The second half of 2017 Formula One season begins this weekend in Budapest with the 33rd edition of Hungarian Grand Prix. Mercedes’ driver Lewis Hamilton will be hoping to keep the Hungary run going having broken Michael Schumacher’s record of most wins in Hungary last year by becoming the first driver in Formula One history to win the race five times.
This weekend, the Brit could, once again, equal one of Schumacher’s greatest career milestones by reaching his all-time pole positions record.
Schumacher stands on 68, one more than Hamilton’s 67. Hamilton has excellent form at the Hungaroring and has taken pole position five times at this track. Schumacher, however, holds the record for most pole positions at the Hungaroring with seven – a mark Hamilton cannot reach this weekend.
The battle for both constructors’ and drivers’ championships are very much in the balance right now, and whatever happens this weekend will have major impact on how the season pans out in the end. While Mercedes lead the constructors’ championship with 55 points, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel edges Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton with just one point in the drivers’ championship and a win this weekend is crucial for both teams as Formula One heads into summer break after this weekend.
Interestingly, it is difficult to look beyond the two protagonists for points as they have both scored at every race so far this season; indeed they have scored in all 15 races since last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix, where both retired.
For Mercedes’ boss Toto Wolff, there is still a long way to go in the championship battle. “We have reached the halfway point of the 2017 season and both championships are very much in the balance right now.
The points tables show that we have a small buffer in the constructors’ race and a small deficit on the drivers’ side. But that’s not important at this stage – there are no prizes awarded for the half-time champions.’’
The Hungaroring has a habit of defying expectations. The track has a justifiable reputation for being difficult to overtake on and therefore taking pole position is extremely important. However none of the past three winners started from pole position and only two of the last nine pole sitters won the race.
Similarly, Red Bull’s reputation for excelling on this type of high-downforce track is not borne out by their performance over the years. They only won once during their championship-winning seasons, and Daniel Ricciardo added another success for the team in 2014.
This is one of only two tracks on the calendar where three different teams have won in the three previous seasons, the other being Sepang. In both cases Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull were the winners.
A lap of the Hungaroring track is bookended by pairs of hairpins. But the intervening run featured a series of switchback medium-speed corners of the type where the new generation of Formula One cars can really strut their stuff.
The teams need to find a second and a half compared to last year in order to keep their 100% run of breaking all the track records. That should be possible, but 70 runs through that middle sector is really going to take it out of the drivers, especially if the hot Hungarian weather runs true to form.
Last year the track was resurfaced, easing many of the bumps, and had new kerbs fitted. This change was criticised last year by many drivers including Vettel and Hamilton.
However, Pirelli’s Head of Car Racing, Mario Isola is relishing the effect of that change this weekend. “The track was resurfaced in time for last year’s Grand Prix and it will be interesting to see the effect of this change one year on, as the new asphalt matures. We noticed last year that it was smoother and generally faster than the previous surface. The team’s tyre selections have leaned in favour of soft and supersoft, so we obviously expect that to form the basis of their strategies.’’
Hungarian Grand Prix in Brief
Track length: 4.381 km
Tyre allocation: Medium (white), Supersoft (red) and soft (yellow)
Lap record: Michael Schumacher – 1:19.071 (Ferrari; 2004)
Number of times: 32 (first held in 1936)
Most wins (drivers): Lewis Hamilton (5 wins)
Most wins (constructors): McLaren (11 wins)
Last Race (2016)
Pole: Nico Rosberg – Mercedes – 1:19.965
Podium: Lewis Hamilton- Mercedes – 1:40:30.115; Nico Rosberg – Mercedes- +1.977s; Daniel Ricciardo – Red Bull – +27.539s;
Fastest lap: Kimi Raikkonen – Ferrari – 1:23.08
Last Five Winners
2016: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2015: Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
2014: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
2013: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2012: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
In Rich Vein of Form
Mercedes heads to Hungary in fine form, having won three of the past four races. After an inconsistent start, the Silver Arrows appear to have had the edge over a Ferrari team that has not tasted the winners champagne since May’s Monaco Grand Prix. More alarmingly for the Scuderia, Mercedes has now recorded twice as many victories this season as the outfit clad in all red. Is this a sign that Mercedes understands the issues it faced with its complex W08 earlier in the year and has now stolen a march on its rivals in the development race? Or has the German manufacturer’s upturn in results been down to a run of circuits that suits its 2017 challenger better than Ferrari’s?
