Ferrari rivals confident ahead of Hungaroring race
Given his current contractual dispute, it is deeply ironic that Jenson Button may stand his best chance yet of scoring his and the BAR team's maiden victory in Hungary this weekend.
While the ambient and track temperatures are expected to be sizzling, the 24 year-old Englishman is expecting a cool reception from his team after announcing that he wants to go to Williams in 2005. The matter will go before the Contracts Recognition Board, but after their first face-to-face meeting since the announcement, at the beginning of this week, Button and team principal David Richards are both determined to achieve their best results over the remaining six races. The Hungaroring should suit the BAR and its punchy Honda engine, and there will be some technical updates on the car after the summer break.
However, both Renault and McLaren also fancy their chances here. Last year, of course, Fernando Alonso ran away and hid to score his first Grand Prix victory, and there is no reason why the updated Renault R24 should not be equally as competitive this year. It is going to be a special race for me I think, the Spaniard says. This was always one of my favourite circuits anyway, and it is a nice feeling to look back and remember last year. I am feeling confident: we were fast in Hungary in 2003, we have been fast with maximum downforce already this season in Monaco, so I hope we can have a good race, and maybe be in with a chance to win.
Both Alonso and team mate Jarno Trulli will have the latest RS24D variant of the RS24 V10 to race, which has revised cylinder heads and related parts in its top end and represents a small performance step over the final RS24B which raced in Hockenheim (the RS24C was a project that did not proceed beyond dynamometer testing). McLaren have clearly turned a corner in recent races and Hockenheim showed just how competitive the heavily revised MP4-19B has become. Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard must also be viewed as potential winners.
Williams have had a tough time of late, and Ralf Schumacher will still not be fit enough to join team mate Juan Pablo Montoya in Budapest. The German will probably miss Spa, too, so his place will once again be taken by test driver Antonio Pizzonia, who will be hoping to make a big impression to retain his test role in 2005.
Why leave Ferrari so far down the order? Only because the Michelin runners fancy their chances after last years race, where Bridgestone struggled so badly. This time around, however, engineer Kees van der Grint is completely confident that the Japanese companys tyres will be equal to the task, and Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello not only start as favourites but could well wrap up the constructors world championship this weekend.
Sauber were due to given English DTM racer Gary Paffett, the reigning European F3 champion, a run in their C23 on Friday, but this has now been postponed and the team will field only its two usual cars for Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa, with some further aerodynamic refinements.
Jaguar were very competitive in Hungary last year and come to this years race full of optimism even though they have finally accepted that star driver Mark Webber will be going to Williams next season. There are updates on this car, too, so a repeat performance in what is a better machine would not be a surprise.
Toyota are also hoping for a strong showing, after Olivier Panis reported that the TF104B was a major improvement at Hockenheim. The car has a lower centre of gravity, better aerodynamics and a more potent engine. What it doesnt have is Cristiano da Matta in the cockpit, as the Brazilian will be replaced by fellow countryman Ricardo Zonta, the teams regular test driver.
Jordan and Minardi continued unchanged, with Nick Heidfeld and Giorgio Pantano, and Gianmaria Bruni and local hero Zsolt Baumgartner, respectively. Baumgartner will be celebrating the anniversary of his Grand P debut here last year for Jordan.
Oddly enough, the Hungaroring is very similar to Monte Carlo, insofar as it demands maximum downforce and presents very few overtaking opportunities. Cars need good balance and precise turn in to be fully competitive. Efficient cooling is also imperative, not just because of the high ambient and track temperatures but because the short straights give engines little time to cool down. This is true for the tyres, too, as there are under almost constant side loadings. The surface of the track is often dusty and offers low grip, so cars tend to slide around more than usual and tyre degradation is correspondingly high. Wear will thus be a critical factor when teams make their choice on Friday.
The race starts at 1400 local time (1200 GMT), and will run over 70 laps.