Events at Silverstone have stirred things up nicely at the top of the drivers’ championship and it’s very much all to play for as this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix marks Formula 1’s traditional summer break. The teams have one last chance to bag a big result before the mid-summer hiatus and things couldn’t be more finely poised with just a single point separating Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton at the top of the standings.
In terms of the constructors’ standings , events in the English countryside played very much into the hands of Mercedes and despite Ferrari attributing their disappointing weekend to the poor performance of their tyres there’s no doubting it will have led to much soul-searching in the Italian garage.
A Wounded Ferrari
But expect a Ferrari fightback. They’ll not want to go into the summer break on a downward curve and will be pulling out all the stops to get Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen in the podium places at the Hungaroring.
Ironically the changes to the Ferrari car that were made ahead of Silverstone were met with approval by both drivers and the Finn commented after the race that the changes ‘improved the feeling’ of their car and that the Hungarian track should suit it.
Ferrari need a strong performance, not just to earn some points but to re-establish themselves in the championship battle and it’d be a brave punter who would bet against it.
Cock-a Hoop Mercedes
By contrast Mercedes departed Silverstone on a high, and not just because of their impressive 1-2. The gap at the top of the drivers’ championship is now negligible and in the fight for the constructors’ title they lead by a whopping 55 points. Even at this stage of the season, it’s theirs to lose. And more bad news for Ferrari – they too think the Budapest track will suit them.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff observed post-Silverstone that while the planets aligned for the team in England it is all about ‘future performance’ and there’ll be no complacency or let up in intensity in their garage; the focus remaining on preparation and eye for detail.
And there are more records in the sights of Lewis Hamilton – winner at the Hungaroring last year – who this weekend will be aiming to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of 68 pole positions. Valtteri Bottas too has incentive aplenty to continue his recent good form; something else that has met with Wolff’s approval, who commented after the British Grand Prix that the Finn is ‘getting better with each passing weekend’.
Red Bull Upgrade
Red Bull will be hoping to bounce back from a disappointing Silverstone that saw Max Verstappen finish one place off the podium and Daniel Ricciardo a place behind him in fifth. This weekend they are using a heavily revised aero package that they believe will enable the F1 world to see the ‘real’ RB13 for the first time this year.
Problems to date have largely centred around rear-end grip but as the season has progressed this has become a diminishing problem and the balance has been reportedly improving all the time. And they hope this weekend to reap the full benefits of the work of their engineers, and to see an end to their the grip problems.
Ricciardo has been typically bullish when contemplating the Hungarian circuit and claims it to be a circuit that ‘always seems to suit us’, while Max Verstappen has been his usual more cautious self, sensibly awaiting the impact of the updates on the car’s pace before declaring Hungary as his new favourite circuit.
For McLaren it’s been little short of a nightmare season but they believe that the Hungarian Grand Prix will give them their best opportunity of the season so far for scoring some decent points, particularly with Fernando Alonso having earned a very creditable fifth place one year ago. And with the Spaniard having accepted a whole range of grid penalties at Silverstone – a total of 30 places in for use of additional power unit elements – with the sole intention of doing well in Hungary, McLaren’s hopes are high.
The short, twisty lay-out of the Hungaroring does indeed offer a chance to those cars that are unable to generate the out-and-out power of the Ferraris and Mercedes and so, on that basis, the optimism of the McLaren team appears justified. Key for McLaren however, as always, is reliability and Alonso has been at pains this week to point that out.
They’ll be praying for a trouble-free, point-scoring weekend.
Renault were buoyed by Nico Hulkenberg’s sixth place at Silverstone, albeit it was tempered by Jolyon Palmer’s early exit due to a hydraulic O-ring failure on lap one. But the mood is still positive in the garage with Palmer expressing a liking to the Budapest track dating back to his GP2 days.
Aerodynamically the team have made major strides with their set-up, with grip and stability significantly improved since the implementation of a new floor. In Hungary their garage are also evaluating a new nose and cooling package.
Renault will be hoping that all of the above equates to points on the board because in the constructors’ championship they have their sights firmly set on Williams’, who currently sit in fifth place – just fifteen points ahead of them. Also in the mix for fifth place are Toro Roso and Haas on 33 and 30 points respectively.
For Sauber, currently a lowly ninth in the constructors’ championship, it’s a case of banking on some off-track changes to make greater use of that Ferrari powerpack. They have appointed a new team boss, Fred Vasseur, and will be hoping his influence will rub off on all those around him as they also look to implement a big aerodynamic update to the car.
Recent major technical upgrades in Barcelona and Monaco – to the floor, bargeboards, brake ducts and bodywork and – were considered very successful and they’ll be hoping the latest one, which involves the bodywork and cooling system, will have a similarly positive effect.
With a new floor due for Belgium after the summer break, they are a team with a plan but will be hoping these improvements manifest themselves into some regular top ten finishes for both cars.
The Hungaroring is notoriously hard on tyres and so Pirelli are offering the same options as 2016. Although it is a permanent circuit it has plenty in common with the street circuits in the F1 calendar, such as tight and twisty corners, low grip, and a requirement for high downforce.
The weather in Budapest in late July can be extremely hot, which only serves to increase the degradation of the tyres.
It’s renowned as a circuit that makes overtaking difficult – another common factor with street circuits – and so race strategy is critical; as is the data collection process on Friday and Saturday that assists qualifying and race day.
The track itself is 4.381 km (2.722 mile) and was resurfaced completely for last year’s race. A few areas have been changed for this year’s. It will begin at 1400 hours local time (1300 BST) and be run over 70 laps or 306.630 km (190.553 miles).
Hamilton is the bookies’ clear favourite to secure another maximum and they clearly feel his momentum after the British Grand Prix is unstoppable. At Evens (with Betfred) the chance to double your money is reasonably attractive, but there’s value elsewhere.
Vettel at 7/2 to win the race looks a decent bet, particularly given the Ferrari bounce that is expected to be there this weekend. Even more attractive is Ferrari at 11/4 to win the team race, but this does rely on a focussed Raikkonen getting amongst the podium chasers.
Red Bull is another team with a huge incentive to bounce back in Hungary and Verstappen to win the race at 15/2 looks a reasonable bet for those who steer clear of the short-priced favourites.
Interestingly the Red Bull’s straight line speed makes it a relatively short 2/1 when picking the team that will post the fastest lap but with Ricciardo and Verstappen at the wheel this is something well within their grasp.
The bet on a podium finish also offers value as it enables the punter to steer clear of the Mercedes/Ferrari powerhouses, and Raikkonen at 5/2 looks excellent value, especially given his third place at Silverstone.
Race winner: Sebastian Vettel – 7/2
Fastest lap: Daniel Ricciardo – 7/2
Podium finish: Kimi Raikkonen – 5/2