For the second week in a row Formula One is experiencing a weather-disrupted weekend, which means for the second week in a row the forecast for the race remains shrouded.
The Hungarian Grand Prix has faced a variable forecast from the beginning of the weekend, with heavy showers arriving between Friday practice sessions and washing out FP2. Rain threatened Saturday running but stayed away, and now on Sunday again the risk of showers is high.
One suspects several on the grid would embrace a variable race as an opportunity to make good on paltry weekends to this point.
Red Bull Racing was expected to close the gap to Mercedes this weekend at a circuit that is far more sensitive to downforce than engine speed, but the team has struggled badly with setting up the car. Aero upgrades for this weekend were swapped on and off the car but neither Max Verstappen nor Alex Albon were happy with any configuration, even after the team broke curfew on Friday night to tinker further.
The car is visibly unstable, with several spins the high-profile indicator. Concerning is that Albon in particular complained of severe slow-speed instability when pace in the slow corners appeared to the RB16’s strength for the last two weeks.
Verstappen is an ace in the wet, but whereas he’ll start seventh, Albon will start a lowly 13th behind George Russell’s Williams. The Thai underwhelmed in Styria and has been off the pace all weekend in Budapest. A mixed race might be his best shot at redemption.
But even in wet conditions it’s difficult to envisage anything but Mercedes domination. The team was peerless in qualifying, and both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will start on the favourable medium tyre.
And should it rain, there’s little evidence the car will be any slower in the dry, as evidenced by Hamilton’s wet pole last weekend.
The question marks? Racing Point and Ferrari on the second and third rows of the grid.
|PROVISIONAL STARTING GRID|
Distance: 4.381 kilometres
Lap record: 1:17.103 (Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 2019)
Track record: 1:13.447 (Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2020)
Lateral load: high
Tyre stress: medium
Asphalt grip: high
Asphalt abrasion: medium
Safety car probability: 40 per cent
Pit lane speed: 80 kilometres per hour
Pit lane length: 365 metres
Pit lane time loss: 16.4 seconds
Fuel consumption: 1.57 kilograms per lap
Tyres: C2 (hard), C3 (medium), C4 (soft)
Estimated tyre delta
Hard–medium: 0.3 seconds
Medium–soft: 0.9 seconds
There are few weak spots in Mercedes’s assault on this race weekend. Not only has the team clearly got a firm handle on the circuit, but both Hamilton and Bottas will start on the medium tyre guaranteeing the team an easy one-stop strategy in dry conditions, particularly given the lack of data from FP2.
So too does Racing Point begin on the yellow-marked compound on the second row — that both drivers made it into Q3 on mediums testifies to the car’s pace — which will protect both Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez from possible advances from Ferrari or Verstappen behind.
The intra-team battles here, for the win for Mercedes and for a podium place for Racing Point, will be nonetheless fascinating, with either individual strategy choices or race-long battles the only way to decide the final classification.
Ferrari isn’t expected to be able to challenge, but with a numerical advantage over Verstappen behind the fight will be to keep the Red Bull Racing car in check. Predicting the Dutchman’s potential race pace in deciding a strategy is especially difficult given the substantial changes made to that car throughout the weekend. Its lack of balance will anyway make it difficult to be adventurous with tyre strategy.
Keep an eye on Alex Albon starting 13th. His lack of confidence with the car is clear, so only with a contrastrategy will he conceivably be able to make any serious progress further up the field, particularly with both Renault and both McLaren drivers ahead of him.