Hamilton the biggest threat to Red Bull? (Hungarian Grand Prix pre-race analysis)

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Lewis Hamilton is the danger man for Red Bull
Lewis Hamilton is the danger man for Red Bull

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 start

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.

The strategy

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.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “Hamilton the biggest threat to Red Bull? (Hungarian Grand Prix pre-race analysis)”

  1. Pedro Carvalho
    26th July 2009, 0:01

    Very nice analysis, that seems to be the way things can progress.

    By the way, what’s the real effect that the dirty side will have on the start? I can’t recall last year if the odd pilots took the places from the even ones…

  2. Lewis can only win tomorrow if he comes first out of T-1 **AND** Alonso stays 2nd **AND** the RBR in 3rd can’t overtake Alonso after the first few laps. Otherwise he will be overtaken through the pitstops. Alonso can’t win in any normal senario, the Renault is simply not fast enough. But this track is known for its eventful races (7 winners in 7 GPs here) and I think that even Rubens has a chance tomorrow, **IF** there is a SC period. He is 1-stopping for sure and could all of a sudden receive a significant advantage at some point.

    In a normal race one would expect either Vettel or Webber to win, with Lewis or Rosberg coming 3rd. But a SC can turn the race upside down.

    1. A safety car period would destroy Alonso’s race. And there’s quite a few places on the Hungsroring where the run-off is a bit limited. He’s on a very high-risk strategy.

      1. ….pit crew managed quite well without a safety car, but fair play to Hamilton, he did a banzai job…

  3. I really want to enjoy the race tomorrow but I can’t. My favourite 3 drivers are starting 1,2,4 but all I can think about is Felipe. I really hope he is OK.

    1. Huh? I thought your favourite drivers start on 11 and 19??

  4. PrisonerMonkeys
    26th July 2009, 0:46

    I’m hoping Alonso and the three KERS cars will get a fantasic start and fill the top four places, just to keep the Red Bulls within striking distance of Button.

  5. I believe Alonso is the best racer on the grid but,I don’t think he can pull this one off.The Renault is not fast enough.Hamilton on podium I am willing to bet but,one of the Red Bull drivers on the top step would be safe to say.I hope Alonso will be on the podium as well…he deserves it.

  6. I agree with Wesley – Alonso’s strat will not get him the win – his car is not fast enough to pull off a 3 stopper (only just shaded against much heavier cars – the RB’s) and the earlier stoppers will just get caught in traffic with the tailenders. Even if Hamilton gets in front of Vettel and webbo and holds them up – the time differential indicated by qualifying suggests that Ham wont hold them up enough.

    I think that red bull are very happy with this situation.

    1. I agree too.

      Hamilton is more likely to take points off Brawn rather than Red Bull. I guess we’ll see tomorrow.

      By the way Hamilton and Alonso really showed today why they are both top class drivers. Hamilton in particular (Melbourne aside) has grown in my estimation this season.

  7. Alonso likely won’t have the lead after the first corner.

    His car has made some of the worst starts this season in the field, but typically gets what he lost by the end of the first lap.

  8. Max should resign now!!!
    26th July 2009, 2:22

    Guys how many times you think Alguersuari will be lapped tomorrow?

    1. that was harsh. but yes, racing is completely different to practice and qualifying. will be interesting to see. i think he’d be happy just to finish the race. good luck to him.

      1. Amen!

        Jamie impressed me with his consistency and apparent maturity in the FPs and Quali.

        Hope the best for him. As Felipe said: starting so soon in F1 can kill his career if he is not able to convince early on. He has not much time …

        1. Suck on that. Jaime drove an excellent race and finished ahead of his (once) acclaimed team mate.

  9. I guess that Button’s heavy fuel load wasn’t intentional? Was he fuelled before they decided to hold him in the pits to check the car, meaning he couldn’t burn off all his fuel when he got going? Or is it an intentionally long strategy?

    1. You got it right.

    2. Thats a really good point. When do they fill up the cars for Q3 – it must be before the session starts.

  10. I don’t think Hamilton will be the biggest threat. Agreed, Mclaren has improved. But, I don’t really think they can maintain consistently high race pace. If he does catapult himself to P1 by the first corner, I feel most drivers would go into fuel saving mode behind the Mclaren which will still be about 2-3 seconds off pace (Even Ferrari’s KERS car is about 1.5-2 seconds/lap slower than RedBull).

    But also, we are due for a safety car soon. We haven’t had one since the last 6 weeks. So that could throw in some surprise. Go Vettel!!!!

    1. What utter nonsense.

      Why would Hamilton all of a sudden be 2 to 3 seconds slower? He just magically willed his car to go faster that much in qualifying?

      Hamilton and Kovalainen have demonstrated that the McLaren is at worst half a second off the pace of the Red Bulls (on race fiuel load).

    2. Absolutely nothing of what you said happened :)

    3. Just goes to show, you don’t know what your talking about sumedh! The McLaren is about 0.3 secs down on Red Bull now and a great driver like Hamilton can make that up during the race.

  11. I think I agree with Wesley; the Renault may not be enough car to go all the way but we do love a set up like this don’t we? But maybe Alonso’s sheer willpower can have an effect on the machine…

    As for McLaren sumedh, I would never count them out at this point. Too good a pedigree. This at least has the potential for going down as the first F1 KERS victory doesn’t it?.

