Opinion: The Hungarian thriller as I saw it

By on

Even if Hungaroring is not a historical track like the one at Silverstone, Monza or Monaco, it usually produces huge excitement like it did back in 2006 or last Sunday. A sudden thunderstorm right before the pit lane opened refreshed the sultry conditions which opened up a few possibilities for those coming from behind.

The track is located in a valley which is reminiscent of a football stadium with picturesque background of hills and forests. Finnish, Slovakian, Austrian, Czech and German people flocked to Hungary and conquered the track and its campings for four days.

On Thursday a big crowd gathered at the main entrance of the track to visit the pit lane and get a glimpse of the drivers. As the gates were opened at 16, fans went crazy up to a point where security guards had to impose additional safety measures to avoid people getting injured. It turned into a race to secure the best spot for a photo or autograph.

Romain Grosjean was the first guy to meet the fans. He jumped over the table to share out a few autograph cards to those not close enough to the front line. He wasn’t in the happiest mood even so he was very wholehearted to meet everybody’s needs. Although being a feisty competitor on track Pastor Maldonado is one of the nicest guys off the track, he smiled at everyone and answers everyone’s questions. Nico Hulkenberg just shaked his head as I asked him how things were going for him. Daniel Ricciardo presented himself again as the nicest guy by a margin. That guy doesn’t want or can’t stop smiling, is ready to come to a halt, look into your eyes and answer your questions. A lovely guy. That’s something nobody can deny.

As more and more drivers popped up at the session, tension reached its high when Alonso, Raikkonen, Vettel and Hamilton emerged at the same time. Even if the Briton, the Spaniard and the German enjoyed intense support from their passionate fans in Hungary it was a shock to see how the attention turned to Räikkönen. The 2007 champion made people push and trample each other to get as close as possible to the Finnish ace. Fernando and Sebastian spiced things up even further when the Spaniard stood up onto a table to take his usual selfy with the fans while the German World Champion brought forward Christmas time from December to late July when he threw his cap into the crowd.

Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg didn’t really show any kind of interest towards each other as the German ran away from his team mate to share out a few autographs before being kidnapped by a Mercedes press officer. Both men however seemed to be in a good mood. With Kimi leaving the scene things calmed down. Rookie Kevin Magnussen enjoyed big support, as did Jenson. Kamui Kobayashi seemed to have just come back from a journey through time as he was wearing extremely colourful chequered shorts from older decades. The session was brought to an end by Marussia’s drivers, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton who were pleasing the fan’s demands with staying at the session for quite a long time.

Friday saw the first action on track under sweltering weather. Kimi Räikkönen carried on showing a good form in FP1. The Finn was pretty comfortable in his car while his team mate Fernando Alonso was suffering from nasty oversteer. The two red-coloured drivers were the most exciting in turn 5. Their cars wasn’t the easiest to drive there, but both guys were attacking the artificial grass at the exit in qualifying mode. Standing close to the chicane Jean-Eric Vergne appeared to be in a feisty mood when he attacked the exit kerb at turn 7. He was very comfortable in the cockpit and had great faith in his car which did not show any sign of oversteer.

Mercedes’ drivers were having an easy time for their cars were glued to the track. The Williams meanwhile appeared loose on its rear as Bottas and Massa had to be more cautious coming out from turn 7 with obviously less traction than on the works Mercedes cars. Marussia were the worst-handling car in the first session of the weekend. Even on new tyres the car had a painful lot of oversteer in turn 5 and 7.

At Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel had the upper hand on Australian Ricciardo. The German was flowing through the chicane while the now two-time race-winner hardly could keep control over the back of his Red Bull RB10. At the end of the session Sebastian’s car danced like being at a wild party. That clearly wasn’t down to worn rears, I was pretty sure Renault sent Seb out to test some new software settings which didn’t work at Hockenheim in a way the French engine supplier expected them. The Lotus cars seem very tough to drive and appear inconsistent. It was obvious that on the damp track, both Lotus drivers were suffering the most by a large margin, the traction was poor beyond expression.

I spent most of FP2 at the first corner. The temperatures went up by around 10 degrees. Kimi couldn’t complain about lack of running as Ferrari secured him much more running than Fernando. He was sent out pretty early onto the track, but didn’t find his rhythm on the prime tyres. The Finn had a hard time at the first corner, did never get the geometrical apex point since he regularly overshoot the braking point. Kimi then found a big improvement in terms of balance on the soft compound, although he needed to put in more laps to get the best out of his Ferrari.

Lewis Hamilton was very fast, but fought with braking stability on his qualifying simulation. He overshot his first attempt, then the second one as well. On his race simulation he was pretty comfortable and was enjoying a comfortable pace advantage with team mate Rosberg ahead of the second group formed by Vettel, Alonso, Räikkönen and Ricciardo. The Australian continued struggling with his car compared to his team-mate, he was very uncomfortable on the qualifying run, but things started to go his way on the long run. Rosberg was braking very hard into turn one during his race preparations enabling the rear back of his Mercedes to slide in an eye-catching fashion. Marussia didn’t really manage to improve their stability issues and Caterham joined them in having serious oversteer and unstable rear under acceleration. Every driver had a hard time in FP2 thanks to the slippery, hot surface except Fernando Alonso. After having issues with his car’s balance Ferrari made a few tweaks and Fernando was more precise than a surgeon. He was inch-perfect on every lap. He did just a few laps on the medium in his first run, than he needed just one lap on the option as he nailed it on his first attempt. During his race simulation he was stuck behind Vettel and a few times he came very close to the German at the first corner, but he never wanted to overtake him, nor wanted he back off for some clear space as he intended to see the Red Bull’s strengths and weaknesses.

On Saturday evening I had a chance to spend a bit of time in the presence of Ferrari mechanics. They were staying in one of Budapest’s best hotel which has a view of the marvellous Danube bank. They were working at the track late into the evening. They arrived at around 8 pm at the Hotel. After changing their red coloured Ferrari-suit to casual clothes they went for a walk in the breath-taking centre of Budapest. While having a chat some of them logged into social network and were checking pictures of their cars: a good sign: as a man working in F1 you can’t stop thinking of Formula 1, you always need to strive to find an improvement. The mechanics divided into cliques for their discovery tour though the Hungarian streets covered by flashing lights and conquered by tourists from all around the world.

All in all, this year’s German and Hungarian GP confirmed my belief again that the most important tool for providing exciting races in motorsport are the tyres. Trimming and tweaking downforce is probably not going to cut it as we would never reach to a point where it is easy to get close enough to the car in front.

Even in other series where downforce plays a part overtaking is major difficulty. This year FIA Formula 3 produced three disappointingly boring races on the Hungaroring due to lack of overtaking. Drivers in World Series by Renault also find it hard to overtaking rivals, but GP3 also suffer from lack of on-track action. GP2 works well because of heavily degrading tyres and DTM also found a way to spice things up with an interesting tyre allocation of two compounds which show massive difference in grip level. Pirelli may need to reinvent their approach to racing with tyres which are still safe, but have a fairly high degradation and thus allowing juicy strategies.