Thursday, 1 August 2013

Why a commitment to racing in Hungary until 2021 is an excellent move by Bernie.

Monaco without the walls: A phrase often used to describe the Hungaroring due to its twisty nature and lack of overtaking opportunities. The circuit provides drivers with a complex technical challenge due to the high number of corners in comparison with the length of the circuit. Fourteen corners on a track with the third slowest lap of the year and the shortest bar Monaco makes it difficult, because drivers aren't given the safety of multiple long straights to rest. Renowned for being a track where passing opportunities are like gold dust, and therefore a good qualifying session is priceless, the number of wins scored from pole position is surprisingly low. Thirteen wins from pole in twenty eight races. In the last nine years, the ability to turn pole into victory has belonged solely to Lewis Hamilton. Turning a magnificent pole into a magnificent win last weekend was a carbon copy of the result obtained last year, and of his win in 2007 following his inherited pole position from team mate Fernando Alonso, after the Spaniard was accused of impeding him during qualifying. In the years scattered amongst Hamilton's triumphant pole to chequered flag victories, the Hungaroring has thrown up some unexpected results.

Lewis Hamilton turned two consecutive pole positions into perfect victories in 2012 and 2013.

The dominance of Sebastian Vettel in 2011 bypassed Hungary as he was unable to convert his pole position into a win. Rain fell just before the race causing a slippery start; one made on intermediate tyres. On lap five, Vettel went wide gifting the lead to Lewis Hamilton, then as the track started to dry, Button made one of his astute tyre decisions, choosing an early move to slicks to move him above Vettel, tucked up behind his team mate. A second brave tyre decision by Button, this time to stay out after a brief shower, put him in prime position to take the victory.

Jenson Button took the victory from Sebastian Vettel after making good tyre choices in mixed conditions.

Sebastian Vettel was also unable to take the win his qualifying lap had set him up so well for in 2010. A change to Mark Webber's strategy following an incident on track requiring a safety car, in addition to a penalty for Vettel for breaching the rules regarding distance kept from it, resulted in the German watching his team mate take the win in a season in which the two of them were vying for the title.

2010 podium.  Despite being polesitter, Vettel watches his team mate stand on the top step after the race.

Fernando Alonso put his Renault on pole for the 2009 race, but it wasn't a healthy race for the team as his car was carrying a fuel pump problem on top of issues with badly graining tyres. A lengthy pit stop obviously wasn't long enough as his exit from the pits revealed the front right wheel wasn't correctly attached. His efforts in hauling his stricken Renault round the track on three wheels to return to the pits were not rewarded as the following lap proved fatal with the earlier fuel pump problem ending his race which was won by Lewis Hamilton.

2008 saw Lewis Hamilton capture his second Budapest pole position and was the year of the duel for the championship between himself and Felipe Massa. The lead of the race was mostly contested between the two of them, until misfortune struck both, firstly Lewis with a punctured tyre followed by Massa with a failed engine, leaving second McLaren driver, Heikki Kovalainen to take the lead and the victory.

Kimi Raikkonen was polesitter for the 2006 Grand Prix but crashed after a battle with his second set of tyres, giving Alonso the lead, until a loose tyre meant Jenson Button inherited it to take his maiden Formula One victory. 2005 was the scene of a battle between pole sitter Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen who eventually overcame the German to triumph.

Although won from pole this year, the race was littered with interesting moments right from the start as Fernando Alonso used the same wizardry positioning we have seen at many races this season to move up the field on the first lap; this time taking fourth from Rosberg at Turn 2. After losing his place to one Ferrari, Nico made contact with the other, causing small parts of both cars to be sprayed across the track; action watched by following driver Kimi Raikkonen, who was just recovering from his own swift excursion onto the grass.

With Mark Webber leading the race following the first round of pit stops for the leaders, himself being on a different strategy, and those leaders rejoining the track behind Jenson Button, also in a different race, meant that we were treated to a great battle for fourth position. Nursing an overheating KERS system, Sebastian Vettel wasn't able to make an easy move on the McLaren, meaning we were treated to some feisty attacking from him, while being hunted by Romain Grosjean who was increasingly able to glimpse the scarlet of Alonso in his mirrors. The contest peaked on lap 24 with a great Vettel overtake on Button at turn 5, then like a domino effect as they streaked away from the corner, Grosjean and Alonso also took advantage.

Other good overtaking moves included one from Grosjean on Felipe Massa, although the Frenchman was later penalised for gaining advantage by leaving the track, and a subsequent Button move also on the Brazilian. Lewis Hamilton, running on newer tyres, was able to pull off a beautiful overtake round the outside of Mark Webber and on lap 51, passed the Australian again, this time on the inside of the hairpin. The end of the race wasn't void of entertainment as Vettel attempted to snatch second position from Kimi Raikkonen two laps from the chequered flag.

At a track known for its lack of overtaking opportunities, there are bound to be processional moments, but Hungary always balances these with ones full of excitement. One of the most celebrated overtaking moves in history is Nelson Piquet on Ayrton Senna at the inaugural Hungarian GP in 1986. Stalking him down the straight heading towards turn 1, the elder Brazilian drifted deftly around the outside of his younger countryman as if he was piloting a Star Wars land speeder.

Having secured its future on the calendar until 2021, Bernie Ecclestone has recognised the value the Hungaroring gives to racing in Europe. Hungary don't have a Formula One talent of their own to follow, but that doesn't dent their passion. They turn up to the race in vociferous droves. It is also a place visited by fans from all over Europe; very heavily populated by those from Finland, Kimi fans in particular, but also from Estonia, Spain, Britain, not to mention the host of Robert Kubica fans from Poland. The mix of different nationalities from all over the continent ensures that a wide range of drivers are supported, making the race, and atmosphere particularly special and unique. Changes in attendance that may be caused by the inclusion of a Russian Grand Prix are yet to be seen, but the large contingent of visiting Germans, despite having their own Grand Prix, would suggest it won't make a difference. The same elaborate costumes that appear every year are tangible evidence of the appetite and desire fans at the Hungaroring have, and of the consistent and committed support they give.

Often a hot race, the Hungarian GP is a place where passion for the sport matches the soaring temperatures, where fans from all over the continent join together at an impeccable venue to share their love for this sport. Well done Bernie, this was a decision well made.    

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