F1 Hungarian GP: I Went to an F1 Race and a Parade Broke Out

f1-2013-hungary-hamilton-victoryThis year’s Hungarian Grand Prix was a downright stonker of a race featuring a grand total of five on-track passes (two passes on equal tyres and no DRS). And you wonder why I’m constantly down on this race and this track. Lewis Hamilton qualified for the race on the pole and shockingly managed to convert that into a win on the notoriously hard to pass track.

Fortunately, if you were looking for excitement, there was all sorts of interesting Formula One news since the last race. As is often the case at the Hungaroring, you just have to look off-track for the action.

The race was won on Saturday as the Mercedes car of Lewis Hamilton held onto its single-lap pace despite the change in tyre construction between Germany and Hungary. However, it wasn’t a lights to flag win. Alternate pit stop strategies cycled various cars to the point, including Mark Webber and Romain Grosjean.

Most of the passing that did occur was a result of cars running with tyres of varying life and grip levels (which is why Pirelli makes tyres this way in the first place) and one televised DRS-aided pass.

The most exciting and possibly fastest driver of the race was Lotus’ Romain Grosjean. His pit stop strategy put him into traffic but he was actually able to make passes. He passed Jenson Button with a little bit of argy-bargy as the two banged into each other looking for the same real estate on corner entry. That happened in the first-third of the race but resulted in a 20-second post-race time penalty because the FIA race stewards are impossibly terrible at their jobs. He also got a drive-through penalty for passing Felipe Massa with four wheels outside the white lines. He should have gotten free use of DRS for the lap for trying to make the race exciting.

So Hamilton’s win was his first of the season and first for the factory Mercedes squad. Kimi Raikkonen finished in 2nd in the closest thing he has to a home race after holding off a hard-charging Sebastian Vettel by making a two-stop strategy work. Vettel managed a 3rd but a little better timing with stops and clear track may have gotten him a win.

Mark Webber crossed the line in 4th after an odd three-stop strategy that saw him start in primes and run three stints on them before a short final stint on options. Fernando Alonso finished 5th and Ferrari received a €15,000 fine because Alonso’s DRS was set to practice settings so on three occasions, Alonso’s DRS opened when it shouldn’t have.

Romain Grosjean finished in 6th. He was 21.5 seconds ahead of 7th place Jenson Button on-track but only 1.5 seconds after his 20-second penalty. Felipe Massa was 8th which probably won’t help his chances for next season with both Kamui Kobayashi and Paul di Resta now on the shortlist for his seat. Sergio Perez was one lap down in 9th. And Pastor Maldonado finished in 10th to score Williams’ first win of the season.

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The 2014 Formula One World Championship calendar is starting to take shape and I don’t think it’s going to make any fans among the teams.

f1-a1-red-bull-ring-startBernie recently announced the return of the Austrian Grand Prix after a ten-year absence from the sport. The A1 Ring has been renovated and rechristened the Red Bull Ring after undergoing an extensive renovation. I always kind of liked the track. It’s one of the good Hermann Tilke designs. No chicanes but there are fast straights and tight corners which make for some dicey action.

The problem is that this brings us up to 21 races signed for the 2014 season. I thought that the teams and FOM were running under an understanding that the calendar would top out at 20 races. We’re currently at 21 races after the addition of New Jersey, Russia and Austria with a 22nd possible as Japan’s contract runs out after this season. With Honda coming back in 2015, I can’t imagine that they’d be happy to return without a home Grand Prix.

Personally, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if the Hungarian Grand Prix was dropped. I won’t be because it’s well attended and has a pretty high sanctioning fee. The 2017 fee (the only one I could find) is reported at $38.3 million. For comparison, the Aussies reported that the 2012 US GP had a $21.5 million sanctioning fee. No wonder why Bernie isn’t keen to drop Hungary.

I’d hate to see Japan go but I’d imagine that between money and not wanting to overwork the teams, it may be an innocent victim in Bernie and FOM’s desire to milk F1 for more money. If F1 was about racing, Hungary and Bahrain would be the first two races that I’d drop. Korea would be next because an unattended race in a swap is just depressing. However, F1 is seldom about the racing now. That’s more than a bit disappointing.

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Pit lane safety has been a hot topic in the F1 news since the German Grand Prix. After Mark Webber’s tyre came off during a pit stop and hit an FOM cameraman, everyone seems to have reacted the wrong way to the sudden need to increase pit lane safety.

f1-2013-hungary-hamilton-camerasAlmost immediately following the German Grand Prix, the FIA initially restricted all the of cameramen in pit lane to the pit wall rather than allowing them to roam the pit lane. That was quite quickly revised to ban all cameramen from the pit lane altogether for the race which quickly became for the whole of the race weekend, including practice.

On the Thursday before the Hungarian Grand Prix, the FIA, likely with a bit of prompting from Bernie whose FOM handles the majority of the TV broadcast work, changed their restrictions again. They allowed only FOM cameramen in the pit lane during qualifying and the race but they were only allowed to work from the pit wall. A limited number of additional pit lane media passes were issued for the three free practice sessions.

From a car and team perspective, the FIA added one rule and changed another. The pit lane speed limit was reduced from 100 km/h to 80 km/h for tracks that didn’t already have a reduced pit lane speed. The FIA also added a ten-place grid penalty for releasing a car with a loose tyre. The suggestion that teams must comply with a minimum pit stop speed of three seconds (cars must remain stationary for three seconds) was voted down by the teams.

My question is why Formula One, being the most technologically advanced motorsport on the planet, can’t manage to come up with a solution to prevent a car from being released with a loose tyre. Surely someone can come up with a sensor to indicate if a wheel nut is tight and if one has come loose in the pit lane, disengage the clutch so the car can’t go. That would make things a lot safer for drivers, team members and the media than a reduced speed limit and grid penalties.

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As expected, Bernie is being charged in the German bribery case that saw German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky convicted last year. For those forgetting the details, German prosecutors claim that Gribowsky took a $44 million bribe from the F1 supremo in order to undervalue the shares of Formula One Management for its sale to CVC Capital Partners at Ecclestone’s request.

Bernie’s story has changed a few times which probably won’t help him should this case make it to court anytime soon. In one instance, Ecclestone claimed that the alleged bribe was really a 5% sales commission paid to BayernLB, the bank who Gribowsky worked for. Another time, Bernard said that he was being blackmailed by Gribowsky with the threat of sending false info to UK tax authorities and the payment wasn’t a bribe but an extortion payment.

The question now becomes what the plan of succession is if and when Bernie is no longer able to work as F1 boss. FOM majority owner CVC told The Daily Telegraph, “The business is too small to have a successor lurking in the ranks. The successor almost certainly has to come from externally.” That’s not an unexpected stance from CVC. If you’re thinking IPO, you probably want a business man to take over and generate even more money from the business.

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Next up is the annual Formula One summer break. The teams will get a couple of weeks off while the factories are shut down and everyone goes on vacation. I thought the race crews started their vacation today seeing as all they needed to do was to not screw things up.

When we come back in four weeks’ time, it’s the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps. This is one of the great tracks in Formula One today. I’d like it if they took some downforce off so that way we can see the cars forced to lift through Eau Rouge. Maybe next season.

This race can be a real craps shoot because of the changing conditions. If you’re setup correctly for the weather, you can grab a win from just about anywhere on the grid. This race could be interesting because the Mercedes engine has the most power but I’m not sold on the Silver Arrows’ race pace. That might leave this race in the hands of Red Bull and Ferrari which shouldn’t shock anyone.

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