McLaren jump to the front as Brawn struggle (Hungarian Grand Prix analysis)

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Hamilton had scored just nine points in nine races before his Hungary win

The Hungarian Grand Prix was an odd race in every respect. We saw a massive shake-up of the competitive order with McLaren and Ferrari and Brawn – the team which dominated the first third of the championship – struggling even to score.

If this sets a pattern for the rest of the year, we’re in for another unpredictable end to the season.

The start

Hungarian Grand Prix position change on lap one (click to enlarge)

Once again the start was a story of who had KERS and who didn’t. Lewis Hamilton gained two places – but lost one to Mark Webber straight away – and Kimi Raikkonen gained three after muscling Sebastian Vettel aside. Only Heikki Kovalainen failed to make progress.

Sebastien Buemi and Rubens Barrichello both suffered from starting on the ‘dirty’ right-hand side of the grid in tenth and 12th – but that didn’t pose any problems for Robert Kubica, who lunged past both of them down the inside from 18th on the grid.

Nelson Piquet Jnr also made a good start, sweeping around the outside of Buemi and Barrichello at the first turn.

Button vs Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button's lap times (click to enlarge)

If I’d posted a graph like this last month you’d’ve thought I’d got the data mixed up.

Hamilton’s fastest lap was a 1’22.479 on lap 16, Button’s a 1’22.706 on lap 57. That may not be much, but it’s clear from the chart above Hamilton was managing his lead from a fairly early stage and not pushing hard late in the race when the track was at its best. (No other finishing driver set their fastest lap as early as Hamilton – the next earliest was Giancarlo Fisichella, on lap 40.)

Brawn’s loss of pace is mirrored by a total turnaround for McLaren, who have qualified inside the top six for the last two races having previously been mired in the mid-teens:

McLaren drivers' qualifying positions, 2009 (click to enlarge)

Brawn seem to have suffered rather more than just been overtaken by other teams – they seem to have lost some performance from their car. Button has been beaten by Nico Rosberg’s Williams for three races in a row, and at the Hungaoyring complained the BGP001 is not what it used to be.

At Silverstone and the Nurburgring Brawn’s difficulties were thought to be because of the cool temperatures, but it now seems there must be more to it than that. Have they gone the wrong way on car development?

Their only comfort for the time being is that McLaren may now be able to prevent Red Bull from taking the top scores on race weekends.

However it remains to be seen if McLaren’s new found performance will be as great at circuits that don’t share the Hungaroring’s low-speed characteristics – a track where they were always expected to perform better this year.

Race charts

Hungarian Grand Prix race chart (click to enlarge)

After the race Nick Heidfeld was adamant his BMW was faster than it appeared in the race, but he spent too much time stuck in traffic to use its performance.

The race chart suggests he may have a point – he spent most of the race stuck behind other cars, whether it was Timo Glock’s heavily-fuelled Toyota at the start or Nelson Piquet Jnr’s Renault at the end.

Heidfeld ended lap one in 15th and made up four places by the end of the race – but Kubica progressed no further than 13th after his excellent start.

Hungarian Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)

Author information

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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38 comments on “McLaren jump to the front as Brawn struggle (Hungarian Grand Prix analysis)”

  1. A great shake up of the season… but I must say the way Brawn are dropping down the order is quite surprising. I’d just wonder how much money McLaren and Ferrari have spent so far this season getting their game back…

    but we must rule in the fact that the Brawns messed up, since Jenson mentioned the car becoming awful… or is it just because he can’t mix it up at the top that the car has become awful.

    however, is it just me, or have the two different tire compounds played a minor role in this race.

    1. I think it’s clear that Brawn have gone the wrong way with the car development and the rumour seems to surround the upgraded rear suspension that they brought to the car recently.

      They were eating their rear tyres and prior to Silverstone had one of the easiest cars on its tyres.

      I expect they’ll take the car back to Turkey spec and work from there. It seems the problem is machanical so they should be able to keep their aero upgrades.

      If I were them I would certainly be looking to give Jenson a car he is comfortable with an can push in (a la Turkey – a “monster car”). That way even if he can’t be fighting for the win at every race, at least he should be in with a good chance of podium/decent point scoring finishes which would help consolodate his WDC lead.

