We have a curious grid for the Hungarian Grand Prix and an even more curious mixture of strategies. Pole sitter Fernando Alonso is ultra-light, but the two cars best placed to take advantage of that – the Red Bulls – are in turn threatened by Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren.
And that’s before we add in Jenson Button’s heavier-fuelled Brawn a few rows back. It all adds up to a potentially intriguing race at the Hungaroring.
The one thing everyone knows about the Hungaroring is how tough it is to overtake – and that makes the start absolutely critical.
Last year Felipe Massa put himself in a position to win the race with a terrific start which catapulted him past Lewis Hamilton.
At the time we all thought he was unlucky to lose the race in the dying laps – but that was before we knew what awaited him on his return to the track. Thankfully, the news coming from Hungary about his condition seems to be positive.
Hamilton will be the first driver to keep an eye on at the start. From fifth on the grid at the Nurburgring his KERS boost shot him into the lead by the first corner before that unfortunate, race-ruining contact with Mark Webber. He starts fourth this weekend and, despite the disadvantage of starting on the dirty side of the track, that precious boost can be relied on the give him an advantage of around 14m over his rivals.
This will presumably move the Red Bulls – second and third – to look for some way they can keep the McLaren back. But would Webber rather help Sebastian Vettel box Hamilton in, or find a way of picking off his team mate at the first corner?
The biggest threat to Alonso at the start is more likely to be Hamilton than Vettel. At today’s Formula Master and GP2 support races the pole sitter had an unchallenged run down to the first corner and the driver who started second struggled to keep rivals behind.
The other KERS-boosted cars are sixth (Heikki Kovalainen) and seventh (Kimi Raikkonen) which does not bode well for Jenson Button’s hopes of making much progress from eighth.
Alonso has played down his hopes of winning the race but anyone who saw his performance in the closing stages at the Nurburgring will know he’s a genuine contender. Especially if Hamilton end up between him and the chasing Red Bulls.
But having opted for an ultra-light strategy – almost certainly committing himself to a three-stop strategy – he will need to streak away from the field at the start to have any hope of making it work. As we’ve seen already this year – notably Barrichello at Catalunya and Vettel at Istanbul – three-stoppers are high-risk affairs.
The battle between the Red Bull drivers will be utterly fascinating – especially as the one-lap-lighter Webber has a good chance of out-dragging Vettel to the first corner.
Button will stop around four laps later than Vettel and will be hoping he can stay somewhere in range of the Red Bull. A nightmare scenario for him would be Alonso coming out right in front of him after his early first stop. Given how much the field spreads out over the opening laps of the race, I’d say there’s a very good chance of that happening.
A final driver to keep an eye on is Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi. In recent races we’ve seen the highest-qualifying drivers from Q2 make hay with heavy fuel loads in the race. Buemi has shown some promised in the revised STR4 this weekend and could be on course for his first points since Shanghai.