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Hungary - What to Watch for...

27 Jul 2014

From Lewis Hamilton's sternest test of the season so far to the threat posed to Nico Rosberg by Red Bull, and from Sauber's push for their first points of the year to Lotus's desire for a spot of rain, we break down the key themes to look out for in Sunday's Formula 1 Pirelli Magyar Nagydij 2014…

Red Bulls to pose biggest threat to Rosberg

Williams have emerged as Mercedes’ closest challengers in recent Grands Prix, but the tight, twisty nature of the Hungaroring has, as expected, favoured the strengths of the Red Bull RB10. While it is incredibly close behind Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes, expect Red Bull - and in particular Sebastian Vettel - to therefore be the Silver Arrows’ main threat on Sunday.

The world champion has the advantage of starting on the inside - albeit dirty - line on Sunday, is reportedly happier with the car than he has been all season, and was also well-matched with Mercedes over comparable long runs on Friday. Add in the fact it is possible for a slower car to hold off a quicker challenger at the Hungaroring, and the ingredients are there for an upset. But while Vettel will have his sights set on making that happen, he will also need to be wary about the threats poised by team mate Daniel Ricciardo, Williams' Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari's canny operator Fernando Alonso, all of whom have genuine reasons to think a podium’s possible in Budapest.

Hamilton facing sternest test of the season

Poor Lewis Hamilton - if he didn't have bad luck he'd have no luck at all. The Briton has grown accustomed to qualifying setbacks at recent races: first there were the errors in Austria and Great Britain that dropped him down the top ten, then there was the brake disc failure in Germany that led to him starting in 20th. But the fuel leak that led to his smoky exit from Q1 in Budapest is potentially much more damaging, for whilst the Briton was able to charge his way back onto the podium in each of the previous races, he'll find his latest damage limitation task considerably harder as the Hungaroring is a notoriously difficult circuit on which to pass, even with a significant car advantage.

Jenson Button was able to turn P14 on the grid into a race win in 2006, thanks to the combination of a heavy downpour and some bold driving, so perhaps Hamilton's best chance of working his way to the sharp end of the top ten is if the weather takes a turn for the worse on race day - he's an expert in slippery conditions and rain has been forecast.

Whatever happens, it looks set to be Hamilton's most challenging race of the year, and he goes into it with the knowledge that no matter how well he drives, there's every chance he'll head into the summer break having lost more ground to Rosberg in the world championship standings. On the other hand, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Raikkonen and Magnussen out to make amends

Hamilton wasn't the only driver unhappy on Saturday, with both Raikkonen and Magnussen wrong-footed in qualifying. While the causes were different - the Finn knocked out in Q1 following Ferrari’s decision not to use soft tyres, the Dane crashing out of Q3 after misjudging the very localised Turn 1 rain - the outcomes were similar: both will have to come through the field if they are to salvage something from the weekend.

Raikkonen’s frustrations will have been compounded by how well he had performed in practice. The Hungaroring has been a happy hunting ground for the former champion in the past - a winner in 2005, he has also finished on the podium in his last five races at the track - and that form translated into his finishing inside the top seven in all three practice sessions, and also looking extremely strong over his race simulation in FP2. Less than a tenth of a second split him and team mate Fernando Alonso in FP3, but as the latter progressed, Raikkonen was left floundering and will line up 16th - another inglorious note to a season that he confesses has been pretty bereft of highlights.

For Magnussen, meanwhile, the damage incurred in his heavy crash means a chassis change is required, bringing with it an enforced start from the pit lane. Whether he has the pace to make significant progress, or whether the unfortunate incident will scupper all hopes of a points finish, will be intriguing to watch. Look for him to make a charge though - he has a history of doing so, having come from 16th on the grid to finish second in Formula Renault 3.5 here last year.

Sauber well placed to score first points

Sauber have endured a pretty miserable season so far, with no points on the board and only one team - Caterham - below them in the constructors' standings. But after a positive Saturday the Swiss squad stand a real chance of heading into the summer break with something to smile about.

Following Magnussen's chassis change, Adrian Sutil will start 11th and Esteban Gutierrez 13th, and barring catastrophic starts, mechanical failure or driver error - all three of which have haunted Sauber this season - they should be battling in or around the final points-scoring positions for the whole of Sunday afternoon.

One thing Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn will be desperate to avoid is a repeat of Monaco where Gutierrez had worked his way up to eighth before throwing it all away with a needless crash at Rascasse. The beneficiaries that day? Marussia - the team that sit above Sauber in the standings…

Two stops the likely strategy - if it stays dry…

Pirelli say that the optimum strategy for the 70-lap race around the Hungaroring is three stops because it maximises the time spent on the faster of the two tyre compounds, the yellow-marked soft. However, because overtaking is so tricky at the Hungaroring, a two-stop strategy - starting on softs, changing to softs again around lap 29 and then to mediums around lap 54 - is more likely.

However, strategy could go out the window if rain arrives…

…but wet weather could throw a curveball

Rain is forecast to fall in the Hungaroring area on Sunday, but possibly not until after the race. Of course, if that prediction is true it will suit some drivers and teams more than others: Rosberg would likely be delighted with the rain holding off, whilst Lotus - who qualified down the order and whose E22 has demonstrated good pace in damp conditions - wouldn't mind a bit of the wet stuff. And we've already mentioned how rain could help Hamilton's ascent through the pack.

It has rained very rarely in the 28-year history of the Hungarian Grand Prix, but when the heavens have opened we've seen some terrific races. One man who knows that better than most is McLaren's Jenson Button who took his maiden Grand Prix win at the Hungaroring in changeable conditions in 2006 and scored an equally impressive victory in similar circumstances in 2011.

Could the weather play into the Briton's hands once more?