but still ranks towards the lower end on the Formula One scale. Six of the circuit’s 14 turns are taken in third gear or less, with only two taken flat-out.
Track difficulty: 7/10
Occasionally gets compared to Monaco for its tight layout and need to get well into a rhythm in order to make progress, though the track boasts plenty of runoff area should it be needed.
Turn One is the only real overtaking spot, with DRS on the main straight helping to create passing opportunities. This year a second zone between Turns One and Two should help cars close up into the braking zone at Turn Four.
This rating rather depends which sort of Hungarian Grand Prix you get – processional affairs can be a hard watch, while the fans who appreciate a strategic battle are often well-catered for here. Expect a good turnout for the Finnish drivers here especially in support of the Iceman, Kimi Raikkonen.
Driver’s eye view: Jenson Button, McLaren
“Great circuit, great place. I have so many positive memories of racing at the Hungaroring – obviously, I won my first grand prix there back in 2006, which was incredibly emotional, and also feels such a long time ago now – and I also won my 200th race there back in 2011. That was one of those days when everything went right, the car was a dream to drive and I just brought it home. Every victory in Formula 1 is special, but that’s right up there as one of my favourite days in the car. Of course, a win in 2013 is going to be difficult, but I actually think the team is working very well right now: in Germany, our tyre-usage, strategy and management of the race was as good as it’s ever been. It would be good to have a car with a little more pace to enable those calls to have a bit more impact at the front of the pack, but, for the moment, we can be satisfied by doing the best possible job in qualifying and on Sunday afternoon.”
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director
“We're taking the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tyres to the Hungaroring, which after analysis of all our data is set to provide the best compromise between performance and durability, while maintaining a good show for all the spectators who come so enthusiastically to this circuit. We'll be using the specification of tyres tested by the teams at Silverstone last week, with the 2012 construction matched to the 2013 compounds. We're expecting high temperatures, which adds to the work done by the tyres, although wear and degradation is generally low at the Hungaroring because the average speeds there are low as well.”