2009 Hungarian Grand Prix: Pre-Race Analysis

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2009 Hungarian Grand Prix: Pre-Race Analysis
(Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Firstly, let's all take a moment to collectively send our best to Felipe Massa and his family. That was a horrifying accident, and thankfully it appears that he will come through it OK. Let's hope he makes a speedy and full recovery and gets back on the grid soon. 

Qualifying certainly presented its share of surprises, not the least of which was the fact that the timing and scoring system failed just as drivers were turning their final hot laps.

Flying in the face of the 21st century, the malfunction proceeded the highly unanticipated ascension of Fernando Alonso to pole position, followed by the Red Bull drivers of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber on the podium. 

However, Alonso has ruled out his chance of victory tomorrow, and with good reason after viewing the published pre-race car weights: 

1. Fernando Alonso, Renault, 637.5kg
2. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, 655
3. Mark Webber, Red Bull, 652
4. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, 650.5
5. Nico Rosberg, Williams, 654
6. Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren, 655.5
7. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, 651.5
8. Jenson Button, Brawn GP, 664.5
9. Kazuki Nakajima, Williams, 658
10. Sebastien Buemi, Toro Rosso, 671.5
11. Jarno Trulli, Toyota, 671.3
12. Rubens Barrichello, Brawn GP, 689
13. Timo Glock, Toyota, 679.2
14. Nelson Piquet, Renault, 667.7
15. Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber, 658
16. Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India, 680.5
17. Adrian Sutil, Force India, 683.5
18. Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber, 666
19. Jaime Alguersuari, Toro Rosso, 675.5

Alonso and Renault have elected for an extremely low fuel load, indicating he may be attempting even a three-stop strategy. If he is going to make this work for a podium finish, he will have to run like hell away from the field.

While Renault have made progress, it doesn't seem like they have made enough for Alonso to make this work, as McLaren have vastly improved their car and, adjusting for fuel weight, seem to be much quicker than Renault this weekend. 

Speaking of which, McLaren truly are back in competitive form in the Hungarian Grand Prix. Pre-race weights suggest Hamilton is fueled only a lap or so lighter than Webber and 2-3 laps lighter than Vettel, and yet he qualified within two tenths of Vettel. 

While pre-race weights and the time of Heikki Kovalainen (who has the same weight as Vettel) would suggest the McLaren is still 3 or 4 tenths off the pace of Red Bull, Hamilton did place second in Q2 and only a tenth off of Webber while everyone was on low fuel and option tires.

Furthermore, Hamilton said that he did not get an optimal lap in Q3, suggesting he could have outqualified the Red Bulls.

On one flying lap, he set a first sector time three-tenths under Webber (who at the time was at around a 1:21.85ish lap) before he faced a moment of oversteer in turn 4 that cost him more than a second.

Hamilton seems set for at least a podium finish this weekend, and if he can get another KERS-charged uber-start like he got at the Nurburgring and have circumstances play out in his favor, he may just pull out a victory. 

Red Bull have demonstrated this weekend they clearly have the quickest car, and they appear to be set for another victory. Further investigation, though, shows that this outcome is far from a certainty.

Not only will they have Hamilton rocketing through with a KERS boost, but Kovalainen as well with a magic button in row 3. Webber particularly is in a precarious position in row 2: if he falls behind Kovalainen at the start tomorrow, his race will be absolutely ruined. 

Many expected the Hungarian Grand Prix to mark the Brawn GP's counter-attack to Red Bull's recent onslaught, but the car simply has not been in top form this weekend despite what was billed as a massive upgrade.

Jenson Button only managed eighth in qualifying, although he is fueled significantly more heavily than anyone ahead of him. Rubens Barrichello, on the other hand, did not even make Q3, although this is likely due to losing a spring toward the end of the session.

Victory seems out of the question for Button, but the pre-race car weights suggest he has a fuel strategy advantage over cars immediately ahead of him.

He likely won't be able to get by KERS-boosted Kovalainen or Kimi Raikkonen on the start, but he should be able to overtake them as well as Nico Rosberg through the first pit cycle tomorrow without much of a problem.

With Alonso on an extremely light fuel load and Webber threatened by a KERS storm, the podium may not even be out of the question for Button. 

Barrichello has by far the heaviest car on the grid, suggesting he is on a one-stop strategy. He will have a battle ahead of him, but if he can grind it out, points aren't out of the question for him. 

 

Predictions

The start will be the best we have seen all season long. Half of the cars in the first three rows are KERS-charged, and the front of the field will be all over the place going into the first corner. We're set up for pure pandemonium, and possibly a safety car. 

Barring trouble, all signs point to another victory for Vettel tomorrow. The Red Bull is quickest this weekend, and he is starting on the front row with a fuel strategy advantage over his teammate and Hamilton, who seem to be his strongest threats tomorrow. Vettel is my bet for the win. 

As long as he doesn't have an incident in the first corner or a mechanical failure, Hamilton seems set for his first podium of the season, which would a tremendous accomplishment for he and McLaren considering how bad the car has been all season long.

They're not far off Red Bull, and with another upgrade, they could soon challenge the pace of the car designed by former employee Adrian Newey.

A victory is probably a big stretch for him, as his only chance at it is to get another uber-start putting him in the lead while the Red Bulls are held up by Alonso and another KERS car.

But if Hamilton pulls off a great start, circumstances may direct him to the top step of the podium, as the Red Bull drivers would only have one-two laps to overtake him through the first pit cycle. 

Button will take the other spot on the podium tomorrow. Webber is not only a sitting duck for Hamilton tomorrow, but he'll surely be beaten into the first corner by Kovalainen.

Given this likely scenario, Button's fuel load, and the fact that the extremely-light Renault of Alonso and significantly lighter Williams of Rosberg are both behind the Brawn in pace, everything is lining up nicely for a badly-needed podium for the Englishman. 

Look out for the drivers 10th-13th on the grid tomorrow. Buemi is in the updated STR chassis, and his fuel strategy puts him in position to score points tomorrow.

Barrichello is clearly on a one-stop strategy, and his Brawn should be quick enough for him to execute it and challenge for points.

Timo Glock has been outstanding in race form this year and has converted sub-par qualifying positions into solid (often points) finishes, and if his Toyota is up to it tomorrow, he might just pull it off again. 

Predicted Podium 

1. Vettel 

2. Hamilton 

3. Button

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