We’re past half way in the Formula One season, but the Hungarian Grand Prix could prove to be the real turning point.
The outcome of the World Championship now depends on whether Ferrari can come up with an answer to a McLaren car improved to the point of dominance and Lewis Hamilton spectacularly on-form.
Add the possibility of another wet race, a prospect that will play to Hamilton’s strengths and Felipe Massa’s weaknesses, and this weekend’s outing should be unmissable.
Hamilton will be aiming to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Ayrton Senna, who won at the circuit three times for McLaren. Personal motivation seems to have done a lot for the young racer at circuits such as Monaco and Silverstone, so that could be another factor in play this weekend.
Heikki Kovalainen will also have an added dollop of confidence, born of the news that his McLaren drive is safe for another year.
But Massa’s proved himself tenacious, and Kimi Raikkonen can more than hold his own in a war of attrition, as he proved last season. Both drivers, come the weekend, will have everything to play for.
Speaking in his team’s race preview, Lewis Hamilton said: “I’m wary about making any strong predictions; yes, we were strong in the last two races, but we encountered difficulties in the two before that, so it’s impossible to call it this weekend.
“All I can say is that our car feels fantastic at the moment and I’m really enjoying driving it: it feels like you can keep fine-tuning it to extract more performance from it, which is a fantastic feeling for any racing driver.”
He said that racing in Hungary would be a very different experience than in Germany.
“Hockenheim is a track that allows you to slipstream and pass other drivers fairly easily, the Hungaroring is the opposite of that. Qualifying will be crucial, and strategy will also be important in determining the optimum fuel-weight for the opening stint.
“It will be hot and tiring too, so keeping your focus and concentration will be vital. I don’t go into this weekend surfing any particular wave of confidence: it’s such a different type of circuit that it’s difficult for anybody to feel certain about their chances.”
He said that securing a narrow lead in the World Championship would not cause him to change his driving style.
“It’s easy to say that you’ll treat each race with a certain amount of respect. But the reality is that I haven’t changed my style: it seems to work for me and I enjoy pushing hard to achieve a good result.
“That’s when I feel I am operating at my maximum and it’s potentially dangerous to start thinking about changing your approach at this point in the season.
“I’ll be honest: my approach has served me fairly well so far and I’d need to give it some serious thought before attempting to change it. Let’s just say it will be business as usual in Hungary this weekend.”
Jenson Button is looking forward to returning to the circuit on which he scored his sole grand prix victory – during a wet race, which might just occur again this weekend.
He said: “The Hungarian Grand Prix will always be a special race for me as the venue of my first win in Formula One but obviously I would much prefer to be going back with the chance to challenge for the win again.
“The new parts which we tested in Jerez last week are a small step forward, so it will be interesting to see how this places us in the midfield pack for the race weekend.
“The Hungaroring circuit itself has a good rhythm and a nice mix of slow-speed and high-speed turns. A lap around the circuit is actually quite a challenge because there is no respite and no opportunity to relax your hands, so you are gripping the steering wheel hard the whole time.”
Honda team principal Ross Brawn added: “The Hungaroring is a low-speed and high-downforce track where we will face similar challenges to Monaco, albeit with a different layout and corner speeds.
“We frequently see high ambient temperatures during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend which, combined with a low average speed of 197kph, can make engine and brake cooling a challenge.
“The supersoft Bridgestone Potenza tyre is fastest here and it is important to maintain a balance to avoid graining and overheating.
“The track generates grip throughout the weekend, even during the race, therefore anticipating the best set-up for the conditions is key.”
Red Bull’s race preview is a humorous look at potential cost-cutting measures including “drivers who consistently crash to be given special, high-tech, rubber nosecones.”
Er… could they be thinking of anyone in particular?