ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 32

  The Hungarian GP Preview

Hungaroring, Mogyorod, Hungary by Ewan Tytler, U.S.A.

Leaving Hockenheim in Germany, Formula One heads to Eastern Europe, to the home of the Hungarian Grand Prix: The Hungaroring, in the town of Mogyorod.

Sunday's race will be the 15th Hungarian Grand Prix in the modern era, but the first Magyar Nagy Dij was actually held in 1936 at a park circuit in Budapest. In the 1936 race, Tazio Nuvolari, in a red Alfa Romeo, took on Auto Union and Mercedes to win. In 1992 Nigel Mansell secured the World Drivers' Championship at the Hungaroring, and at the beginning of this season it seemed that Ferrari's Michael Schumacher would repeat Mansell's achievement; instead, he has only a slender lead in the championship and his red Ferrari faces a strong challenge in the shape of McLaren-Mercedes.

At 3.973 Km, the Hungaroring is the second shortest and second slowest Grand Prix circuit and in some ways, the Hungaroring is a bit like Monaco without the yachts and the Armco barriers. Like Brands Hatch in England, the Hungaroring sits in a natural amphitheatre, giving spectators a great view of the circuit. The Hungarian owners have added another 5,000-seat grandstand to the circuit for this year's race.

During the race, the drivers have to negotiate 1,078 corners. The drivers make about 28 gear-changes per lap, giving a total of over 2000 gear changes, which averages out at about 21 gear changes per minute. Like Monaco, driver fatigue and "brain-fade" are major concerns. In other ways, the Hungaroring is like a Kart circuit that does not demand the same finesse required to finish at Monaco.

Sauber's Technical Director, Willy Rampf, remarked, "The Hungaroring makes its own specific demands. It is similar to Monte Carlo insofar as it requires very high downforce. But it is also quite bumpy and the drivers use the kerbs a lot, which means that mechanical set-up is also very important."

Driving at the Hungaroring is more instinctive, seat-of-the-pants, with little time for careful planning of the racing line, which tends to give an advantage to 'instinctive' drivers and work against 'technical' drivers. Hence, the list of drivers who have succeeded at the Hungaroring is quite different from the list for Monaco.

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher explains why overtaking is so difficult and qualifying is so important at the Hungaroring: "This race is a tricky one. The track surface itself does not have a great deal of grip, which means that a well balanced car for the race is essential. Also, the grip improves dramatically on the racing line as the rubber goes down throughout the weekend. It's a situation which adds to the problems of overtaking because any maneuver off the line means there is very little grip and it is very easy to spin or slide off the road. It's a track which can be great fun to drive when you are at the front of the pack and really frustrating when you are trying to overtake another car with similar performance."

Jaguar's Eddie Irvine added: "I must say I really enjoy driving at the Hungaroring. The constant changes of direction keep you on your toes and you get into a good flowing rhythm especially around the back section of the track. Overtaking isn't exactly easy, so you have to keep your concentration and not get frustrated and just try and pick the right moment to get by."

BAR's Chief Engineer Designer, Steve Farrell, explains the technical challenges presented by the Hungaroring: "The Hungaroring is a slow-to-medium speed track that requires high levels of downforce and good engine driveability to achieve competitive lap times. It is often very hot in Hungary in August and, combined with the circuit''s low average speeds, it becomes quite a challenge to keep engines and gearboxes running at their optimum temperatures."

Jordan's Managing Director, Trevor Foster, added, "The Hungaroring is a difficult circuit. Levels of grip are very low and there is really only one overtaking opportunity, which means qualifying is more important than ever. As the track is so dirty off the racing line, the driver has to maintain 100% concentration as running wide might affect the following sequence of curves. As a result, it is one of the most mentally tiring circuits."

Jaguar's Test Engineer, Alex Varnava, expanded on this: "At Valencia the car is very dependent on front end and it's the same at the Hungaroring, Both tracks are dirty and tight and twisty. You need to have a car that can follow a clear line. If you're having to fight the front end and you run off onto the dirty line it costs you a lot of time." And a press release from McLaren revealed, "The secret is to find the right combination between high downforce to provide the required grip in the many corners but not too much wing since the car will then be slow on the fast pit straight." BMW Motorsport Director, Gerhard Berger added, "On this circuit the maximum power of an engine does not play a main role for the laptimes. Driveability is the key word on the engine side."

