American's spirit dampened after strategy error in Hungary
The gray, dark clouds that hovered over the Hungaroring on Sunday for the Hungarian Grand Prix matched Scott Speeds mood after the race. A wrong strategic call probably cost the American Formula One rookie a point. But, despite the disappointment, Speed still managed to bring his Toro Rosso home in 11th place in a race many drivers failed to finish.
Races on two consecutive weekends means extra work for the Formula One crews and hospitality people who have to disassemble everything at one track, truck it to the next race, and set up everything again in just a few days. This was certainly the case with the races in Germany and Hungary. But for the drivers, there is no real extra strain. It is easy, Speed said. Both races were within a very short flight away.
Monaco without the houses. Thats how the tight, twisting 14-corner track in Hungary has been described. The circuit is not one of Speeds favourites on the Formula One tour. I dont like this track all that much, he said before arriving. It is cool because all the corners are close together and you dont have to wait for them. But there are no real cool corners except for one at the top of the hill that is blind and fast. It is a difficult track to pass on. Hockenheim (in Germany), I really liked because you can overtake there.
Originally, Speed thought his car would be quick on tight tracks like Monaco and struggle on high-speed tracks like Monza that demand a lot of horsepower. But heading to Hungary, Speed had changed his mind about how his Toro Rosso would perform. At this point I have a completely different view than I did at the beginning of the season, he said. I actually think that we are going quick in Monza and struggling here.
The American ran a total of 23 laps in the two practice sessions on Friday and posted the 21st fastest time. But he still wasnt sure how his car would work in race conditions. I was unhappy with todays work, he said. The conditions did not suit our car. Tyre choice is very straightforward, but I had some oversteer and understeer. The track is very dirty.
In qualifying on Saturday, Speed set the 19th fastest time. He started 20th after officials deleted his three fastest laps for impeding another driver during his qualifying run. We knew that we were going to struggle in qualifying, he said, so we concentrated on getting as well prepared as possible for the race. Given our tyre choice, I think we are looking quite good, especially as I think we will have excellent race pace. Overtaking is hard here, but you never know how things can turn out. Weve been slow all weekend, but we are looking in reasonable shape for the race.
It rained on race day, making this the first time Speed raced a Formula One car in the wet. Track conditions were incredibly slippery and challenging, and by starting so deep in the field, Speed could barely see through the maelstrom of spray. Driving fast but carefully, he avoided trouble as others spun off or crashed on the tricky, slick track. By the 19th lap, the Californian was up to 10th place. By now the rain had stopped and the racing line around the track was starting to dry, but it was still incredibly treacherous off that line.
Pit-stop strategy is difficult in these conditions because its hard to judge the best time to switch from extreme rain tyres to intermediate rain tyres and then to dry-weather tyres. But this weekend, the Toro Rosso crew got it wrong. At the first pit stop, they decided that we were going to fill the tank to the end of the race, Speed said. The idea was that I would not pit again. It was crazy. The race was over.
In retrospect, as the track was now drying and Speed would have needed to come in and change to dry-weather tyres anyway, the crew could have put in less fuel. As it was, with a full tank and a heavy car, Speed collided with Honda's Rubens Barrichello and then spun. He then pitted for dry-weather tyres, but the track was still too slick, and he had to pit again for intermediate tyres and once more for dry weather tyres. All this dropped him to 12th place, although that eventually became 11th when Robert Kubicas BMW Sauber was disqualified for being underweight.
Had things gone differently, Speed probably would have scored a point. But then again, every driver had a tale to tell after the wet and wild Hungarian Grand Prix.