It has likely been a case of both. Having repeatedly claimed that Ferrari had the best car earlier in the year, Lewis Hamilton said the teams were level on performance following his British Grand Prix triumph. On the other hand, Sebastian Vettel believes Mercedes still holds an advantage due to its qualifying engine modes, which has seen the team power to eight pole positions compared to Ferrari’s two.
The reigning world champions seem to have found a work-around for its longer wheelbase design — which hurt the team in Monaco — as well as warm-up-related issues regarding tyre performance, specifically with getting Pirellis softest
Struggling with Form
Championship leader Vettel saw his healthy 20-point advantage at the top of the drivers’ standings pre-Silverstone reduced to just a single point at the British Grand Prix, which marked the half-way stage of the 2017 campaign. Hamilton dominated to score a record-equalling victory and enjoy a 19-point swing in his favour, aided by Ferrari’s late tyre troubles.
Since gracing the top step of the podium at the Monaco Grand Prix in May, Vettel has scored just 48 points compared to Bottas’ 79 and Hamilton’s 72, while Ricciardo has also outscored the German by 17 points. Vettel will be desperate to return to winning ways and restore his advantage over Hamilton in the championship ahead of the summer break.
Big Look Out
Another factor in the destination of this year’s title fight comes in the shape of Red Bull. Having lagged behind rivals Ferrari and Mercedes at the beginning of the season after failing to crack 2017’s aerodynamic regulation changes, the Milton Keynes-based outfit has been encouraged by its performances at recent grands prix. While it could be argued Red Bull somewhat lucked into its first victory of the year in Baku, the team showed further promising signs in Austria and Britain. Ricciardo finished just six seconds behind leading duo Bottas and Vettel at the Red Bull Ring — a track which the team has notably struggled at since its return to the calendar in 2014.
While its performance at Silverstone was not as impressive as in Spielberg, it was skewed by Ricciardo’s car failure in qualifying and gearbox penalty, which left the Australian at the very back of the grid. Ricciardo showed stellar pace on Sunday, however, as he recovered from the back not once but twice to finish fifth, one place behind teammate Max Verstappen, who had to make a late pit stop to avoid a tyre failure. Red Bull has closed the gap to Ferrari and Mercedes significantly as the season has progressed and an expected upgrade this weekend should help improve downforce levels at a circuit which traditionally plays to Red Bull’s strengths. If it can continue to make positive strides in the second half of the year, Red Bull could well be mixing it up at the front.
Consistently hot conditions are forecast for this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, which should be even warmer than last year’s race.
A hot spell is coming to the area which should see temperatures exceed 36C next week. The race weekend isn’t expected to be quite as hot as that, but it will be close.
This means only one thing, 2017 Formula One season goes into the summer break without having a weather ‘induced’ win yet.
For two races back to back, I have been spot on with my predictions having favoured Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton for wins in Austria and Silverstone respectively. However, this weekend, I am going to be a little audacious!
Hungaroring being a high-downforce circuit plays to the strength of Red Bull RB13 and on the back of strong Friday practice sessions, Ricciardo is highly favoured this weekend for only his second win of the 2017 Formula One season. But the Australian will need to stave off challenge from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton who will be hoping to take the championship lead for the first time this season.
Hungarian Grand Prix Start Time
The race starts at 1pm Nigerian time on Sunday, 30th July 2017.
Soliu Adeyemo is a renowned Formula 1 Expert. Follow him @SolihuF1 on Twitter and Instagram for more updates and analysis.