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The Hungarian Grand Prix preview - can Hamilton score a hat trick? 01 Aug 2008

Lewis Hamilton (GBR), McLaren, McLaren Mercedes MP4-23, German Grand Prix 2008, Hockenheim, Saturday, 19 July 2008. © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images Felipe Massa (BRA), Ferrari, Ferrari F2008, German Grand Prix 2008, Hockenheim, Sunday, 20 July 2008. © Martin Trenkler / Reporter Images Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.08.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, 20 July 2008 Nelson Piquet Jr. (BRA) Renault celebrates his second position with the team.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, 20 July 2008 Jenson Button (GBR) Honda RA108.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, German Grand Prix, Race, Hockenheim, Germany, Sunday, 20 July 2008

Can Lewis Hamilton and McLaren continue their triumphal progress on the track at which the Englishman was so dominant in 2007? That is one of the big questions of the weekend, together with whether Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa can get their championship campaigns back in the groove as they challenge the silver arrows.

Testing in Jerez last week tended to be clouded by the fact that several teams chose once again to run 2009 slicks with 2008 aero packages, but both of the top teams are confident of strong performances this weekend. Massa and Raikkonen do not believe there is anything fundamentally wrong with their Ferrari F2008s, while Hamilton believes McLaren have made serious progress in the past month.

Last year the Englishman was embroiled in that celebrated inter-team spat with Fernando Alonso in qualifying, which appeared to have cost the former his shot at the pole until Alonso was docked five grid places. It’s unlikely that Heikki Kovalainen will be anything other than 100 percent supportive of his team mate this time out, but for sure qualifying will be crucially important on a circuit on which overtaking is traditionally so difficult.

The track could also suit BMW Sauber, since it requires similar downforce settings to Monaco, which, walls apart, it so closely resembles in many ways. Nick Heidfeld was on the podium here in 2006 and 2007, and Robert Kubica would like nothing more than to satisfy the strong Polish contingent and to win again on the second anniversary of his Formula One debut. A strong result will also keep his championship hopes on track.

“For sure we can expect a lot of Polish fans in Budapest,” Kubica said. “The Hungarian Grand Prix is the closest race to my home country, so in some way it is my home race. The Hungaroring is the track where I had my first Formula One race in 2006. As a driver you always have a special relationship with the track where you had your first Grand Prix.

“However, it is not for these reasons alone that I like this track. For most of the lap you have some steering angle, which means you rarely get a break, and this is made worse by the fact the straights are very short. The Hungaroring is a difficult track, but then Formula One is about challenges.”

At Renault, Fernando Alonso and Nelson Piquet will also have anniversaries in the back of their minds.

“I won my first Formula One race at this circuit with Renault in 2003 and it’s a place were I have always gone well,” the Spaniard said. “So I’m happy to go back there again this year and determined to bounce back after my result in Germany.”

The driver who did so well there, Piquet, is on a roll and has fond memories of the Hungaroring GP2 event in 2006.

“That was very special because I won the feature race on the Saturday from pole position and then the sprint race on the Sunday, as well as setting the fastest lap in both races,” he said. “It was definitely one of my best weekends in racing. It’s quite a rewarding track to drive if you can find a good rhythm and it seems to suit my driving style.”

Yet another man pondering anniversaries here is Jenson Button, whose sole Grand Prix success to date came in the rain at the Hungaroring in 2006.

"The Hungarian Grand Prix will always be a special race for me as the venue of my first win in Formula One but obviously I would much prefer to be going back with the chance to challenge for the win again,” he said. “The new parts which we tested in Jerez last week are a small step forward, so it will be interesting to see how this places us in the midfield pack for the race weekend.

“The Hungaroring circuit itself has a good rhythm and a nice mix of slow-speed and high-speed turns. A lap around the circuit is actually quite a challenge because there is no respite and no opportunity to relax your hands, so you are gripping the steering wheel hard the whole time. As a city, Budapest is fantastic and definitely one of the most exciting places that we visit during the Formula One season, with a great atmosphere during the Grand Prix weekend, both in the city and at the circuit.”

The Hungaroring changes throughout a race weekend. It begins dusty and cleans up gradually, so teams have to keep changing set-ups to keep up with its improvement. The possibility of the usual high temperatures and rain could add to the unpredictability of this weekend’s race.