    (go Vettel)

  12. Paige Michael-Shetley
    26th July 2009, 6:51

    Hamilton is the biggest threat to the Red Bulls, for sure. Macca have arguably had the second quickest car this weekend, and Hamilton had excellent pace in qualifying. It would appear as though Macca are still about 3-4 tenths off of Red Bull given Kovalainen’s lap (he’s on equal fuel with Vettel), but Hamilton was 2nd in Q2 and only a tenth off Webber when everyone set times on low fuel and option tires. Furthermore, he commented that he didn’t get the best lap out of the car he could. He was three tenths ahead in S1 of Webber’s first Q3 lap (a 21.85ish one) on one of his hot laps in the session before facing massive over-steer and losing probably a second because of it.

    A victory is probably a stretch for Hamilton: he would have to grab the lead at the start and have Alonso hold up the Red Bulls. But it certainly looks like he’s on track to get his first podium.

    Webber is the man who is in serious trouble. Not only will he likely be cast off by Hamilton at the start, but he’ll have to somehow hold-back another KERS-charged Macca behind him with Kovalainen in row 3. If this happens, then Webber’s race may be ruined, as Kovalainen is running heavier.

    Button has qualified in 8th, but he still has an excellent shot at the podium. He’s substantially heavier than everyone ahead of him, and he should easily dispense of Rosberg, Kovalainen, and Raikkonen through the first overlaps. Alonso is so lightly fueled that Button may be able to get him, as well, through the first overlaps. Finally, if Kovalainen gets by Webber on the start (which I expect he’ll do), then that will set Button up nicely to overtake Webber on the overlaps, as well. A victory is probably out of the question for him, but a badly-needed podium isn’t.

    My podium prediction:

    1. Vettel
    2. Hamilton
    3. Button

  13. I’d laugh very hard should a fast starting Hamilton bash into Alonso in turn 1…

    …anyway My guess, for what it’s worth, is that Alonso, weighing nothing really as he has about a thimble-full of fuel on board and starting on the clean side will lead the pack into turn 1 with Hamilton on his tail. Alonso will not get away, Hamilton won’t pass but will get the lead when Alonso pits after about 2 laps.

    If the Red Bulls can stick to Hamilton’s tail, jumping him in the stops, it will probably be Vettel’s race.

    But there’s a lot of ifs in that scenario…

  14. we still haven’t seen the race pace of the revised mclaren so it will be good to see hamilton make it through the first corner. my gut feeling is that the red bulls are going to streak clear of everyone after jumping alonso in the first rond of pitstops. that is of course if turn 1 is incident free…

  15. Love this pic. Classic Lewis Hamilton!

    Let’s hope they don’t pop his tyre this time!

  16. It’s gonna have to be a seriously good start from Button to stay in the points. but as TOm says, who knows what will happen in turn one should be a hell of a race. If Button cant pull out a miracle though, then I’m hoping for my backup – Webber!

  17. The pit lane at the Hungaroring is a bit shorter than that at either Barcelona or Istanbul, which makes a three-stop strategy a little more realistic. Still a tall order for Fernando though, the race will probably go to the Red Bulls with Hamilton on the podium. Poor Jense must have forgotten what it’s like to be up there now….

    1. I think Fernando Alonso is having the same strategy than for his first victory here in Hungary GP 2003. I think he was fueled for 13 laps for the first stint also.

      Lets see what happens in the first lap and if the Renault can repeat the fastest laps they were able to do in a row during last GP.

      In any case the best scenario for Alonso should be to achieve a podium finish, never a win.

  18. While Hamilton appears the immediate threat and most likely is, let us not forget rosberg in fifth. Fuel adjusted he was 3rd fastest after the two RBR cars and recently he has found the knack of grabbing significant points from what appears to be no-where.

    1. Rosberg’s under threat from two KERS cars right behind him, though – Kovalainen and Raikkonen.

  19. I think Button is doing the clever thing. He starts with a high fuel load. This way it doesn’t matter that he sits there behind a slower KERS car. He’s doing slower laps anyway since he’s carrying so much fuel.

    At the end of his stint (when the other cars ahead of him peel off) he should be faster and be able to make up time so he can get ahead of them after his stop.

    If he had gone for his proper spot at P6 or something, he would be jumped by Raikkonen and Kovalainen at the start and he would be losing time. Now he sits behind them already and he doesn’t lose a second.

    I’d say Ross Brawn finally cracked the proper way to deal with KERS cars jumping you at the start.

    Of course their problem is that their car is realisticly only 6th fastest. So he won’t be scoring much points anyway.

  20. Another dimension is temperature – apparently it’s getting hotter at the track this morning, Button was saying on Twitter he’s optimistic about the conditions:

    Beautiful sunny day here at the Hungaroring…. Track temp is rising! Think we can have a good race today.. Wish me luck :-)

    http://twitter.com/The_Real_JB/statuses/2851284353

  21. Jenson should actually be in a good position, he’s clear of KERS cars behind him and he’s heavier than all of the cars in front. If Kovalainen and Raikkonen make progress off the start and hold up the likes of Rosberg we could see a repeat of poor Felipe’s result in Germany.

  22. Realistically, I think the Brawns are gonna have to just play for SOME points today and look forward to the next race. They had to spend so much time in Q3 looking over the suspension of Button’s car that they couldnt really get in a pure fast lap.

  23. It’s quite funny reading these after the result is known :)

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