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Dieter's Hungarian rhapsody

2011-07-28 11:37


HUNGARY, Budapest - Back in 1985 Formula 1 decided that it had no business being in an oppressed South Africa so it sought new pastures. The sport settled on Hungary, then a country under the (oppressive) USSR rule...

The first race on the “other” side of the Iron Curtain took place on 10 August 1986 and an eye-opener it was for all. On one hand F1 personnel realised just how blessed they were being able to operate in capitalist economies which fed the sport’s voracious appetite for money; on the other, car-crazy communists realised there was more to four wheels than smoky Ladas, Yugos, Dacias and Trabants.

More than 200000 fans paid the equivalent of a month’s wages to attend that inaugural Hungarian GP, held on an undulating circuit in a dustbowl 30km due east of Budapest, on the Pest side of the Danube River.


The race has never looked back; not a year has gone by since without a GP at the Hungaroring. Not many circuits can boast of a similar record. To put that statement in perspective, consider that Germany’s two venues alternate; Imola is long gone, as is the A1-Ring in Austria; France has no GP despite lending the term to the sport; while Portugal, Mexico and the USA are conspicuously absent from the 2011 calendar.

Hungary is now regarded as a classic...

One thing is sure: the clockwise 4381km Hungaroring is like no other, and not only due to its history. It is, apart from Monaco, the slowest circuit on the trail, at an average of 196km/h. Ten of its 14 corners (6L and 8R) taken at less than 155 km/h. Drivers are foot-flat for only 57% of each lap, and make 50 gearchanges per lap.

During the last decade a pace car has been deployed only twice, only half the winners during that period have started from pole, although in 2006 Jenson Button scored his maiden GP in utterly atrocious conditions in a dog of a Honda from 14th on the grid. Brake use is high, due to the stop-start nature of the layout, so tyre degradation is expected to be low.

This prompted Pirelli to specify soft and supersoft compounds as a combination for the third time in 2011, the other's were Monaco and Canada - thrillers both.


Motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “We’ve used the (yellow sidewall) soft tyre in warm weather before, and it showed good performance. The (red) supersoft tyre is almost certain to result in some quick qualifying laps, but obviously doesn't have the same resistance to wear. How teams juggle the parameters of speed and durability will once again form the key to different strategies.”

Speaking of the weather, forecasts are for rain on Friday, July 29, with dry 20C skies predicted for the rest of the weekend.

Having seen four different winners in as many races, we could well see the fifth if 2010’s result is any indication. Mark Webber was victorious after Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel lost both the preceding British and German GP rounds after dominating Valencia – incurred a drive-through penalty for strange behaviour under the safety car. It was a highly popular win for Webber; no doubt he will go all out for a repeat.


The Renault-powered Red Bull is the class of the field, particular through the slow corners which make up the bulk of the Hungaroring, and being winless this season after watching Vettel claim six victories will surely bring out the best in Webber.

After two straight defeats Vettel should hardly feel charitable and will fight tooth and nail to get his winning ways back on track. For a taster, recall Silverstone, where Webber blatantly ignored team orders despite the duo running second and third...

The McLarens could be strong in Hungary but the MP4-26’s aerodynamics are finicky. When they work, they work wonderfully, but when they’re acting up the entire car is woeful. In Germany McLaren was quickest through the fast stuff, but Hungary offers only low speeds, so Lewis Hamilton, on a roll after a superb win in Germany, could struggle.

Then there’s Ferrari: Silverstone winner Fernando Alonso loves the Hungaroring’s kart track-like layout. He won his first GP back in 2003.

Team mate Felipe Massa has only sad memories of the Hungaroring. In 2008 he led handsomely until an engine popped in the closing stages, with the lost points arguably costing him the title; in 2009 a wayward spring from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn car hit Massa's car and took him out for the rest of the season.

So, who will it be in Hungary, before F1 breaks for its four-week summer holiday? It is, frankly, too close to call, particularly as the DRS zone on the (short) main straight should encourage overtaking at a level never seen in Hungary before.

Stay with Wheels24 for the Hungarian weekend

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