If the first half of the championship was about the domination of Brawn, the second half will be about whether Red Bull can catch them.
The Hungarian Grand Prix will be the perfect test of Red Bull’s improved RB5. The slow track and warm temperatures should favour the BGP 001, so if Red Bull can take points off their rivals here, we’re in for a closely-fought championship.
And that’s before we consider the other teams that could get in the mix this weekend.
The German Grand Prix didn’t resolve all of our questions about the balance of power between the championship-leading teams. Conditions were cool once again, playing into Red Bull’s hands and probably the reason why Brawn found themselves behind the likes of Ferrari.
But there’s no doubting Adrian Newey’s revised RB5, which arrived at Silverstone, has brilliantly married the double diffuser concept the team lacked at the start of the season, to its unconventional pullrod suspension. This has made Red Bull’s car potentially the quickest in F1 today, and the teams which have now said they are putting all their efforts into 2010 (Ferrari, McLaren) are likely to be taking their inspiration from it.
Big upgrade for Toro Rosso
Red Bull’s performance has been conspicuously at odds with sister team Toro Rosso’s. We will learn how much of that is down to the difference between teams, drivers, engines and technology this weekend – for two reasons.
The STR4s are due to get a substantialy update including many of the Silverstone-spec parts the RB5 had. And the team is dropping Sebastien Bourdais for persons-as-yet-unknown.
It’s not likely to be enough to allow Toro Rosso to take points off Brawn and help Red Bull’s championship situation. But expect changes to the pecking order in qualifying, and Sebastien Buemi and his new team mate to be chasing for points in the race. Force India’s days of making it into Q2 may be numbered.
McLaren’s best chance
Another of the great unresolved questions at the Nurburgring was how fast the updated McLaren is. Only Lewis Hamilton had the revised floor on his MP4/24, and that was damaged following contact with Mark Webber on the way to the first corner.
The slow Hungaroring already offered McLaren’s un-aerodynamic car one of its better chances of scoring this year (along with Monte-Carlo and Singapore). But having locked out row three of the grid in Germany on realistic fuel loads they may be hoping for even more this weekend with both cars brought up to the new specification.
Their hopes will rest partly on how useful KERS is at the Hungaroring. Despite Hermann Tilke’s revisions in 2003 there’s still only one realistic place for overtaking at the Hungarian circuit – the long run to turn one. A judicious prod of the KERS button on the way out of the final corner should make the McLarens (and Ferraris) un-passable outside of the pit stops. They will be as dangerous as ever off the start line as well.
And that could add up to a nightmare scenario for whichever of the Brawns or Red Bulls makes the worst start.
Ones to watch
Lewis Hamilton – Blew McLaren’s best chance of big points at Monte-Carlo with a crash in qualifying, and was unlucky to get eliminated at the Nurburgring as he was making a bid for lead. Can he even get on the podium?
Sebastian Vettel – Jenson Button’s closest championship rival, but beaten by his team mate in four of the last five races. Can he re-assert superiority over team mate Mark Webber?
Toro Rosso No. 11 – Jaime Alguersuari? Sebastien Loeb? Ari Vatanen? Who will turn up in the second Toro Rosso?
Who do you expect to be on form at the Hungaroring? Have your say below.