Hungary is a much maligned circuit, due to its tight low speed nature and the difficulty of overtaking, but it has produced a surprising number of exciting races.
Being bold is the key to doing well, as Lewis Hamilton proved with some overtakes in unusual places last year or as Michael Schumacher and Ferrari proved in 1998 with a brave strategy change mid-race, which led to one of his most exciting victories.
This year, the teams are still dealing with the aftermath of the FIA’s decision to ban FRIC suspension, which has meant them all having to work harder to set the cars up and to manage the tyres. Hungary, with its range or corners taken in second to fourth gear, will show up the absence of FRIC more than Hockenheim, so losses that were perhaps masked for some teams there will be more obvious this weekend.
This weekend Pirelli has opted for the medium and soft tyres, which at first sight looks quite a conservative choice. However high temperatures are expected on track. In Germany last weekend, when the track temperatures of 57 degrees were seen in practice the supersoft tyre was on the limit.
The Hungaroring circuit is rarely used and so the track is usually dirty at the start of the F1 race weekend and the grip improves as the weekend goes on. This means that it’s very easy to be misled by the tyre performance on Friday and the only really meaningful work that can be done on car set up and planning race strategy is often the one hour session on Saturday morning.
The track is tight and twisty with generally a low grip surface and it is also quite bumpy.
The start is always crucial at the Hungaroring, as the slow second and third corners tend to open the field out. The run down to Turn 1 is quite long; from pole position to the braking point before Turn 1 is 400m.
The other interesting aspect of the track is that it doesn’t make many demands on the Internal combustion part of the engine, so it’s normal for teams to use an engine which is towards the end of its life – on its third or fourth race.
Hungaroring – 4.381km kilometres. Race distance – 70 laps = 306.630 kilometres. 14 corners in total. Average speed of 190 km/h is the lowest of any permanent track on F1 calendar.
Aerodynamic setup – High downforce. Top speed 305 km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 295km/h without.
Full throttle – 55% of the lap (low).
Time spent braking: 14% of lap. Number of brake zones – 11. Brake wear- High.
Total time needed for pit stop: 16 seconds
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.35 seconds (high)
The Hungarian Grand Prix is the eleventh round of the 2014 FIA F1 World Championship and thus marks the start of the second half of the 19 race season.
Mercedes has complete control of both championships, with Nico Rosberg leading the drivers’ standings. Lewis Hamilton has had a series of setbacks and mistakes in recent races, which have prevented him taking maximum points, but Hungary offers him a turning point as he has always been exceptional at this track and has won four times in seven visits.
Ferrari and Red Bull have made progress recently and are likely to fill the ‘best of the rest’ role behind Mercedes. Williams has been in that role lately, with Valterri Bottas coming of age as a Grand Prix driver, but this circuit might not suit their car quite so well as there is only one straight and that is not very long. McLaren has improved but still struggles to match its qualifying pace in races.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned; it has been a happy hunting ground for Hamilton with four wins and Jenson Button who has won the race twice. Fernando Alonso won in 2003, Kimi Raikkonen in 2005.
The forecast is for temperatures around 30 degrees on Friday and Saturday, but there are thunderstorms forecast for Sunday, which could bring rain, as we had here in 2011.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Budapest: Soft (yellow markings) and Medium (white markings). This is the same as the last two years.
This combination of tyres was used in Australia, Bahrain and China. There was around 0.6s performance difference between them in Bahrain.
The performance of the tyres in the Friday practice session will indicate whether this is likely to be a one, two or three stop race, although it’s easy to underestimate the track improvement from Friday to Sunday which tends to cut the number or stops.
The crucial thing for teams to understand will be the crossover point where the medium becomes the better tyre over the long run.
In Bahrain Mercedes put Nico Rosberg on a Plan B strategy where he started on soft, took the medium tyre for the middle stint then the soft again for the final stint. So this combination allows for quite a lot of strategic variety, which should make for an interesting race.
The target for the first stop will be around lap 17-20.
The Hungaroring is notoriously hard on the front tyres, partly due to all the long corners and partly due to the balance of the car being much more forward. High temperatures will also take their toll.
In the past, overtaking was extremely difficult at the Hungaroring and it still is. But the two DRS adjustable rear wing zones, situated on the pit straight and out of Turn 1, has helped create some overtaking opportunities in the last few seasons. Last year there were 23 overtakes in total, of which 14 were DRS assisted.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
The time needed for a stop at Hungaroring is around 16 seconds, so there are a number of strategies that open up, depending on track position and traffic.
In 2012 two stops was the way to go and in 2013 it was three stops that won it for Hamilton, with a short first stint on the soft of only nine laps. This year we have seen a pattern of races on 2014 specification tyres were there was one stop less than in 2013. This could well be another, so two stops would be the fastest way.
Friday practice running will give indications, but the decisions will be made after the teams have noted the track improvement on Saturday morning.
Chance of a safety car
Safety cars are surprisingly rare at the Hungaroring. One possible explanation is that there are few gravel traps for cars to get stranded in, with tarmac preferred through most corners.
The chances of a safety car are only 10% and there have been only two in the last seven years.
Recent start performance
The start of the Grand Prix is absolutely vital in terms of executing the ideal race strategy. A few places gained means a team has more options, while a few places lost usually means switching to Plan B and being more aggressive to make up ground.
As far as 2014 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows (taken after the German Grand Prix) –
Net gained positions
9 Raikkonen, Hamilton
Net held Position
Net lost positions
Melbourne Notes: Kobayashi, Massa eliminated in a first corner accident; Perez, Gutierrez pitted at the end of Lap 1; Bianchi, Grosjean started from pit lane.
Malaysia Notes: Perez started from pit lane, Bianchi pitted at the end of lap 1
Bahrain notes: Vergne pitted at the end of lap 1 after contact
China Notes: Sutil lost power at start and dropped 8 places, retiring soon after.
Monaco notes: Maldonado did not start, Ericsson started from pit lane, Perez crashed Lap 1.
Canada Notes: Gutierrez started from pit lane; Bianchi and Chilton crashed lap 1; Ericsson pitted lap 1
Austria Notes: Grosjean started from pit lane
GB Notes: Raikkonen and Massa eliminated in 1st lap accident
Germany notes: Massa eliminated in 1st lap accident, Magnussen and Ricciardo dropped back as a result
Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams.
This year the emphasis is more on consistency and not making mistakes.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the German Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it.
1. Red Bull 18.868 secs
2. McLaren 18.916
3. Lotus 18.928
4. Ferrari 19.032
5. Force India 19.514
6. Sauber 19.638
7. Mercedes 19.710
8. Caterham 19.890
9. Marussia 20.031
10. Williams 20.115
11. Toro Rosso 20.251
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists, from JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan and from Pirelli