In this F1 preview Hungary 2019, Nick van der Meulen, looks ahead at the last race before the F1 summer break.
The Hungarian Grand Prix is often maligned as being one of the most boring races on the F1 calendar. It is tight and twisty, with a relatively long main straight, where the main overtaking point is under braking into Turn 1. As a result, other than for Monaco, qualifying is vital for track position in the race. While the circuit, situated not far outside Budapest, has a bad reputation for lack of overtaking, there have been some spectacular races there in the past.
A long history
The first race was held in 1986 and made history for being the first F1 event to be held behind the erstwhile Iron Curtain. The event saw Nelson Piquet claim victory, after taking the lead spectacularly from Ayrton Senna by driving around the outside of his countryman’s Lotus, the tail of Piquet’s Williams-Honda hanging out before regaining control and romping off to victory (video here). Piquet repeated this feat a year later.
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Nigel Mansell lost a wheel in the closing stages of the race after he had dominated proceedings. Mansell was to have his day in the Hungarian sun, however, albeit two years later. The Englishman, now driving for Ferrari, had a troubled qualifying and started 13th on the grid. He produced a spirited performance, with some spectacular passes, on race day to take a famous victory – a day which saw him earn his stripes in the eyes of the Tifosi and earn his nickname given by them “Il Leone” (the lion).
The Budapest circuit also saw one of the greatest heartbreak stories in F1 history, which involved Damon Hill in 1997. Hill, having won the world championship for Williams-Renault in 1996, was pushed aside in favour of Heinz-Harald Frentzen in 1997 and the Englishman found a drive at Tom Walkinshaw’s Arrows outfit. Arrows had been in F1 since 1978 (making its debut at Kyalami) and had yet to win a Grand Prix.
On that day in 1997, Hill came agonizingly close to making history for the team, who were running with Yamaha engines. He overtook championship protagonists Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher for the lead and pulled a gap of 35 seconds over his rivals by the closing stages of the race. It all went awry for the world champion with three laps remaining, when the Arrows’ hydraulics system failed, leaving the racecar stuck in third gear. Hill struggled to nurse the car to victory, but Villeneuve overhauled him on the final lap to reach the chequered flag first. It was the closest Arrows (and Yamaha) came to winning an F1 Grand Prix… (you can see that and other Hungaroring incidents in this video)
Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton must be the favourite to win in Hungary. He holds the record for the most victories here (six) and won last season. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) has also won here in the past (twice), as has Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen (once each). Hamilton will be pushed hard by team mate Valtteri Bottas, still smarting from last weekend’s brush with the wall, and the Ferraris of Vettel and Charles Leclerc (also still hurting from losing out on a strong finish at Hockenheim).
The Red Bull-Honda’s fine handling will also see Max Verstappen in contention – although he may lack the straight-line speed of the Ferraris and Mercedes. Pierre Gasly (Red Bull-Honda) is under more severe pressure as the season approaches its halfway point: his teammate has won twice and he has been trailing in the Dutchman’s wake all season. Yes, he is struggling to adapt to a team where Verstappen is well established, but Christian Horner is expecting better results from the Frenchman and is beginning to express his irritation to the press.
The battle for the minor positions will continue to rage between McLaren-Renault, Renault, Toro Rosso-Honda and Alfa Romeo, however, Racing Point and Haas-Ferrari will still push hard to surprise despite their issues as of late. Formula One can still be unpredictable, as was demonstrated at Hockenheim. Williams managed to score a point, after all…despite their maladies this season. The Hungarian Grand Prix can spring a surprise in this regard.