Hungarian Grand Prix Preview

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After the controversial and incident-filled British Grand Prix, Formula One is ready to return with the field heading to Budapest for Round 11 of the 23-race 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship. F1Technical's Balázs Szabó dvelves into the history and characterictics of Hungary's leading race track.

Following a Mercedes-dominated era of seven years, Formula One could hardly be any more exciting and enthralling in 2021 with Red Bull rising to the level of the Anglo-German outfit and Ferrari bouncing back after an ill-fated 2020 campaign. While drivers and teams are eager to get their well-deserved summer break after the Budapest round of the season, there are several different battles in the Drivers' and the Constructors' Championships.

After the experimental timetable adopted for the Sprint Qualifying format at Silverstone, it’s back to normal this weekend. The Hungarian track is just a few kilometres from the centre of the beautiful Budapest, which makes the circuit even more attractive among fans and drivers.

The fight between Red Bull and Mercedes is enjoying top priority. The Milton Keynes-based outfit seemed to stretch the gap after their strong showing at the Red Bull Ring, but their dismal result at Silverstone saw Mercedes cut the gap down to just four points.

Ferrari and McLaren are also locked in a fierce battle for third place in the Standings with the Italian showing great race pace in the last three rounds after their struggles at the French Grand Prix. However, McLaren is set to introduce a raft of new parts at Budapest, trying to leapfrog Ferrari just before the field goes on holiday.

Elsewhere, the battle for P5 in the Constructors’ Championship is gearing up with AlphaTauri, Aston Martin and Alpine being nip and tuck in terms of pace and points. While Alfa Roemo has scored two points so far, Haas and Williams are yet to register a championship point in 2021.

The Hungaroring is usually referred to as the copy of the Monaco circuit as it is technical and features flowing sections of closely linked corners. Although overtaking is not an easy task for drivers at the Hungaroring, the track has actually hosted some thrilling races, with many changes of position. In 2002 there was just one pass; in 2001 two and on five other occasions, three. However, in 2014 there were no fewer than 49, in 2011 47 and in the first edition in 1986 there were 44.

A fixture on the F1 calendar

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.

Demanding layout

When Formula One travels to the Hungaroring that is just a few miles away from Hungarian capital, Budapest, the weather is usually nice with high temperatures testing the reliability and physical conditions of the drivers.

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 hardly 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 nearly 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.