Pitstops and tyre strategies

All of the Grands Prix held at the Hungaroring have been held under dry, sunny conditions, although it rained during Friday Practice in 1998. However, attrition is a bit unpredictable: 17 cars finished in 1999, 15 in 1998, 14 in 1994, 13 in 1997 and 1995, while 10 finished in 1996.

In last year's race, most teams went for a two-stop strategy with Ferrari's Mika Salo, Prost's Olivier Panis, Minardi's Marc Gene and the Stewart team opting for a one-stop strategy. The windows for pit-stops are very wide at the Hungaroring. Those on a two-stop strategy pitted between laps 28-33 and 48-58 while those on a one-stop pitted between laps 33-44. Three-stop strategies resulted in victory for Michael Schumacher in 1998 and Damon Hill in 1995.

Bridgestone will be offering teams a choice of Soft and Extra Soft compounds. Before the French Grand Prix, Bridgestone Motorsport's Technical Manager Yoshihiko Ichikawa stated, "Some drivers have experienced understeer when running with Extra Soft tyres at other Grand Prix. It has more traction and rear grip. However, the softer rubber will still degrade at a higher rate, especially at the rear, and cars will start to lose traction after a certain number of laps."

The surface of the Hungaroring is both slippery and abrasive, resulting in a lot of rubber 'marbles' on the track off the racing line which adds another degree of difficulty to overtaking. Sauber's Technical Director, Willy Rampf, explains, "Because of the soft compounds, as the race develops a lot of debris gets thrown off line. It is already hard to overtake there because of the design of the circuit, but if you stray off the one racing line in an attempt to pass your tyres get really dirty. It then takes a couple of laps to clean them up again."

The Teams

Ferrari still lead the constructors' championship by four points. Luca di Montezemolo stated, "As long as I am President of Ferrari, my two drivers will never compete against each other, but will always work for the exclusive interest of the Scuderia. We will do our utmost to help Michael Schumacher win the world title." Ferrari won the Hungarian Grand Prix in 1998 and 1989 and have scored 28 points at the Hungaroring in the 1990s.

World Championship leader, Michael Schumacher, still has a slender lead of two points. A relieved Schumacher stated, "Thanks to Rubens' great win in Hockenheim, I am still leading the championship chase, but now only two points ahead of the two McLaren drivers. My number one priority in Hungary will be to get through the first lap without a problem and finish the race in the points. I am confident that we will have a competitive car in Hungary, I just need some better luck to go with it."

Schumacher won the Hungarian Grand Prix in 1998 for Ferrari and in 1994 for Benetton. Schumacher also finished 4th in 1997 for Ferrari. Schumacher set pole position in 1994, 1996 and 1997 and set fastest lap in 1994 and 1998.

Rubens Barrichello has consolidated his 4th position in the drivers' championship with his splendid win, under atrocious conditions, at Hockenheim. Barrichello commented, "I will be approaching the Hungarian GP in the same way as all the other races this year; that is to go home with the maximum amount of points as possible and hopefully closer to the lead of the World Championship.

"Starting from the ninth row of the grid at the last race, I thought I had no chance to finish well up and I won the race. It shows that in F1 you should never give up hoping or trying. Hungary is the sort of track where the unexpected can often happen, especially when it comes to the right race tactics at which the Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team do an incredible job." Barrichello finished 5th in last year's race for Stewart and 6th in 1996 for Jordan.

McLaren are still second in the constructors' championship and continue to be the most reliable team of 2000. Their aerodynamic advantage is not very important at this circuit but their 'tyre economy' may be. At Magny-Cours, Bridgestone's Ichikawa stated, "The degradation of McLaren's tyres, compared to other cars, was especially good even after successive fast laps."

According to Team Principal, Ron Dennis, "We are now closer to leading both the Formula One Constructors and Drivers World Championship than we have been all year. I'm confident that we will score more points in Hungary and make this year's championship even more exciting." McLaren have won the Hungarian Grand Prix four times, including a convincing 1-2 victory in last year's race, and have scored 62 points at the Hungaroring in the 1990s.

David Coulthard is now second equal in the drivers' championship, after the German Grand Prix. Coulthard's thoughts on the upcoming race: "With six races to go there are still a lot of points to go for in the Championship and I have never been closer to Schumacher than I am now. I was testing on Friday and Saturday last week and we experimented with high downforce settings and tyre compounds in preparation for the tight and twisting Hungaroring."

