Formula 1 returns to the Hungaroring this weekend for the first of two back-to-back races before its usual summer hiatus takes us through to the end of August and the Belgian Grand Prix. With the championship battle finely poised (just a single point separates the two Mercedes rivals at the top of the standings), any gains or losses at either this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix, or next weekend’s German Grand Prix, will be felt far more keenly than usual, as the drivers have four weeks to either revel in their accomplishments or lament a loss of momentum in the race for the title.
As the weekend approaches, RealSport looks at the bigger stories floating around the F1 paddock.
Radio Rules Revision
Following Nico Rosberg’s penalty last time out at Silverstone, for receiving assistance from his race engineer following a gearbox issue, the FIA has tightened its radio restrictions further.
Teams are still permitted to inform their drivers of an issue with their car, but now, “any message of this sort must include an irreversible instruction to enter the pits to rectify the problem or to retire the car”. The teams are still permitted to inform drivers of any bodywork damage, but now any issues with the car that the drivers cannot fix themselves must now be dealt with in the pits rather than via radio communications.
Such a move will no doubt come as a blow to those who see F1 as a wholly team sport, and believe that the teams should be well within their rights to tell their drivers anything that would help them get the best result for the team. However, such a tightening of restrictions will no doubt appeal to those who think that the best drivers should be able to work around such issues themselves as a further measure of their abilities.
One thing is for sure, we’re likely to hear a lot less radio chatter this weekend as the teams adapt to the new ruling.
Red Bull Resurgence
If the British Grand Prix was anything to go by, Red Bull are on fire at the moment, and Mercedes will be nervously looking over their collective shoulder this weekend. Max Verstappen’s excellent second place finishes in both Austria and Britain will be causing major concern in the Mercedes garage, especially given how hard Verstappen pushed Nico Rosberg even before the latter ran into technical issues at Silverstone.
If Daniel Ricciardo can find the form that made us sit up and take notice earlier on in the year, and as we arrive at a circuit that will no doubt suit the Red Bulls, this weekend could well turn in to a four way battle for victory.
Where has it all gone wrong for Ferrari? From pre and early season optimism to falling behind Red Bull as we approach the mid season point, it all seems to be falling apart for F1’s oldest team. They have not been helped by some terrible reliability from some components (particularly Vettel’s gearbox, which seems to incur a grid penalty at every race these days) and some bad luck along the way (Vettel’s tyre blowout in Austria, Vettel’s retirement in Russia following a collision with Daniil Kvyat etc.), but the fact remains that this season’s performance so far simply haven’t been good enough. They will have to find some inspiration to move up the grid, and do it soon, or heads may start to roll.
Resurfacing Raises Concerns
As seems to be the fashion with circuits these days, the Hungaroring has undergone a complete resurfacing as well as having many of its kerbs revised in time for this year’s race. These changes to the kerbs have prompted the F1 stewards to issue a statement, warning drivers not to try to gain an advantage by running wide at either turns four or 11. The issue mainly comes from the removal of artificial grass strips and installation of kerbs, whose run off areas are actually set at the same height as the kerb itself, prompting the stewards to decide that these areas would no longer provide the same sort of deterrent as they had in previous years.
Expect a similar level of steward scrutiny over these corners as we saw in Austria and Britain, especially in qualifying as the drivers attempt to walk that ragged line between being on or off of the track.
Mercedes Gearbox Gamble
Following Nico Rosberg’s issues with his gearbox in Britain, Mercedes have elected not to replace the unit ahead of this weekend’s Grand Prix. The team say they will run it in Friday practice, and are “optimistic” that it will be fine for the German to use over the course of the weekend. This could well be an interesting one to watch as the weekend progresses as any issues with Rosberg could potentially have a massive effect on the drivers’ championship.
Weather Watch & UK TV Times
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like we will see a repeat of the race day rain that made the race at Silverstone so entertaining, with clear skies and 30+ temperatures predicted for Saturday and Sunday. The only break from this could be on Friday when second practice could be under threat from rain.
TV coverage will run across both Channel 4 and Sky Sports this weekend with the sessions running at the following times:
Practice one: 09:00
Practice two: 13:00
Practice three: 10:00