Hungarian Grand Prix – Preview

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Following the thrilling, entertaining and actioned-packed German Grand Prix, the field heads to the beautiful Budapest, home to the Hungarian Grand Prix. Drivers are keen to end the first half of the season on a high before they commence their four-week August break.

Hungary only joined the Grand Prix calendar in 1986, but the history of racing traces further back. The inaugural Hungarian Grand Prix was held on 21 June 1936 over a 5.0km-long track laid out in Népliget, a huge park in Budapest. The Alfa-Romeo equipped Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union all sent racing cars to the race which was won by Alfa Romeo’s Tazio Nuvolari. Politics and the world war meant the end for racing in the country for a few decades.

Since joining Formula One, the Hungarian Grand Prix has been held continuously. The Hungaroring was built in eight months, less time than any other Formula One circuit. The construction work started in October 1985 and on 24 March 1986, the first race was held in memory of János Drapál, the first Hungarian who won motorcycle Grand Prix races.

With the inaugural race, the Hungaroring also became the location of the first Formula One Grand Prix behind the Iron Curtain. Bernie Ecclestone originally wanted a race in the USSR, but a friend recommended Budapest. The first plans were to build a street race in the Népliget which hosted the first Hungarian Grand Prix in 1936, but the government decided to build a new purpose-built track outside the city.

The first two Hungarian Grands Prix were won by Williams-Honda’s Nelson Piquet while the third edition of the race saw Ayrton Senna clinching the victory for McLaren-Honda. Ferrari first became victorious in Hungary in 1989 thanks to Nigel Mansell. Later on, Finnish drivers were successful, giving many fans flocking from Finnland plenty to cheer about. Mika Häkkinen won twice for McLaren while in 2005 it was Kimi Räikkönen who emerged victorious with the Woking-based outfit. Three years later, Heikki Kovalainen scored his first F1 victory. 2015 was an important year for Ferrari as the fabled Italian squad could break its 11-year-long winless streak thanks to classy victory of Sebastian Vettel.

Hamilton reigns the Hungaroring

Successful is the right word to describe Lewis Hamilton’s Hungarian Grand Prix appearances. The Briton has won on six occasions so far, winning three times both for McLaren and Mercedes. The Briton took his third career victory in his debut year in 2007. His 2018 triumph was probably his most hard-fought one: after struggling for pace during the practice sessions, he made profit of the rainy qualifying session to take pole position in front of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas. In the race, the Finn held off the two quickly Ferraris to enable the Briton to create a healthy lead which he could convert into his sixth win.

Second on this list is Michael Schumacher with four victories. The seven-time world champion won for Benetton in 1994 and three other times for Ferrari. Ayrton Senna is the third most successful driver in Hungary while the list of the two-time Hungarian GP winners includes Sebastian Vettel, Jacques Villeneuve, Mika Häkkinen, Damon Hill, Nelson Piquet and Jenson Button. The latter, the new father claimed his first ever F1 victory in a dramatic, action-packed and somewhat crazy race in 2006.

Among the constructors, McLaren is by far the most successful team. The British outfit has won on 11 occasions with their last one came in 2012 thanks to Lewis Hamilton. Williams and Ferrari share the title for the second most successful squad around the Hungaroring. Mercedes has been victorious three times while Red Bull won twice, in 2010 with Mark Webber and in 2014 with Daniel Ricciardo.

No time for rest

The 4.381km-long Hungaroring is one of the shortest on the current calendar. Drivers will need to complete 70 laps on Sunday to cover the entire race distance of 306.630km, giving fans sitting in the grandstands plenty of opportunities to witness the fastest racing cars in action.

Good mechanical grip and aerodynamic balance are accented around the twisty layout of the track. There is harsly any long straights on the Hungaroring, the flowing sequences of slow and medium-speed corners provide a real test of car balance and driver’s mental strength. Due to the high-number of corners, teams use the highest levels of downforce seen all year.

Qualifying is vital at the purpose-built Hungarian track as overtaking is near to impossible. FIA mandated two DRS zones, one placed on the main straight, the second one on the short full-throttle rundown to Turn 2.

After the start-finish straight, drivers arrive to the first heavy braking zone. The slightly cambered first corner leads onto a relatively short full-throttle section. Turn 2 is a medium-speed long corner where patience is required. A good exit is then vital to carry good speed through Turn 3 onto the uphill section.

Starting the second sector, drivers direct their cars almost blind into the fast Turn 4. The next bend is a never-ending one, leading into the solo chicane of the circuit. Kerbs are relatively high there and a too ambitious throttle-application at the exit out of the chicane can cost drivers valuable time. The next sequences of corners are taking at low to medium-speed where a reliable and stable rear end is crucial. Turn 11 is probably the most exciting bend of the whole circuit. It is fast, enables a wide exit line thanks to the wide kerbs and leads onto the second long straight of the track.

After this bend, drivers arrive to the last sector of the Hungaroring. Turn 12 is a 90-degree slow section which leads towards the medium-speed second-to last bend. Drivers climb up a slight hill to reach Turn 14, the last corner of the Hungaroring. It is always a struggle to find the best line around that never-ending corner as cars usually produce high degree of understeer from its mid-point.