By Bob Constanduros
Late July and it’s hard to believe that we are only just about at the half way mark in this year’s World Championship. That comes on lap 35 of the 70 lap Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend and at that stage it’s highly likely that the Mercedes drivers will still only be separated by one point. And raining or not, we will still be experiencing a very open race with tactics relying on several unknown factors.
For a start, here we once again have a circuit that has been resurfaced. When this happens, you first of all get a dark surface which absorbs heat. Today the track surface temperature is nearing the mid-fifties which will in turn have its effect on the working of the tyres. But there’s more to it than just a new surface: it can be an aggressive surface and it will almost certainly be very smooth – which again affects tyre temperatures, degradation and wear, not just in cornering but also traction and braking.
Add to that the new tyre rules which see Pirelli bring three compounds of tyres to each race instead of just two, allowing teams to make their own aggressive tyre choices, particularly as they will usually have to start on the softest compound which earned them a top ten position on the grid. So instead of a two stop strategy as last year, we could see a three stop strategy.
So take this into account: most teams/drivers have opted for just one set of the harder compound of tyres but Force India and Gutierrez have gone for two sets. When it comes to the yellow softs, Ferrari and Gutierrez have gone for just three sets whereas the rest of the field have gone for four or five sets. And for the supersofts, Ferrari have gone for nine sets with everyone else on seven or eight.
So Ferrari have just one set of mediums and three sets of softs; otherwise they are on supersoft tyres which may last just a few laps. I am not saying this is a bad choice – it may turn out to be perfect – but there is a feeling that the Scuderia is desperately gambling as it tries to fulfil the promise that it’s shown.
It’s reminding me of Monty Python’s Piranha Brothers script, in which they set up The Operation protection racket where they threatened to beat up a victim if he paid them protection money. This, they discovered, didn’t work, so they set up The Other Operation where they selected another victim and threatened not to beat him up if he didn’t pay them. This, too, proved to be a non-starter, so they tried The Other Other Operation where they threatened to beat up the victim if he didn’t pay them. This proved to be the turning point. (The skit was based on the violent Kray brothers of the era).
Well, maybe I’m being a bit unkind but Ferrari’s latest plan to bring back Ross Brawn smacks of desperation and perhaps The Other Other Operation. Ferrari chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne is rightly cracking the whip and expecting to see results. He’s frustrated that he’s still not getting them. But it is hard to turn around something that quickly. The solution, according to Monty Python, is clearly to try The Other Operation but it’s getting pretty crucial. James Allison, the technical director, we know is a talented guy. He’s been at Ferrari before, his father is Air Chief Marshal Sir John Allison who certainly knows how to manage personnel. This would be very far from a Monty Python skit.
But if Mercedes is looking over its shoulder at a close challenger, then it must be looking at Red Bull, not Ferrari. The Red Bull chassis has always been good and that’s crucial here at the Hungaroring. It’s not a power circuit and Red Bull won here with Daniel Ricciardo a couple of years ago. It is very much a Red Bull-type circuit and with both drivers on form, providing they make the right calls, they should probably be Mercedes biggest challenger.
And what of the championship leaders? There’s no doubt that Lewis Hamilton is the man of the moment and there’s no doubt that he’s the front runner. Nico Rosberg will be more determined than ever to overcome him, but I believe that will be a hard act. Having said that, Lewis’s four wins and five poles here make him the driver to beat at this circuit and in a car that is the class of the field – but being reeled in – then he has the best chance.
Of course last year we had a superb race – perhaps an unaccustomed one considering the difficulties of overtaking here, but then again, Jenson Button won from 14th on the grid so it must be possible. There is, however, the chance of rain on Saturday afternoon to disrupt qualifying and even in the race on Sunday, so nothing but nothing is certain. Which is just the way we like it!