After racing at the ultrafast and flowing Silverstone Circuit for the British Grand Prix, the FIA Formula One World Championship heads to the slowest permanent circuit in Formula One – the Hungaroring for the 24 July Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest.
Slow, however, doesn’t mean easy. Despite an average speed of 190 kph (118 mph), which is 35 kph (22 mph) slower than the average speed around Silverstone, the Hungaroring requires precision and preservation. The 4.381 km (2.722-mile), 14-turn track has few straights. Likened by many to being a full-sized karting circuit, the Hungaroring is a physical track, demanding a lot from the drivers who, in turn, demand a lot from their tyres.
Hot weather is a hallmark of the Hungarian Grand Prix and combined with the technical nature of the Hungaroring, drivers are tested throughout the 70-lap race. There is seemingly constant and drastic steering wheel input and no reprieve from the ever-present heat since only a scant amount of air is able to flow through the car. Bearing the brunt of this hostile environment, however, are the tyres. A high level of traction, a lot of braking and significant lateral energy demands push the tyres to their limits, meaning tyre management is a crucial component of a team’s race strategy.
For those not qualifying up front – where the Hungarian Grand Prix has been won from the first two rows 28 times in its 30-year history – savvy strategy is a must to advance through the field. The epic drives of Nigel Mansell (12th to first in 1989) and Jenson Button (14th to first in 2006) prove that despite the lack of overtaking opportunities, tenacity and tyre management can ring up points at the Hungaroring.
Success on Sunday begins in free practice on Friday. This is where the track is understood and the working ranges of the tyres become known, allowing teams to fine tune their racecars to meet the demands of the day. The more track time, the more data that gets collected and the more likely a point-paying strategy will be formulated.
We haven’t heard much from the team yet but at Silverstone, Haas F1 had its best Friday to date with 671.574 km (417.297 miles) logged between its drivers – Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutiérrez and Charles Leclerc, the latter of whom drove in the weekend’s opening practice session and is slated to do the same in Hungary. The collective effort led to another productive practice session on Saturday, which resulted in a qualifying performance that led Grosjean and Gutiérrez to believe Sunday would yield their first double-points finish of the year. But a downpour just before the start of the British Grand Prix drowned those hopes.
With the race starting behind the safety car, a sound strategy crafted from two days of strong running went down the drain. Also going down was the power in the team’s pit perch, preventing the engineers from exactly knowing where their drivers were on the track and where they stood in relation to others. This led to a miscommunication that kept Gutiérrez on the track a lap past a planned pit stop on lap 16, which stuck him behind slower cars for 23 laps, allowing the rest of the field to open up a sizeable gap that couldn’t be overcome. Gutiérrez finished 16th while Grosjean suffered a DNF (Did Not Finish) when his transmission broke on lap 18.
After having an eye on eating into the point margin between itself and seventh-place McLaren in the constructor standings, Haas F1 was left starving at Silverstone. Knowing the progress it made and the strength the team showed on Friday and Saturday at Silverstone, the team is hungry for its next point-paying opportunity, and it just might come at the Hungarian Grand Prix.