Toyotas Pascal Vasselon on the Hungaroring 02 Aug 2006
The twists and turns of the Hungaroring test cars and drivers to the absolute limit. With levels of downforce comparable to Monaco, exceptionally low grip and high track temperatures, the Hungarian Grand Prix has many implications for car set-up. Toyotas general manager (chassis), Pascal Vasselon, explains the team's preparations
Q: This year's race will be the 21st anniversary of what was, then, Formula One racings first trip behind the 'Iron Curtain.' What are your recollections?
Pascal Vasselon: I was barely born in 1986 I'm so young! I'm joking, but the first time I went there for F1 was in 2001 although I did go there for a GT race in '97. My first impression was - low grip!
Q: Being so twisty, is the track one of the highest in terms of downforce - Monaco apart?
PV: Absolutely, and we are clearly back to very specific venues after Hockenheim and Magny Cours, which were classical, typical F1 tracks. Every circuit we go to for the rest of the year is a little bit different. Hungaroring has by far the highest density of medium speed corners per kilometre. It is incredibly twisty and the car is always in a corner. There are few straights and it leads to the second lowest average speed on the calendar behind Monaco.
Q: And presumably it's pretty physical too?
PV: It is because it is so twisty and there are very few places where a driver can relax. Normally on the straights the drivers will speak on the radio, take a drink and so forth, but at Hungaroring they are very busy.
Q: So whereabouts on the lap do you talk to the drivers?
PV: It's very difficult actually and I think it's a track where you get quite a few missed communications!
Q: What else stands out about Hungaroring?
PV: There is a second very specific thing, and that's the nature of the asphalt. It is an exceptionally low-grip surface and it's made worse by the dust and sand that surrounds it. As soon as you have a slight wind you just maintain position on the track and the grip disappears completely. The second thing is that as a consequence of the track layout there is very little brake cooling and so they tend to run quite hot. We're not talking Montreal or Bahrain, because the brake energy is lower, but the temperatures are higher than you might expect. Strategically the various factors add up to a multi-stop race, so usually one that is more aggressive with some interesting developments.
Q: The surface, presumably, is why the lap times improve more from the opening day than at any other track?
PV: That's true, if you have no wind you get one of the biggest lap time evolutions anywhere. You have to first clean the track and when you see the first car go out on Friday morning it throws up a really huge cloud of dust that illustrates the nature of the problem.
Q: Do you run the same aerodynamic packages as at Monaco?
PV: They are close but the two tracks are actually very different. At Monaco you have the combination of very low speed corners and some high speed sections but in Budapest you have almost exclusively medium speed corners. This combination of the layout and tarmac leads to a near impossible compromise in terms of tyres.
Q: What kind of compromise?
PV: The tyres have to be strong because there are so many medium-speed corners where they are under load and the compound has to be able to cope. But you also need quite a bit of grip or else you never get the tyres warmed up for qualifying performance because the surface grip is so low. It's actually very difficult to optimise.
Q: So what do you do in terms of tyre compound?
PV: Just try to get as close as possible to the best compromise but we cannot go very soft with the tyre. It is one of the 'summer' races and the temperature is hot, which helps with the warm-up a little. I must admit, I'd be very curious to see a cold Budapest. In terms of grip it would be terrible. But, statistically, I think it just doesn't rain in Hungary! They were a few drops in 2004 but only briefly.
Q: Some drivers claim that it's as hard to pass as in Monte Carlo?
PV: I think that's partially untrue because I remember very well that Ralf (Schumacher) spun in 2003 at the second corner, restarted last and made his way right back through the field and finished fourth. And he passed his brother on the way! So it can be done. Since the original track was laid, the main straight has been lengthened with a slower corner at the end, which has helped. Damon Hill also famously passed Michael Schumacher in an Arrows in '96 but I think that was at a time when Bridgestone started to perform well and Goodyear were in a little bit in trouble. Often, varying tyre performance helps with overtaking.
Q: Do you see the tyre war impacting strongly this year in Hungary?
PV: I think to the same extent as usual but not more. Yes, the tyres are a dominant performance factor but you cannot say that everything will depend on them. They are only one factor.
Q: Presumably Toyotas tyre choice has already been made?
PV: Yes, and I'd say there is nothing radical at this stage of the season - we are just developing the families of tyres that we already have.
Q: Will Toyota have any new car developments in Hungary?
PV: Our development programme allows us to bring new parts to every single race and in Hungary they will mainly be aerodynamic parts.
Q: Has the team had a chance to analyse Jarno Trulli's engine failure at Hockenheim?
PV: I think Luca Marmorini and his team are working hard on that because it was a very fresh engine that only had 50kms or so at low revs, so it clearly was very unexpected. We will have to wait for Luca's conclusions before we know more. Budapest will therefore be Jarno's second race on his replacement Hockenheim engine and Ralf will have a fresh engine at Hungaroring.