Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix 2012: Thoughts and Predictions

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistJuly 27, 2012

Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix 2012: Thoughts and Predictions

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    The 11th round of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the Hungarian Grand Prix, takes place on Sunday at the Hungaroring, near Budapest.

    A tight, twisty circuit which calls for a set-up not unlike Monaco, the Hungaroring was the venue for Fernando Alonso, Heikki Kovalainen and Jenson Button's first race wins.

    In total, seven of the current drivers have won here. Among those who haven't are Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean—but both men have a chance this weekend.

    My predictions are a little top-heavy this week, without much of a dive deeper down the grid. My apologies for thistime hasn't been on my side, and the biggest stories have related to the front-runners.

McLaren Revival

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    At Silverstone, McLaren looked dead and buried. As Ferrari and Red Bull fought for the lead, the British team could manage only eighth and 10th.

    But a major upgrade package for the German Grand Prix saw them leap right back into contention.

    Jenson Button battled up from sixth on the grid to finish second, while Lewis Hamilton ran at the same pace as the leaders for a period, despite not being happy with how his car felt following an early puncture.

    He even took a lap back from Sebastian Vettel, much to the German's displeasure.

    The Hungaroring is traditionally a circuit at which McLaren does very well. The British team has won five of the last seven races here and usually have a car which excels around the high-downforce, low-speed track.

    This year, it's hard to say how well they'll do. The MP4-27 didn't have a lot of pace in Monaco (the other high-downforce, low-speed circuit) and has appeared more at home around the quicker tracks.

    It's a different sort of car to its predecessors.

    However, it's still a very quick piece of kit, and while it's not a "Hungary specialist," nor are any of its main rivals. Mercedes might have been, but they seem to have dropped back as the season has progressed.

    Though we haven't seen the upgraded version in a dry qualifying session, the two drivers should be able to put it very close to the front.

    And a race win for either man is a very real possibility.

Red Bull and the Engine Map

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    After qualifying for the German Grand Prix, Red Bull was referred to the stewards after FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer spotted an issue with the team's engine mapping.

    The Renault powerplant was (it seemed) doing something outside the rules.

    A statement released by Bauer stated:

    It became apparent that the maximum torque output of both engines is significantly less in the mid rpm range than previously seen for these engines at other events.

    In my opinion this is therefore in breach of Article 5.5.3 of the Technical regulations as the engines are able to deliver more torque at a given engine speed in the mid rpm range. Furthermore this new torque map will artificially alter the aerodynamic characteristics of both cars which is also in contravention of Technical Directive 036-11.

    In simple terms, it appeared to be revving lower than it should be at certain points, giving a "traction control" sort of effect.

    And the statement regarding the aerodynamic characteristics being altered refers to how the exhaust gases were exiting towards the rear of the car—relating in this case to a variety of off-throttle blowing (or a very similar thing), which was supposedly banned.

    At the event, the stewards passed the cars as legal. As the regulation was written, they were—but it was clear the FIA saw it as being outside the spirit of the rules.

    As expected, a clarification of the rule was issued earlier in the week, which effectively banned Red Bull's Hockenheim-spec engine mapping. Autosport stated:

    According to the clarification, teams will be required to nominate one engine map—as a reference—that they used during the first four events of this season, which must then be approved by the governing body.

    Once passed by the FIA, the engine torque curves above 6,000rpm must not vary by more than plus or minus two per cent from that reference map.

    To the average fan that probably doesn't mean a great deal.

    And it's difficult to say what it will mean to Red Bull. Clearly, they would prefer to be able to use their more "exotic" engine maps, so one has to expect some loss of competitiveness—especially around a tight, twisty circuit like the Hungaroring.

    On the balance of probability, it's unlikely to make a huge difference. The engine mapping was only one part of a very good package, and Red Bull won't suddenly drop back towards the midfield.

    But in the spirit of making a prediction, could they find themselves without a car on the front row for the first time since the Spanish Grand Prix in May?

    I'll say yes.

Are Lotus Ever Going to Win a Race?

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    Lotus started the year with what was almost certainly the best car in race conditions.

    Though they appeared to lack a few 10ths in qualifying, their ability to keep up a consistently fast pace over long runs looked certain to deliver a victory sooner rather than later.

    Kimi Raikkonen looked like he had the pace to win in Bahrain and (probably) Spain.

    Romain Grosjean had a very good chance to win in Valencia, and victory in Canada could easily have been his as well.

    Of course, something always got in the way, and they didn't win any of those races. Lotus go into the 11th round of the championship with six podiums and zero wins.

    How will they fare here?

    The high temperatures expected at the Hungaroring should play into their hands, and they'll certainly have the race pace to challenge Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren.

    Tyre wear is going to be a big issue in Hungary, a track whose surface demands durability and grip. Over a whole stint, the Lotus will probably be the fastest car.

    And the possible issues for Red Bull (engine mapping) may provide a boost.

    But their Achilles heel—qualifying—may well end their hopes.

    Only at Monaco is grid position more important. If they can land on the front two rows, I think they're the favourites to win.

    If not, they may just have to settle for another minor podium placing.

Pole Position

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    McLaren fighting back. Red Bull (perhaps) dropping back. Mercedes hoping for a good performance, Lotus looking forward to the hot weather and Ferrari just carrying on the same.

    With all that going on, qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix will be an interesting affair.

    And without meaning to sound pessimistic, it'll probably be the most interesting part of the entire weekend.

    Mercedes were the best in qualifying at Monaco, but they appear to be struggling to keep up in the development race. Fernando Alonso has been on pole for the last two races, but both had wet qualifying sessions.

    Red Bull will lose something from their engine maps being deemed illegal. The dark horses for me are Lotus, but I think equaling their best starting position of the year—third—is the most they can realistically hope for.

    I'm going to go with history, and put a McLaren on the front row at a circuit where they normally go so well. Jenson Button had a great race in Germany, but in a dry qualifying he just doesn't have the same pace as his teammate.

    So I'll say Lewis Hamilton for pole.

Race Winner

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    Having said last weekend that the unpredictability seemed to be dying down somewhat, we're back to having a sizable list of potential winners.

    I'd say there are seven men—the McLarens, Red Bulls, Lotuses and Fernando Alonso—who can be realistically considered. There's a strong case for each of them.

    But for whatever reason, I'm going with a man I picked to win the European Grand Prix at Valencia. He could well have taken his first race win there, but his alternator had other ideas and he was forced to retire from second.

    I could well be reading too deeply into the weather situation, but Lotus tend to have a lot of pace when it's hot and tyre wear is going to be very important this weekend.

    Kimi Raikkonen still hasn't recaptured his old form, and his qualifying performances aren't quite on a par with his less experienced teammate.

    So I'll pick Romain Grosjean as my winner.

    Enjoy the race!

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