Paddock Diary: Hungarian Grand Prix part two

2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Could a change in CEO at Honda lead to a Formula 1 return sooner rather than later? Will a Texan Grand Prix appear in the second half of 2021? Dieter Rencken brings more stories from the Hungaroring paddock?

Saturday

I arrive at the circuit and head straight for a mid-season interview with Haas F1 team principal Guenther Steiner, whom I’ve known since his 2005 technical directorship at Red Bull. As always, the South Tyrolean is relaxed about giving straight – and, at times, humorous – answers to tough questions, which we will share with you during the summer break.

Final practice is my trackside time. While there is an unashamed element of ‘superfan’ to the experience, being close up and personal with contemporary F1 cars enables us to appreciate what it takes to handle 1,000bhp on a tight, twisty circuit, and how car characteristics differ despite teams working to the same sets of regulations. Indeed, observing differences in braking, cornering lines and speed across team mates is equally fascinating.

I’m joined by Hungarian F1 guru Sandor Mezaros and I select turn three to best compare car approaches from opposing angles. Sandor introduces me to a local who has not only marshalled at every Hungarian Grand Prix since 1986, but has arguably the best name for our sport: Kálmán Fi (pictured). To his friends he is ‘Mr F1’.

After the session I speak to Honda’s F1 managing director Masashi Yamamoto. I put to him that by the end of the year company will have exited F1 more than any other – four times, more if associate Mugen is included – and ask whether this bouncing about provides hope for a return of the Big H to F1 after the exit at end-2021.

All he’ll say is Honda Motor Company appointed a new president and CEO – Toshihiro Mibe – in April this year. The implication is clear: the previous CEO took the latest decision, ostensibly on sustainability grounds, but he is now gone.

I also ask why Honda does not enter Formula E. “Because we have nothing to learn from it,” Yamamoto-san says about FE’s restrictive regulations, which chimes with BMW’s reason for departing the electric championship.

Given that Suzuka is owned by Honda I probe the chances of the Japanese Grand Prix (Honda’s last – for now) being held in October in view of the spectator-free Olympics. He says a decision will be taken on August 10th. However, other sources advise that it could be slightly later; either way, further calendar details can be expected during the break (see below).

During my rounds I spy FIA president Jean Todt and Red Bull team boss Christian Horner in discussion in the governing body’s hospitality unit. I guess the primary topic is the ‘concern’ expressed by the stewards after Thursday’s review of the Silverstone saga. On Friday Horner revealed this revolved around fears that Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff may have influenced the process by visiting the stewards during deliberations.

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Having attended three stewards’ seminars and having met most F1’s stewards over time I’m convinced they cannot be swayed but an unsolicited visit to a ‘court room’ with ‘evidence’ is surely extraordinary, and the FIA has clarified that such opportunism will not be tolerated.

As I depart for the hotel after the day’s media sessions I’m alerted to news about a TBA “Texan Grand Prix” listed on the website of F1 Experiences, a contracted service provider. I follow up and am told that the information was erroneously posted but that it is a contingency event lest others are cancelled due to Covid.

Sunday

My first port of call is Ariane Franck-Meulenbelt, who inherited the promoter role of the Hungarian Grand Prix from her father Tamas, an instigator of the event. She tells me the Hungaroring is expecting 65,000 spectators on race day, with a footfall of around 130,000 across the three days – and so it turns out when the day’s numbers are published.

A three-year upgrade programme will commence next year, she adds, with the main entrance and access roads receiving spruce-ups, followed by extensions to grandstands and, in year three, a new paddock complex. Incredibly, the event is now 35 years old, having first been staged while the country was under communist rule; indeed, in terms of continuity at a single circuit it is second only to Monza.

Hungaroring, 2021

During my pre-start wanderings I recognise a familiar face – that of Bobby Epstein, United States Grand Prix promoter. I can’t resist questioning him about the Texas Grand Prix, and he confirms talks are underway but that nothing has been contracted.

The tentative date is October 14th-17th, and he is pushing hard for a sprint qualifying format to differentiate the two events. Indeed, as a promoter he is highly enthusiastic about the sprint format.

Bobby tells me they’ve ordered a 170-foot-long pedestrian bridge to link parts of the infield that can’t currently be populated due to access, which will push capacity to 140,000. He’s hopeful this year’s race will break all US sporting attendance records when measured across three days.

Uniquely the Hungaroring this year offers a media terrace with views across the pit lane, paddock and main straight, and chose this as my vantage spot for the start and early laps. During the red flag interruption I’m enthralled by the efficiency of Max Verstappen’s crew as they beaver away on his Red Bull after he was innocently tagged during the opening lap crash sequence.

