The Hungarian Grand Prix Preview 03 Aug 2006
Following so closely on the heels of the German Grand Prix last weekend, Hungarys race leaves teams precious little time to do much more than prepare their cars for Friday's opening practice session.
The big question had been whether Renault would reinstall their controversial mass dampers after their disaster (by their own high standards) in Hockenheim. It now seems certain they will. Pat Symonds, the team's executive director of engineering, says they will remain aggressive in their approach, and wont be making any knee-jerk reactions after their toughest race of the season.
He is adamant that the removal of the mass dampers was not the only reason for the poor showing, but says: It goes without saying that removing them degraded our performance, otherwise the component would not have been on the car throughout the season. After using the device for the first time in the final races of 2005, the design and development of this year's car was optimised with it in place. The ride and the behaviour over kerbs of the R26 at the last race was certainly not as good as we have been accustomed to this year. But there were other factors at work as well.
"We were aware before the event that tyre management at Hockenheim could be particularly difficult. It is a circuit that puts a lot of energy into the rear tyres, which can lead to blistering problems. As a result, we took compounds with the lowest chance of blistering, but in spite of this we had severe problems with rear blistering during the race - worse than any other Michelin runner. Equally, when using tyres designed to limit blistering, other compromises must be accepted: one is a reduction in grip, the other that the car balance can vary between new and used tyres. This proved to be the case.
Symonds confirmed that the mass dampers will be used in Hungary: We received notification on Monday that the FIA will recommend to the Court of Appeal that teams who have used the mass damper in Hungary should not have retrospective penalties applied when the hearing takes place between before Turkey. In light of this, we will use the device again in Hungary.
"We have also re-analyzed the other updates added to the car in Germany. A new rear suspension geometry was introduced for that race and in light of the fact that our problems were focused on rear tyre degradation, we will probably revert to the previous specification until we can track test the evolution further. However, our substantial new aero package performed in line with our predictions and will be maintained for Hungary, where we hope to demonstrate its true effectiveness.
Michelin have also been working very hard, but so have both Ferrari and Bridgestone and Michael Schumacher remains confident that he can repeat Alonsos four-wins-in-a-row trick. He could even get within one point of the world championship lead if he has another of what he calls his perfect weekends.
McLaren made a lot of progress in Germany and are confident of a good showing on the track where Kimi Raikkonen won so impressively last year, while Toyota and Honda both have a lot to be happy about after Hockenheim.
The other news concerns BMW Sauber, where Jacques Villeneuve is apparently indisposed after his accident in Germany. His place alongside Nick Heidfeld will be taken by Friday test driver Robert Kubica. The 21 year-old will thus become the first Polish driver ever to start a Grand Prix.
The Hungaroring changes a lot through a weekend as it usually begins dusty and cleans up gradually, which means teams have to keep changing set-ups to keep up with its improvement. More people are now being persuaded to the view that Ferrari and Bridgestone have the upper hand at the hot circuits, but with uncharacteristically cool temperatures and rain forecast, that situation, and the changeability, may prove fluid, adding to the unpredictability of this weekends race.
It is also a circuit which rewards cars which ride the chicane kerbs well, and overtaking there is almost as difficult as it is at Monaco. In fact, the tracks have a great deal in common, including the need for maximum downforce.