F1 Hungarian GP: Welcome to the Blacktop Parade

We knew coming into this weekend that the Hungaroring isn’t a circuit known for being passing friendly. Despite how interesting the Pirelli tyres have made this season, nothing could save the parade route known as the Hungaroring. Lewis Hamilton led away from the lights and never had to worry about a passing manoeuvre on track to win his second race of the season.

There’s not much to this week’s race recap. Hamilton’s win was essentially sealed on Saturday when he won the pole. All that needed to happen was for the pit stop strategy to work out and his crew to not make any mistakes. He never had to worry about a pass on track. There’s only one corner where a pass could be made and you need more luck than skill to make a pass happen there, even with the help of DRS.

Anyway, Hamilton led away from the lights followed by Grosjean. Jenson Button got around Sebastian Vettel when he was blocked by Grosjean in turn one. The race remained that way until Jenson’s second stop. He went for a three stop strategy, as did Vettel. However, Button committed to it earlier than the German which resulted in the Brit being stuck back in traffic and ruining his race. Up front, Kimi Raikkonen used a long second stint on the medium tyres (the prime tyres this weekend) to vault up the order from fifth after the first round of stops to second. He was able to chase down Hamilton but couldn’t make a pass.

Romain Grosjean ran in second most of the race but had to settle for third after losing out to his teammate on pit stops. A three-stop strategy worked for Vettel as he finished fourth. Fernando Alonso had an uneventful day as he finished in fifth. Rounding out the points paying positions were Button, Bruno Senna, Mark Webber, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg.

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If you were to apply a technical term to Michael Schumacher’s weekend in Hungary, I think you’d have to go with craptacular. Old Seven Time probably had his worst weekend of his comeback this weekend after a series of good performances since Valencia.

The weekend started with a practice crash in the rain on Friday in which he locked-up and skidded nose-first into the tyre wall. The car had no pace on Saturday as he qualified in 17th which put him behind Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso (16th). His teammate didn’t fare much better as Nico Rosberg timed in 13th. His race almost didn’t start as Schumacher parked out of position on the grid after Kobayashi stole his grid slot and switched off his engine when confused about the aborted start. Then he got a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane after pitting at the end of Lap 1 due to a punctured tyre. To top it off, he retired the car with ten laps to go (presumably to get a free gearbox).

Everyone is entitled to a bad weekend every know and then. However, when you’re under as much scrutiny as the firmer seven-time World Drivers’ Champion, it’s likely to get blown out of proportion into discussion whether or not he can still compete and if he should retire again. In other words, I think the Schumacher storyline over the summer break will be the same as it was this time in 2010 and 2011. The sad thing is that this is Schumacher’s best season since his comeback and he’s definitely cemented himself as a top ten driver.

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If I was Felipe Massa, I’d start looking at how much money I can get from personal sponsors and seeing who has seats open for next season. After very publicly failing to sign Mark Webber for the 2013 season, the rumour mill seems to indicate that Scuderia Ferrari considers holding onto Massa as an absolute last resort for next year.

Two more drivers are rumoured to be the target of Ferrari’s affection. First, it looks as though former Ferrari F1 driver Kimi Raikkonen is the top prize for the Scuderia. His contract with Lotus is believed to expire at the end of this season which would make him a free agent. The big stumbling block is believed to be the less than good terms between Raikkonen and Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo as a result of their previous time together. The other Ferrari target is rumoured to be Jenson Button. I’ve only seen this rumour on Twitter from some F1 media people but apparently Ferrari is interested in the Brit. However, I would think that signing Button would be a more long-term move which would indicate that Vettel won’t join Ferrari in 2015. Button would only be 34 after the 2014 season which would seem a little young for a former World Champion to retire.

Ferrari is looking at younger drivers to fill in for Massa next season. This includes Sergio Perez, Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta. However, it’s believed that Ferrari haven’t seen enough in terms of results to confirm that it would be an improvement over Massa.

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Bernie Ecclestone held an informal meeting with the press in Hungary. He dropped by the press room on Saturday and talked about the 2013 calendar. Bernie told the press that next year’s calendar will have 20 races and hinted that Hockenheim may replace the Nurburgring as the host of the German Grand Prix while the latter circuit goes through its bankruptcy proceedings.

Currently, there are 18 races with a contract signed for next year. The two races from this year that haven’t signed a contract for next season are Japan (Suzuka) and Singapore. With Valencia being dropped from the calendar to alternate with Barcelona, the Grand Prix of America on the Port Imperial Street Circuit in New Jersey will become the 20th event on the calendar. Of course, Ecclestone doesn’t think that the permanent race facilities at Port Imperial will be ready for next June. I have to wonder if that means that Bernie has something up his sleeve to ensure that we’ll see twenty F1 races next year. He has been talking about races in France and Argentina in the recent past.

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Continuing our look ahead to future seasons, there’s bad news for PURE, the engine building company founded by former BAR boss Craig Pollock. The company has temporarily suspended operations due to a lack of funding. Pollock says the matter is a tax law related issue. PURE major backer is American while operations are based in Germany. Swiss authorities want PURE’s bridge financing to come from Europe to avoid the exploitation of any tax loopholes. Pollock says he’s already working on finding bridge financing in Europe and expects the problem to sort itself out this week.

If I was PURE and Pollock, I wouldn’t be worried about having money now. His problem will be money in the future. The addition of PURE will result in five engine manufacturers supplying 12 teams who are capped at four teams per supplier. Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault will all have teams to supply and teams looking to get their engines. Cosworth and PURE might be left supplying just one team come 2014. That’s when having money and bridge financing will be critical.

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We’ve got a long break before our next race. We’ve reached this season’s summer break. Rather than the traditional four week break between events, this year, there are five weeks between the Hungarian Grand Prix and the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. I can’t help but be a little excited to see what the exhaust-blown diffuser ban and the Pirelli tyres mean for drivers tackling Eau Rouge. It used to be that taking Eau Rouge flat-out either meant you had the biggest pair of balls on the grid or you were the craziest driver on the grid. Now, it doesn’t seem like such a challenge to keep your foot pinned to the floor.

If there’s a track that will favour the Mercedes-powered cars, it’s Spa (and Monza but that’s the week after). The long stretches of full-throttle from La Source through to Les Combes and from Stavelot to the Bus Stop will favour the high-horsepower cars. Ferrari and Red Bull aren’t entirely without a chance this weekend. They did dominate at Silverstone which is another fast circuit but it’s definitely nowhere near as fast as Spa. Those new updates on the McLarens are very racy, though. You’d have to think that the boys in silver and red are the favourites when we return from summer break.

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