      I also think BrawnGP needs to get some better staff into their mechinical engineering team since that has been a weak point of Honda cars in the past too.

  2. Thanks Keith. I always love your insightful analysis.

    Q: what is your data souce? Is this info (the detailed positions and times in computer readable format) publicly available ?

  3. Hey Keith, great analysis as always.

    BTW, I found this while some searching.

    It gives the engine usage statistics (8 engines use however you want).

    I have a feeling, this will be important towards the end of the season to find out who has how many fresh engines towards the end.

    1. Yes, sumedh, there have been here many people asking for engine usage and this link it’s quite clear.

      A pity is actualised only up to before German GP, but in any case, as you have commented, I agree this will become an important issue for the final rounds.

      Not pretending beign pretentious, there is an small error in STR stats. Totals for both drivers are not including engine 3 mileage, so the total kilometers should be 118,936 instead of 115,430 that has been declared there.

      Other interesting thing is Ferrari and Mercedes engines seems to be the ones with less use (in terms of number of engines used) Renault and BMW are the ones who have alredy used more.

      Could be some risks for RBR at the end of the season… more drama!

    2. what happens to marc gene then? will he get a fresh batch of 8 engines or will he be forced to use the remaining massa engines?

      1. Where has it been said that Marc Gene will be filling Massa’s cockpit?

        Either way, he has to use Phil’s leftovers, just like Jaime is left with what Seabass hasn’t used.

  4. I dont understand how ppl cant be asking questions about the mercurial performance of this seasons cars.

    How can such change in performance happen over such a small period of time!?
    Some would say that the margins of performance difference are so small that incrementally small changes in design produce large changes in performance difference.

    But, in my opinion, while that could explain a performance gain, it does not explain the LOSS of performance teams are exhibiting from one race to another, even when no updates are introduced!
    Go figure…….. :|

  5. To follow that engine usage post, out of interest, if a team have used all 8 engines before the end can they put one of the previous 7 back in to avoid going to a 9th engine and suffering a penalty? I imagine some/most engine changes were done as a precaution so theoretically they will have potentially race worthy engines they can slot back in.
    Is this permitted?

    1. To my understanding, this is permitted – as long as they don’t use a 9th engine, they won’t be penalised.

      See the footnote that says Sebastien Vettel’s 3rd engine went in Monaco, yet his 1st didn’t go until Turkey.

      1. Spot on. They can use the 8 engines however they want. There is no rule to stop them running 1 engine for 4 or 5 races if they wanted to. I don’t think anyone will though as the engines probably wouldn’t last that many races.

  6. I wouldn’t read too much into this one grand prix.

    The Hungarian GP is always a freak race with freak results (a lousy Arrows almost winning, three current drivers getting their first win here, second-tier teams/pilots unexpectedly soaring…)

    While I’m not suggesting the big teams are not advancing, this year it’s a McLaren-Ferrari 1-2 that’s a freak result and it won’t necessarily translate into a major change in the pecking order for the second half of the season.

  7. However it remains to be seen if McLaren’s new found performance will be as great at circuits that don’t share the Hungaroring’s low-speed characteristics.
    — Keith

    Jenson have a point:

    The next race, KERS is reasonably important. But the big KERS circuits will be Spa and Monza – they are just going to destroy us on those circuits, which perhaps is a good thing.
    — Jenson Button

    I hope he is right!!!!!!

    1. they are just going to destroy us

      He makes it sound like a disaster movie :)

      1. I am yet to master quoting

        they are just going to destroy us

        He makes it sound like a disaster movie :)

    2. I also think Jenson has a point:

      For Brawns the important thing is the gap between RBR and them. So if Ferrari and McLaren are in the top, that should mean RBR will not be able to take much more advantage than in the recent races.

    3. Unless Brawn run KERS for them. Isn’t it available if they want it from Mercedes?

      1. I guess its the matter of fitting it to the car without destroying its characteristics/balance, when all you can do is simulations. Force India also have the merc KERS available to them i think.

        Interestingly Norbert Haug thinks a rethink may be needed surrounding KERS and i for one would not to be to upset if it stayed in formula 1 or re introduced in 2011 etc.

        1. Interestingly Norbert Haug thinks a rethink may be needed surrounding KERS and i for one would not to be to upset if it stayed in formula 1 or re introduced in 2011 etc.

