The intermission for the 2018 Formula 1 season is nearly upon us. But there’s one more hurdle for the drivers to overcome before they head to the beach and start Instagramming their hot dog legs: the Hungarian Grand Prix.
In 1986, Formula 1 ducked behind the Iron Curtain for the inaugural Hungarian Grand Prix, the first ever Grand Prix held in a communist country. Much has changed since then, but the race has been on the calendar ever since, and now traditionally heralds the midway point of the F1 season.
It’s a critical race of the year, too, with the teams that perform best around the Hungaroring heading into F1’s summer break with their heads held high, while the underperformers endure an agonising wait to get back on equal terms at the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August.
So, with three different winners in the last three races, who’s the hungriest for success in Hungary? Here’s what you need to know ahead of this year’s Grand Prix...
The form book
Despite the Hungaroring, with all it's low- and medium-speed turns, being seen as a ‘Red Bull track’, the team have only won twice around here, Mark Webber taking victory in 2010 before Daniel Ricciardo followed it up in 2014.
The last three years have seen Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel fighting for supremacy in Hungary, with Vettel winning in 2015 and 2017 and Hamilton taking the victory in between. That 2016 win was Hamilton’s fifth at the track, making it his joint-second most successful hunting ground, one behind Canada and tied with the Circuit of The Americas.
Ahead of this year’s Grand Prix, however, Vettel was already predicting victory for either Daniel Ricciardo or Max Verstappen, saying that the Red Bulls “will be the favourite, probably, for Hungary”. To get the job done, though, those drivers will need to avoid a repeat of the antics that saw them crashing into each other on the first lap last year – with the out-of-the-race Ricciardo famously showing his displeasure with a choice hand gesture to his Dutch team mate from the side of the track.
The stats that matter
Of all the racetracks on the 2018 F1 calendar, only Monaco and Monza have longer streaks of hosting Grands Prix than the Hungaroring. Monza’s Italian Grand Prix streak runs from 1981 to today, Monaco’s from 1955.
Winning the Hungarian Grand Prix might not be best for your championship hopes. Not since Michael Schumacher in 2004 has the victor in Hungary taken the title, and out of the 33 Hungarian Grands Prix to-date, only eight times has the winner claimed that year’s championship.
Ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, the lead of this year’s drivers’ championship has changed five times in 11 races.
The points difference in the drivers' standings between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel is 17, the third time this year it’s been exactly 17 points, while it’s never been more than that all season.
Hamilton’s victory in Germany from P14 on the grid was the first of his 66 Grand Prix victories that he’s scored after starting from outside the top six.
Looking ahead to qualifying, Valtteri Bottas will be looking to defend his current record of not being eliminated in Q1, which stretches back 64 races to Monaco 2015.
Bottas’ fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen has the longest run of Q3 appearances heading to Hungary, having appeared in the session in the last 41 race weekends. Interestingly, that record stretches back to Hungary 2016.
The omens are looking good for Vettel to qualify higher than Raikkonen in Hungary, however. The last team mate of Vettel's to outqualify him at the circuit was Tonio Liuzzi when they were paired together at Toro Rosso in 2007 – the same year that Raikkonen last outqualified a team mate at the track.
Daniel Ricciardo has appeared twice on the podium this season, and only ever as a winner.
Fernando Alonso will turn 37 on race day in Hungary – but the last time the Spaniard won a race, he was 31, when he claimed victory at his home Grand Prix in 2013.
After a succession of ‘power tracks’, Formula 1 arrives at a circuit that is anything but. Built in a natural bowl on the outskirts of Budapest, the tight, bumpy Hungaroring is a track where, after the moderately long 800 metre-ish start-finish straight, the corners then just keep coming – in fact, it’s often compared to an overgrown kart circuit.
That means that good chassis performance is rewarded here, hence Red Bull being touted as pre-race favourites. The team have already shown how strong their RB14 is this year at tracks like Monaco, where average corner speed and acceleration are key – and where Daniel Ricciardo managed to keep Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari behind despite having an engine hamstrung to the tune of around 160bhp. And at Hockenheim, it's believed that Max Verstappen became the first F1 driver to ever take the track’s Turn 1 at full throttle during qualifying - a true test of aero if ever there was one.
Average speeds at the Hungaroring with the cars in qualifying trim are just over 200kph, compared to over 250kph at Monza. That’s thanks to the 4.38km track squeezing in a full 13 proper corners – the similar-length Red Bull Ring has just eight by comparison. Overtaking is therefore tricky at the circuit, and with Turn 1 the best place to poach a place off your rivals, a good exit from the final Turn 15 is crucial.
The teams will have the same choice of rubber at the Hungaroring as they had for Hockenheim last time out, namely the white-walled medium, the yellow-walled soft and the purple-walled ultrasoft, with the red supersoft once again passed over in order the create a more dramatic performance step between the compounds.
Track temps in Budapest are usually high, which could cause the engineers some headaches given the recent graining issues we’ve seen at tracks like Austria.
Here’s what Pirelli’s Mario Isola had to say about the tyre choice for the Hungarian Grand Prix…
“Hungary is often decided in qualifying, so it’s going to be interesting to see the effect of the ultrasoft this year and how it degrades on what is normally a hot surface, where the tyres are constantly working. Understanding this, and how the ultrasoft relates to the rest of the range that we have brought to the circuit, will be the key to unlocking a successful race strategy.
“For the third time this year, we have a ‘step’ between the nominated compounds: this means that there should be quite an evenly spaced performance gap between all three tyres, allowing different strategic options.”
The Hungarian Grand Prix is typically held under blazing hot conditions. And while the temperatures will again be high this year – hovering around the 30 degree Ceslius mark all weekend – possible thunderstorms are predicted on Friday, while there’s a 60% or higher chance of rain across all three days.
When does the Hungarian Grand Prix start?
Fantasy F1 – get in the game!
Have you picked your Fantasy F1 team yet? If not, don’t panic – you have until just before qualifying to get involved and try to win some amazing prizes.