When the FIA announced a 21-race calendar for the 2016 it’s likely that few really took notice of what this actually meant. As the paddock heads to the Hungaroring in Budapest, Hungary for the 11th round it will, astonishingly, only reach the halfway mark of the season on lap 35 of the race.
The 70 laps of the Hungaroring are akin to a street circuit thanks to its tight and twisting layout. The second sector especially highlights the flowing nature of the circuit, as it comprises eight medium to high speed flowing turns that demand absolute precision.
The price for its kart-like layout and lack of straits is that overtaking opportunities are not obvious or abundant. The most predictable overtaking opportunity is an out-braking maneuver into turn one.
The top two teams in the championship are split on tyre strategy. Pirelli is bringing the white-walled medium, yellow-walled soft, and red-walled supersoft tyre compounds to the race. Ferrari has loaded up on nine sets of supersoft tyres each for Raikkonen and Vettel while Mercedes have opted for eight sets of the softest tyre for Rosberg and Hamilton. The Hungaroring is a circuit that is notoriously low on grip for which the supersoft tyre is ideal.
The Red Bull team are primed for a good weekend in Hungary. The improved Renault power unit is not quite to the standard of Mercedes and Ferrari but it’s not far off. But they do excel in the aerodynamic department and with a better power unit than ever bolted to the back of the Red Bull and the tight and twisting nature of the Hungaroring Christian Horner and his team can be more than bullish about their chances, pun intended.
The inter-team rivalry between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will be especially interesting to note this weekend. In their six races, so far, as teammates Verstappen has scored 77 points to Ricciardo’s 64 points. But the Hungarian grand prix will be a big test for the Verstappen vs. Ricciardo battle.
Ricciardo has an affinity for the tight and twisty circuits as he has proved on several occasions including earlier this year in Monaco. The Aussie knows his way around the Hungaroring too as it was here, in 2014, that he pulled off several magnificent overtaking moves to win a memorable race. This will be a good indicator of how Verstappen is progressing. “I have to up my game compared to where I was before in Toro Rosso because he [Ricciardo] is very quick,” said Verstappen.
It should be a better weekend for Ferrari too. As it stands Kimi Raikkonen currently sits third in the championship with 106 points while teammate Sebastian Vettel is fifth on 98 points. However, the team experienced their worst race weekend, in terms of performance, at Silverstone. But Raikkonen believes that the team’s struggles in Britain were a once off. The biggest issue, which plagued Ferrari at the last race weekend, was the cooler weather. It’s a well-documented fact that both drivers struggle to get the front tyres to the correct operating temperature in cool condition. This shouldn’t be an issue this weekend as the Hungarian grand prix weekend in hot summer conditions.
But while Red Bull and Ferrari are likely to be in better shape for Hungary the ever-dominant Mercedes will still be lurking. The qualifying pace advantage will be a big asset around a circuit where overtaking is difficult. Nevertheless, while the two Silver Arrows are in prime form they should, and likely will, face stiff competition for the top step of the podium in Hungary.