Maranello, 23 July – The Formula 1 season moves along at such a frantic pace that there is very little time to pause for breath, as team personnel are always looking ahead to the next race, the next technical upgrade and the next flight. However, after this coming Sunday’s race at the Hungaroring, the sport faces a 28 day hiatus until the red lights go out above the race track at Spa-Francorchamps to signal the start of the following Grand Prix. It will be time for the summer break and a two week factory shut-down for all the teams, when no work is allowed. Before then, there’s the small matter of 70 laps of the 4.381 kilometre Hungaroring to deal with.
What was once seen as an exotic trip into the unknown of Eastern Europe is now a very familiar venue, given this will be the twenty eighth year Formula 1 has visited the Magyar track, since its 1986 debut. Only Scuderia Ferrari’s home race at Monza and the Monaco Grand Prix can boast a longer run of consecutive races on the F1 calendar. Just a short drive from the beautiful capital city of Budapest, this event always hosts a large and vocal crowd, much of its support directed at Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. In a bizarre twist of human nature, what was a life threatening incident at the 2009 race here, became a life affirming moment for the Brazilian and made him more popular than ever with the local fans. “The Hungarian Grand Prix is a very special event for me, that brings back a lot of memories” – confirms Felipe. “Naturally, there are some negative memories from my accident, but also positive ones in that I am here today, getting ready for Budapest, healthy and still racing. I love the fans in Hungary, as I actually have a lot more of them since my accident, so it’s somewhere I am always pleased to go back to and of course I hope I can have a good race there this weekend.”
The difficulties and quirks of the Hungaroring are well documented – with 14 corners and a short straight all packed into just over four kilometres, overtaking, even with DRS is never easy, because the corners all run into one another, while dirt off the racing line adds to the risk of making a passing move. However, from a pure driving perspective, it’s great fun for the drivers. “It’s a short track, with a lot of corners one after the other with no long straights” – says Felipe – “Overtaking is difficult, with changes of direction all the time, which make it a fun track. So it’s an old style race track and Sunday afternoon can be tough, but I like going back to these old fashioned venues.”
On paper at least, the Hungaroring might not seem well suited to the F138 and the difficulty in overtaking puts a greater premium than usual on qualifying well and getting a good grid position, a well documented weak point for the Prancing Horse. Felipe is not convinced the pundits are right. “For sure people say the characteristics of our car are not best suited to this circuit and that it will be tough for us to fight for the win here, but I am not sure this is an accurate assessment, because there have been other circuits where we expected our car to be very strong and it was not and vice versa. The important thing will be to get a good understanding of exactly how the car is reacting as quickly as possible. The circuit requires as much downforce as possible, because the speed down the straight is not so important here. You need a car that is very stable and that is kind to the tyres to avoid degradation. I think we can be competitive, so I’m hoping our weekend goes in the opposite way to what people are expecting.”
Last week, Felipe spent a half day at the Silverstone test, his work restricted by the FIA to evaluating the new tyres that Pirelli will supply as from this weekend, which use the 2012 tyre construction with this year’s compounds. It was a useful exercise, as was the two and a half days that Scuderia Ferrari development driver Davide Rigon spent on track, to exploit his “young driver” status, meaning the team could also evaluate different technical settings on the car. Having originally planned to bring their Hard tyre as the Prime, the Italian manufacturer has now nominated the Medium and Soft compounds, a choice which certainly suits the F138 better. “I expect the tyres will be critical again, especially in relation to temperature” – affirms Ferrari’s Brazilian driver. “They will perform very differently in qualifying and the race and I hope we can make the most of the high temperatures.” Indeed, very high temperatures are predicted all week, with the mercury sizzling up to 37 degrees on race day.
Not only does this race signal the start of the summer break, it is also the mid-point of the nineteen race season, a combination of factors that mean a good result on Sunday can be savoured for a while and provide a welcome boost when hostilities resume for the second half of the year. “For a driver, the most important thing is always the race result and I hope this weekend will deliver that for me, as the last couple of races have not been so successful” – admits Felipe. “There was always something happening which meant I couldn’t finish as high up as I should have done. Therefore what I would like most of all is to turn things around, because going on holiday with a good result under my belt would really make the difference.”