On the issue of team-orders, Coulthard added, "I will continue to battle to try to win the championship until, mathematically, I can't, then I think it would be fair for the team to ask me to help Mika and fair for me to do it. In the same way, if I win the next four races then I would expect Mika to support me. He's already said that if that is the case, then that is what he would do. I will have to have a very disciplined and regimented approach to the last six races."

Coulthard finished 2nd in 1999 and 1998 for McLaren, and 2nd in 1995 for Williams at the Hungaroring. Coulthard set fastest lap in 1999 and his highest grid positions were 2nd in 1995 and 1998.

Mika Hakkinen has climbed to second equal in the drivers' championship. Hakkinen revealed, "I like Hungary as it's probably the closest I get to a home race because there are always a vast number of Finnish fans with flags and banners. Budapest is a really great city as well. I returned to testing last week after my holiday and spent Thursday and Friday at Valencia and I feel prepared for this weekends activities."

Hakkinen easily won last year's race and he finished 4th in 1992 for Lotus, 4th in 1996 and 6th in 1998 for McLaren. Hakkinen set pole position in 1999 and 1998.

Williams are still a distant 3rd in the constructors' championship. Technical Director, Patrick Head, stated, "We had a useful test at Valencia aimed at trying to improve our performance for Budapest with encouraging results. We are now looking forward to a better qualifying position than the last two Grands Prix. Our aim is to score points with both cars and try and consolidate our championship position."

BMW Motorsport Director, Gerhard Berger added, "Racing at the Hungaroring means something special for BMW because this was the second Grand Prix circuit where we tested the early BMW engine in a WilliamsF1 chassis last October. We have made huge steps since then and we are proud of the fact that we were able to score points at seven out of the first eleven races this season. Continuing this success is our target for the forthcoming Grand Prix."

Williams have been the most successful team at the Hungaroring, winning the Hungarian Grand Prix seven times, including 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996 and 1997 and have scored 92 points at the Hungaroring in the 1990s. Williams also hold the qualifying (1:14.631) and race (1:18.308) lap records for the Hungaroring.

Ralf Schumacher is still 6th in the drivers championship. Ralf finished 5th in 1997 at the Hungaroring for Jordan and his highest grid position was 10th in 1998.

Jenson Button has jumped to 8th in the drivers' championship after his 4th place finish at Hockenheim. Button commented, "Like so many races this year, I arrive at the Hungaroring without any previous experience of the track which, I'm told, offers very few overtaking possibilities. I am obviously delighted with finishing in a best-ever fourth place in Hockenheim and I hope to apply this momentum in Budapest this weekend."

Benetton are still fourth in the constructors' championship. Alexander Wurz stated at Valencia, "It seems we are in a good shape for next weekend. We drove with lot of fuel and achieved good lap times in comparison to the other teams." Benetton have scored a total of 33 points at the Hungaroring in the 1990's, including a win in 1994, but they have not scored a point at the Hungaroring since 1996.

Giancarlo Fisichella is still 5th in the drivers' championship. Fisichella has yet to score a point at the Hungaroring, his best finish being 8th in 1998 and his highest grid position was 4th in 1999. Alexander Wurz injured his leg in a crash at Valencia, but he is expected to be able to participate in Hungary. Wurz explained, "I crashed in the same corner where Giancarlo had his bad accident (it was even the same chassis). My engineers are still checking the car but I am quite sure it was a suspension failure. A torsion link intruded the cockpit and slammed on my right foot. I was hurting big time but checks in hospital said that there is nothing broken. So there will be no problem to start in Hungary next weekend." Wurz finished 7th in last year's race after also qualifying 7th.

BAR are still 5th in the constructors' championship. Chief Engineer, Steve Farrell stated, "The BAR Honda chassis will actually be fitted with some one-off components for this race aimed at optimising the performance of the car's cooling systems. After the setback of Germany, the team will be hoping for a quieter, more productive weekend in Hungary where it can regain the momentum that has been building in the second half of the season. Only a handful of races are left this year and there is no room for mistakes if we are to achieve our goal of being the leading team behind McLaren and Ferrari. We have to perform and score points."

Jacques Villeneuve is still 7th in the drivers' championship. Villeneuve commented, "The Hungaroring is not a very high-speed track; however, the layout is interesting as there is quite a bit of elevation change and the corners are built around the contours of the area. It is a very physical race and a place where it is difficult to get a good, clean lap. It will make for an exciting qualifying session. As far as the team is concerned, if the weekend goes well, we might have a small shot at the podium."