          After Lewis win I´m trying to change my mind about KERS, but if they will rethink the ban of the system, I think KERS should be mandatory next year and we would see how Brawn and RBR guys would deal with a challenge like that…

          1. Yeah I have to agree with you there, all cars running it or none at all. Just so we avoid confusion about who has and who hasn’t got it as well as to stop the complaining about cars that have run the system.
            It’s a system that has had a rough first year with development costs, some running it and others not etc, maybe to see it in a mandotary way assuming most will plump to buying the mercedes system instead of developing their own, would be good to see the positives.

          2. They can install the McLaren or Renault option that comes with the engine.

  8. What’s a great race for kimi,but it not an comfortable race for ferrari,plz pray for massa….massa,..we trust in u..

  9. In retrospect, it is not so difficult to understand why the KERS cars did so well. There are several tight turns at the Hungaroring, therefore the KERS system can be fully charged multiple times per lap. So it can be used multiple times during a lap. Also if drivers are limited to KERS usage at 6 seconds per lap, then those 6 seconds count for a higher % of a lap’s time than at other tracks, since Budapest is a short track (hence the 70 laps). In places like Spa (and as was the case at Silverstone), KERS will not be nearly as effective.

    MacLaren should do well in Valencia, but Spa will be another Red Bull 1-2, in all likelihood.

    1. Good point about the lap length. But I don’t hink charging is an issue, as others have pointed out. I think there is more than 80hp + losses worth of energy in one F1 braking event. Regarding Spa, I’m dying to see how a car with competitive downforce and KERS performs at a traditional track. I think the RB5 will be awesome there, but despite the long track, I also think 6 seconds of another 80hp on the uphill run from a dead slow corner to Eau Rouge will show its effect. We should be be back to flat out there with the rev limits, so there will be no hiding from red or silver going up the Kemmel.

    2. @F1Fan:
      AFAIK there is no problem in charging the KERS – there is more than enough juice available at any track that the system is fully recharged to maximum available capacity as soon as they cross the line. [Possible exception: I have a vague memory that maybe this was an issue at Monaco due to the low overall speed, but I wouldn’t swear to it!]

      The KERS system is most valuable at tracks with long straights, which includes Hungary. This is because, once the boost is applied at the start of a straight, its benefit continues until the brakes are applied at the end of the straight. Lewis said that KERS was worth 4/10ths per lap at the Hungaroring.

    3. Q. How much of a factor was KERS in the race?

      Button :It is a bit… The next race, KERS is reasonably important. But the big KERS circuits will be Spa and Monza – they are just going to destroy us on those circuits, which perhaps is a good thing.


  10. Button’s analysis is wrong. His troubles are larger than this. It may help him to have silver and red taking the first two spots, but he needs to win races to win this championship. Webber only needs to clear him by less than 3 points per race to overtake him, which he will easily do by finishing 3rd when JB comes in his now customary 5th.

    Moreover, Webber now has the car to complete his math homework, Button does not: Those fifths are not guaranteed when he has to fend off Rosberg, two Toyotas, Alonso, Kovalainen. He could even be out of the points if 3-4 cars gain a couple tenths on him in qualifying trim, as the cars are so close now.

    Looking at the remaining tracks, only Valencia and Singapore may negate RedBull’s existing high-speed efficiency advantage. And several of these remaining will make KERS cars unpassable. If Webber wins two of these races, with 3-4 cars between him and Button, Button is toast.

    1. I completely agree.

      Eddie Jordan during last weekend’s coverage, as well as some here, hail the advance of teams such as Ferrari, McLaren and Alonso’s Renault as a bonus for brawn… but looking at the past couple of races they look to be more likely inbetween the Brawns and Red Bulls rather than in front of the lot.

      Can’t wait for Spa and Monza.

  11. anyone notice alonso’s getaway at the start. He was flying but they werent running kers.

  12. Alonso’s super start was probably because he was running super light. Although it never helps him.

  13. Looking at Hamilton’s and Button’s first stints up to the point Hamilton pitted, it seems the graphs were pretty similar in the spikes and troughs.

    Even midway through the race, the spikes seems to co-relate.

    Any reasons to that? Wind speed? Yellow flags?

    I think by comparing the gradient of the spikes, maybe we can see how each driver copes with the same “changes” of the track on each lap.