I’m delighted for him that current regulations permit repairs under the red flag, which enabled him to finish and score points – as did Lewis Hamilton in Silverstone and Imola before that – but remain totally opposed to major repairs under red flags, which in my book should operate to parc ferme regulations. Any work besides those required by changes in climatic conditions should require the car to restart at the back of the grid.

Post-race the traffic is extremely heavy due to both the encouraging fan attendance and rather tempestuous weather – which makes my 35km trip to the airport rather fraught. I eventually get to the gate with just minutes to spare and I make it home just after midnight.

That brings the first half this unpredictable season to a close – roll on my home grand prix at Spa on August 29th!

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2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Author information

Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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22 comments on “Paddock Diary: Hungarian Grand Prix part two”

  1. The August 10 deadline reference is something I’ve read about earlier, and it’s for freight lead time.
    I’m relatively optimistic for Suzuka, but I wait until news about teams not having any stumbling blocks on Japan arrival is formal.
    Good thing the error on the F1 Experiences website god fixed quickly.

  2. @nullapax Repairs must remain allowed on safety grounds, as pointed out before.
    Otherwise, a driver might unknowingly rejoin a track driving a car in an unsafe condition, a regulation breach.

    1. @jerejj Fair point but I would say that if the car is unsafe then it has to be retired.
      It is a nightmare of a minefield to enforce I accept, but still I would suggest that other than new wings, tyres etc then serious repairs should not be allowed to cars mid race whether it was your fault or the other guy.

      Back in the old days teams were allowed to have a spare car on standby and that worked well on occasion.

      1. The key word there was “unknowingly”.
        Like Verstappen’s engine was twice declared completely ok but then changed because of a previously undiscovered crack. Though I must say I thought they x-rayed and ultra-sounded things which would have picked up a crack.

    2. @Jere I’ve now twice stated that repairs should be permitted (on whatever grounds) but that the car should be relegated to the back – as it would were repairs to be effected during a race.

      1. No food reports? Did you not eat or sleep all weekend?

        I really enjoy them and the travel review and I can’t be the only one.

        Don’t listen to the “I am only here for the racing” types. Pretty sure they are unlikely to be paying members and there is plenty more for them to read and see.

        And moan and complain and in recent weeks, lose their s£&t over. You know? For free.

      2. @dieterrencken Would be unfair towards drivers who get damage without being at fault.
        Nothing wrong with the present situation generally. ”If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

      3. Yes, I agree. If you want to repair the car (i.e. allowing changes to tyre type for inclement weather related reasons, but hardly anything else) then being moved to the rear of the grid sounds fairer. Unfortunately every collision is different and every race is different, and really we have to make a “one size fits all” rule. Such a rule would mean teams have to make a decision as to whether they take the hit, do some repairs, and then try to fight their way up the grid when the race restarts, or does the team decide to keep position and risk running with a car with compromised performance?
        It just seems more unjust that someone who can drag their car around to the pitlane during a Red Flag event, and happens to do it so they are close to the front, that the mechanics can then do some rudimentary repairs (or even complete repairs) that allow that driver to restart their race where they were when the crash happened (or even ahead of that) and then get a creditable result (or even a podium place).

  3. I do hope Honda stay in. It’s crazy to leave at the exact moment they’ve finally finally caught Mercedes.

    1. Yes, it does seem to be short sighted. If Honda do stay then that should give them the right to stay and to influence the rules for the next power unit.

  4. Typo in the 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝗿𝗱 sentence

    No exclusive, it’s obvious that any second United States race at Circuit of the Americas will be named “Texan” and of 𝙘𝙤𝙪𝙧𝙨𝙚 it just so happens the US promoter is in the Hungary paddock for a chat

    https://bit.ly/3lliUTp

    At least we’re spared the obligatory food mentions this time…

    1. And why the Rolling Stones have left that weekend spare on the US leg of their tour.

    2. I missed it this time. Always enjoy that part.

    3. Spare yourself the pain in future.

    4. The “food mentions” are my favourite part!

  5. I asked Epstein about that and he said they’re booked for mid-November. Why do I believe him steadfastly? Because he offered to reserve front row tix for me. The weekend nay (or not) be free but it’s not for CoTA.

    1. And I believe him about Nov too as those tickets have been on sale for quiet a while along with the rest of tour. Apart from a TBC in Oct.

  6. The relevant questions as usual. No faffing about.

    But for a moment there I thought Mr F1 was you.. ;)

  7. I sincerely hope you can get a decent feed in Belguim Dieter :)

  8. Thanks but Belgian fare is always good – my (adopted) country is renowned for its cuisine – but living 30kms from Spa I’m staying at home

  9. Did no one else notice the handbrake U turn by Mr Masi?
    When first questioned about the lobbying of the stewards by teams during the race he said he had no problem with it. (Which surprised me!) Then two days later he changed his mind after being lobbied by Mr Horner.

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