Villeneuve won the Hungarian Grand Prix in 1996 and 1997 and finished 3rd in 1998 for Williams. Ricardo Zonta is now 15th in the driver's championship. Zonta finished 13th in last year's race after qualifying 17th. Zonta also finished 2nd in the 1998 FIA GT1 race for Mercedes-Benz.

Jordan are still 6th in the constructors' championship. The new EJ10B chassis is clearly a step forward for the Silverstone-based team. The Jordan team opted to test at Danielson last week. Jordan's Chief Engineer Tim Holloway stated, "We made several improvements and it a progressive step forward for us. The new aero package is designed for low downforce circuits. The Hungaroring may not be a low downforce circuit but like Monaco, where we performed well, it is a low grip track. I see no reason why we should not be up there with the best and certainly achieve a top six position." Jordan have scored 10 points at the Hungaroring, finishing 4th in 1999 and 1998, 5th in 1997 and 6th in 1999 and 1996.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen has slipped to 11th in the drivers championship after the German Grand Prix. Frentzen played down his chances at the Hungaroring, saying, "It will be difficult, but in the past I have had some good results in Hungary. I came fourth last year and had a good race. I had the fastest lap in 1997 and came fifth in 1998 despite having a high fever caused by food poisoning. Only after the race when I flew to hospital in Vienna did the doctors tell me how bad the poisoning was!" Frentzen also finished 5th in 1995 for Sauber and his highest grid position was 5th in 1999.

Jarno Trulli has slipped to 9th equal in the driver's championship. Trulli commented, "I am looking forward to Hungary and the challenge for me and the team will be to find a good set up and qualify well up the grid. Hungary is always described as a 'Mickey Mouse' track, but I must say I like it. My driving style is well suited to it and I have usually been quite competitive there, even if in the races I have not always had much luck. In 1998 I had a bad qualifying session, spinning off and missing dry weather opportunities and I was forced to retire from twelfth in the race with an electronics problem.

"I think the new aero package will work well at the Hungaroring and I am very confident for our performance over the weekend. I would say the circuit falls midway between Monaco and Zeltweg, and we were strong at both these tracks. It is about time our luck changed and we won the points we deserve, and I am confident this can happen in Hungary." Trulli finished 7th in 1997 and 8th in 1999 while his highest grid position was 12th in 1997.

Sauber are 7th in the constructors' championship. The Head of Sauber's Test Team, Jacky Eeckelaert, stated at Valencia, "Among the aspects we checked further today were to ensure that the engine will run cool enough at the sort of ambient temperature that we anticipate in Hungary. We also carried out further work on the engine mapping to optimise acceleration out of corners."

The Swiss team has scored 7 points at the Hungaroring, finishing 3rd in 1997, 5th in 1995 and 6th in 1993. Mika Salo has jumped to 9th equal in the World Drivers Championship. Salo echoed Hakkinen's comments, "The Hungaroring is a slow-speed circuit, all second and third gear corners. It is almost impossible to overtake there, too, so you need good top speed on the start/finish straight. This is the closest I get to a home GP, with so many Finns and fans spectating."

Although Salo has done well at Monaco he has yet to score a point at the Hungaroring. His best finishes in Hungary were 12th in 1999 for Ferrari and in 1997 for Tyrrell while his highest grid positions were 16th in 1995 and 1996. Pedro Diniz has yet to score a point at the Hungaroring, he finished 11th in 1998 for Arrows and his highest grid positions were 12th in 1998 and 1999. Diniz commented, "I had a very good test in Valencia last week, and hope that I can score my first points of the season."

Arrows are now 8th in the constructor's championship. Jos Verstappen had these comments on the Arrows A21, "Our car is very fast on the straight but you have to have a combination of quick on the straights but also on high and low speed corners. Obviously I think our car works very well on lower downforce circuits, so circuits like Hungary are where we will have to work very hard," Verstappen added, "We have a very quick car but it's not 100% reliable yet so we have to concentrate on that and sort it out as quickly as we can in order to try and score more points." Arrows have scored 10 points at the Hungaroring in the 1990's. Their finest hour came in 1997 when Damon Hill finished 2nd.

