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Hungary preview - can Williams spring a surprise?

24 Jul 2014

Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg heads into this weekend’s race in Budapest looking to increase his world championship lead ahead of the summer break, but can he equal team mate Lewis Hamilton’s tally of five 2014 victories, or will Hamilton make it five wins in eight years at the Hungaroring?

Or will a track that has a habit of throwing up interesting results favour the resurgent Williams team, whose flying Finn Valtteri Bottas has taken three consecutive podium finishes?

Four drivers - Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Damon Hill and Heikki Kovalainen - have enjoyed breakthrough victories in Hungary over the years and Bottas would love to add his name to that list.

“We did everything perfectly and managed to keep Lewis behind in the end which got us an extra few points,” he said in Germany last weekend. “But in the future, we are definitely aiming for more and this is not the maximum.”

The 4.381-kilometre Hungaroring is a twisty, technical track which demands the same maximum downforce levels as Monaco, and drivers spend even less time here on full throttle than they do in the Principality. Ten of its 14 corners are taken at 155 km/h or less, which makes it the slowest permanent track on the calendar.

Williams seem to go really well on short courses - notably in Austria and Germany recently - though the influence of the power unit may be slightly less here.

“We are aiming for a good result there so that we head into the holidays with a good feeling,” Bottas says. “We know it's not the best circuit for our car but we are working on getting more grip in the corners and we have some upgrades that should help as well. Qualifying is very important as it's not an easy track to overtake at; normally the race is hot as well so tyre degradation will be high. A good few practice sessions should help us get the set-up right.

“There are always a few fans from Finland, it's almost like a Finnish Grand Prix so I hope to pay them back with a good result.”

Bottas's team mate Felipe Massa could also pose the silver cars a threat at a circuit at which his career was nearly ended by a freak accident in 2009. The Brazilian, who came within three laps of victory here in 2008 before his Ferrari engine gave up, says: “Hungary is a track where a good power unit is a little less important. Aerodynamics play a higher part and getting good downforce for the corners is vital. We have worked hard to get the car ready for this type of circuit and if that has all worked we should still be competitive. I hope to be able to get lots more points this weekend.”

Hamilton, who last year added a fourth Hungary win to the three he won in 2007, 2009 and 2012, disagrees with the Williams drivers’ assessment of the track on one point.

“I think it is possible to overtake there,” he says, without wishing to elucidate further than mentioning the long pit straight. “Obviously I’m going there to try and win. In Germany I went with the right mentality and preparation to have won.

“I never pray or wish for good luck, I just don’t want any bad luck. I just want to be able to go out and do the job. A clean weekend is what I’m looking for and coming away with some good points and then having the summer break to get some rest time.”

Hamilton was set back by a failure of the front-right disc brake in qualifying at Hockenheim last week, and the Hungaroring is one of those tight tracks that demands good brake cooling. That’s been a problem for Mercedes at times this year, so they’ll be paying special attention to that.

Red Bull and Ferrari prefer the tighter tracks where their power deficits are less painful, so don’t rule them out of podium contention, while McLaren hope to continue the upward trends facilitated by a new rear wing at Hockenheim, as Force India look to maintain their record of scoring at every race so far this season.

Pirelli are bringing their white-marked medium and yellow-marked soft tyres to Hungary, seeking to provide the right compromise between performance and resistance to the high ambient temperatures. The Hungaroring isn’t particularly demanding on tyres, but the non-stop series of corners means that the compounds don’t get much opportunity to cool down over the course of a lap.

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery says: “Hungary is well-known for being a tricky layout, where it’s difficult to overtake and to find a perfect set-up for the whole lap. This means that strategy is especially important, as it offers a rare opportunity to gain track position.

“The weather is normally a talking point, but having seen how our tyres performed in the very hot track temperatures of Hockenheim, we’re confident that this shouldn’t be a problem. The tyres we are bringing to Hungary are a step harder, to deal with the increased demands, so we would expect the usual two pit stops – although we will only have a better idea of this once we get to free practice on Friday.”

The track layout remains the same as last year, though speed bumps have been installed two metres from the track edge in the run-off area at Turns 6 and 7. As before, there will be two DRS zones at the circuit, both sharing a single detection point 5m before Turn 14. The activation points are 130m after the apex of Turn 14 and 6m after the apex of Turn 1.

The weather forecast for this weekend is unsettled, with sun and 28 degrees Celsius temperatures expected on Friday, but storms in the region on Saturday and Sunday when the temperature highs will be 29 and 30 respectively.

The race, which begins at 1400 hours local time (two hours ahead of GMT) will be run over 70 laps or 306.630 kilometres (190.553 miles).