  14. MacademiaNut
    28th July 2009, 19:02

    “Only Heikki Kovalainen failed to make progress.”

    He somehow manages to be a non-story in every race.

  15. It seems to be that monaco and hungary get compared alot as similar tracks (high downforce, low speed). would it be sensible to compare performance at monaco with hungary? if so, it is clear mclaren has done fantastically well, red bull likewise and ferrari maybe not so much. i think the next round at valencia (fast) will really show how much mclaren has advanced and possibly how much kers assisted in hungary. i still think red bull is the team to beat.

    1. Paige Michael-Shetley
      29th July 2009, 19:05

      Valencia actually has mainly slow, 2nd gear corners.

      I agree that Red Bull is still the team to beat, but you can’t deny McLaren’s progress. A car simply doesn’t challenge for wins in F1 just because the circuit’s characteristics don’t suit it. It must be probably at least one of the top-3 cars in overall competitiveness among all the teams, and the McLaren is that. You can argue that among the top three cars, certain characteristics of circuits will suit each of them differently and will give one an advantage over the others, but the circuit characteristics don’t all of the sudden make one of the top-3 cars into a mid-packer or a mid-packer a race winner.

      Don’t forget that the Nurburgring showed the McLaren to be competitive. The Nurb is a track with lots of variety: a great mix of low, medium, and high-speed corners. McLaren had arguably the 2nd quickest car there, and if Brawn had not run lighter than them in Q3 they wouldn’t have outqualified the Maccas. If Hamilton and Webber hadn’t gotten together into the first corner, Hamilton would have grabbed the lead on the start since he would have had grip in the right-rear tire, and he would have finished on the podium.

      McLaren are probably still a tenth or two off the pace of the Red Bull, but they’re not far off. Hamilton was just a tenth off Webber in Q2 at Hungary when all the cars ran laps on light fuel and option tires. His win was probably aided by the fact that Red Bull made a mistake in their tire choice, but then again they must have had reason to be concerned about how the option tires were holding up on longer runs. Furthermore, Hamilton really did slow up in the second stint to manage his tires, so his advantage on the options was sacrificed at that point.

  16. Fandysilalahi
    29th July 2009, 15:04

    Thanks for the comprehensive info Keith. And also for the insights from all of u guys.
    I just wanna add this:

    If the earliest anyone has ever scored a fastest lap was on lap 40. And, Hamilton clocked his on lap 16 last weekend, then I can’t imagine how fast the Mclaren car really is. Hamilton mustve been holding back most of the race.
    Wow, what a development..

  17. Paige Michael-Shetley
    29th July 2009, 18:54

    “However it remains to be seen if McLaren’s new found performance will be as great at circuits that don’t share the Hungaroring’s low-speed characteristics – a track where they were always expected to perform better this year.”

    It’s already been great at one such circuit:

    The Nurburgring, where they introduced the updates.

    The Nurb is about as good a test of a car’s versatility as it gets. There is a great mix of low-speed, 2nd gear corners and medium-high speed, 4th-5th gear corners. McLaren weren’t as quick as Red Bull there, but they were arguably quicker than Brawn, who only outqualified them because they were lighter on fuel.

    Furthermore, we all like to call the Hungaroring a low-speed track, and this is mostly true. But there are high-speed corners there, and the McLaren looked composed in them.

    You can say that that the Hungaroring suited the car’s characteristics more than other circuits, but the role that the individual circuit plays in determining a car’s relative performance is very overrated. A Formula One car doesn’t go from being a mid-packer to winning by 11 seconds just because a circuit’s characteristics suit it particularly well. F1 cars must have a requisite innate competitiveness for all circuits before it can compete for wins on any track. The car must be at least in the top-3 among all the teams in overall competitiveness in order to be a race winner, and the McLaren is certainly that, now.

  18. Was anyone else curious about Hamilton’s comment after the race that Mercedes have continued to improve the engine and that it is now the best? Engines are frozen. I’m sure Flav would love to hear about more “reliability” upgrades to the Mercedes engine— after the flap last year resulting in Renault getting some free upgrades under the freeze. In any event, given the freeze, and the closeness of competition now, it stands to reason that new engine power is going to show on the track, and may be a real advantage, especially with KERS to allow a touch more downforce than other cars.

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