Both Arrows' drivers are 13th equal in the drivers' championship. Pedro de la Rosa admitted, "Hungary is going to be a hard race as the car has to have a lot of downforce. It would be nice to continue to finish in the points but we'll wait and see. The car is very good so hopefully we can get the set-up right for the circuit".

Jos Verstappen agreed, "I think Hungary will be tough for us. It's a very high downforce circuit which is also very bumpy, with a lot of understeer. It's a very different race to Germany and it will be quite hard, but Budapest is a nice city so I'm looking forward to going there and hopefully the result will be good". In last year's race, De la Rosa finished 15th after qualifying 20th. Verstappen's best result was an incredible 3rd position in 1994 for Benetton after qualifying 12th.

Jaguar have slipped to 9th in the constructors' championship. Team Principal, Neil Ressler, commented,. "Earlier this year, the R1 has been more competitive in high downforce trim and, as the Hungaroring is a high downforce track, we would expect to fare better there. We're working hard for improvements, looking forward to running the Cosworth Project 2 engine again this weekend and have high hopes for Hungary." Test engineer, Alex Varnava, added, "We clarified the work we've being doing recently on the bargeboards and a couple of other modifications. We also worked on tyre comparisons and we're quite pleased with the way things went." Rubens Barrichello scored 2 points for the Stewart team at the Hungaroring.

Eddie Irvine has slipped to 12th in the drivers' championship. Irvine's only points-paying finish at the Hungaroring was 3rd in last year's race after qualifying 2nd. Johnny Herbert stated, "It's a bit like Monaco in that there is no time to rest during a lap. I have good memories of Hungary, the best being from 1997 when I finished third in the Sauber, ahead of Michael and Eddie in the Ferraris. Definitely one of my best races." Herbert also finished 4th for Benetton in 1995 and his highest grid position was 8th in 1996.

Prost chose to test at Barcelona instead of Magny-Cours. Team Principal Alain Prost never won at the Hungaroring but he holds the qualifying record, which he set in 1993. Shinji Nakano finished 6th for Prost in 1997. Jean Alesi is nursing abdominal injuries following his high-speed crash at Hockenheim. Test driver Stephane Sarrazin will travel with the Prost team to Hungary and will be available as a substitute should Alesi's condition worsen. Alesi has had little success in 11 starts at the Hungaroring, finishing 3rd in 1996 for Benetton and 5th in 1991 for Ferrari while his highest grid position was 5th in 1996. Nick Heidfeld won the 1998 F3000 race and finished second in 1999 F3000 race at the Hungaroring, setting fastest lap in both races.

Minardi have never scored a point at the Hungaroring but both Minardi's finished last year's race. Marc Gene finished 17th after qualifying 22nd in last year's race. Gaston Mazzacane did not finish the 1998 F3000 race at the Hungaroring.

My Predictions

If it is dry, I'm going to pick Ferrari, McLaren and Jordan as the top three teams for qualifying with Benetton and Williams making up the top five.

Starting grid:

  1. Michael Schumacher
  2. Mika Hakkinen
  3. David Coulthard
  4. Rubens Barrichello
  5. Heinz-Harald Frentzen
  6. Eddie Irvine
  7. Giancarlo Fisichella
  8. Jarno Trulli
  9. Ralf Schumacher
  10. Alexander Wurz
  11. Jacques Villeneuve
  12. Jenson Button

The Hungarian Grand Prix Preview in a Nutshell:

  • The Hungarian Grand Prix, the drivers' championship and the constructors' championship are all up for grabs. Neither Ferrari nor McLaren can afford to squander points at this stage in the season.

  • Ferrari should have the advantage during qualifying on a high-downforce circuit like the Hungaroring. Can Ferrari convert this into a race victory? Can Michael Schumacher regain his momentum?

  • McLaren-Mercedes have finished well on the high-downforce circuits of Monaco and Magny-Cours in 2000. Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard are again closely matched at this circuit.

  • Williams are the best of the rest and have an outstanding record at the Hungaroring. Can Benetton, BAR, Jordan, Sauber or Arrows finish in the points?

  • Because overtaking is so difficult, qualifying position is important and it is hard to recover from a bad start. However, pit-stop stategy can quickly change the outcome of the race. Excessive tyre wear could also ruin a driver's race. Once again, victory could be in the hands of the technical directors and the pit-crews rather than the drivers.

  • Always in the points at the Hungaroring: No-one.

  • Dark Horse: Jenson Button.

  • Ewan Tytler© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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