The Hungarian Grand Prix: The History, the Contenders and the Bigger Picture…

July 28, 2017

- Grant Whittington

Prior to the British Grand Prix, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel could have been forgiven for thinking that he was about to establish a dominant lead in the F1 Drivers’ Championship.

A great deal can change during the course of a single race in the world of Formula One, however, particularly when you are dealing with a talented and mercurial driver like Lewis Hamilton. This is something that four-time World Champion Vettel learned the hard way at Silverstone, as Hamilton secured a record-equalling fifth victory in Britain and closed the gap at the top of the Drivers’ Championship to just a single point.

Next up is Hungary this weekend, and there is plenty of reason to believe that the momentum has now turned decisively in Hamilton’s favour. But who will win here, and what will it mean for the title race as a whole?

Looking Back and Ahead: Who Can Challenge Hamilton in Budapest?

Thanks to a combination of sporadic engine failures and frustrating inconsistencies, Hamilton has dealt almost exclusively in peaks and troughs during the last two seasons. This means that the vast majority of his triumphs have come as part of winning sequences, during which he has built the levels of momentum and confidence that have empowered him to leverage his innate, natural talent. This is why his dominant win from pole position at Silverstone will have concerned Vettel, as it will serve to reinforce the belief that Hamilton remains the single most capable driver on the circuit.

As if this was not enough, the Silverstone race also saw Vettel fall victim to the type of misfortune that has plagued Hamilton during the last 18 months, has his front-left tyre blew just two laps from home to see him tumble from third to seventh in the final placings.

With this in mind, the fact that the Hungarian Grand Prix is next up is likely to cause even a seasoned veteran like Vettel a series of sleepless nights. After all, there is no driver past or present who can hold a torch to the brilliant Hamilton at the Hungaroring track in Budapest, with the Englishman having won there more times than anyone else in history. He has triumphed an incredible five times there during his career, and this sustained dominance is reflected by the current Hungarian Grand Prix odds.

So while the Hungarian Grand Prix and the now iconic Hungaroring track (which has hosted more consecutive races than any other venue other than Monza and Monte Carlo) has become a much-loved addition to the F1 calendar since the latter’s debut in 1986, it is a particular favourite of Hamilton and Mercedes. Familiarity may have something to do with this, with a driver of Hamilton’s skill and touch at his best when he can perform on a track that holds few unpleasant surprises.

Perhaps the real secret of Hamilton’s sustained success in Hungary lies in the nature of the track, however, which boasts a challenging and intricate design that pushes drivers to the limits of their talent, character and nerve. Even though it is relatively short in length at just 2.7 miles, it winds and weaves around a characterful amphitheatre and includes a bewildering range of medium-speed turns and daunting chicanes. This creates average lap speeds that can seem slow at first glance, but these are actually the result of a multi-paced and extremely demanding layout.

This myriad of conditions is perfectly suited to the talent and persona of Hamilton, whose ability and competitive nature shines through on the most challenging Formula One tracks across the globe. This is why he has thrived here so often, and arguably the decisive reason why so many of the track’s recent races have been relatively staid (save for the the thrilling and rain-affected installation in 2014). In short, Hamilton’s ability and affinity with the Hungaroring tends to overwhelm his rivals, and once again he will start as the firm favourite when the weekend commences.

Who Will Prevail and How Will it Impact on the Title Race?

This augers well for Hamilton, as does the most recent installation of the race in 2016. Hamilton dominated last years’ race from pole position, delivering a comprehensive win that left his then-teammate Nico Rosberg in his slipstream. Perhaps more intriguingly, last years’ win saw Hamilton reclaim the lead at the top of the Drivers’ Championship ahead of his rivals. A similar performance here would deliver Hamilton’s fifth win of the campaign and see history repeat itself, regardless of how well Vettel performs in Budapest.

This would represent Hamilton’s sixth win in 11 outings at the Hungaroring, while it would almost certainly see him established as the favourite for Driver’s Championship for the first time this season. The issue for his rivals is that he remains the single most talented driver on the circuit, meaning that if he is focused and supported by a high-performance vehicle he will be exceptionally difficult to stop.

Vettel is a clear contender who will be determined to win, of course, while Ferrari also hold a competitive edge over Mercedes despite the latter’s sustained improvements this year. The relatively slow and winding nature of the Hungaroring may level the playing field in terms of lap speed, however, and this will undoubtedly play into Mercedes’ hands. The precocious Daniel Ricciardo will also fancy his chances of challenging in Budapest, with his stunning 2014 win at the Hungaroring still fresh in the mind and the Red Bull driver capable of beating anyone on his day.

We cannot see past a Hamilton triumph, however, either in Hungary or in the Drivers’ Championship overall. After all, the Englishman always remains the man most likely to win when his car is performing well and consistently, and there is almost no doubt that he would have won last years’ title were it not for a series of frustrating and debilitating engine failures. With these largely a thing of the past, Hamilton is well-placed to win in Hungary and steal a decisive march in the title race with 10 races to go.

Our Final Thoughts

A win here will certainly reaffirm a change in the momentum in the Drivers’ Championship, with Hamilton suddenly the clear and overwhelming favourite to prevail and claim his fourth world title. Nothing can be taken for granted, of course, but his performance at Silverstone should underline the distinct edge that Hamilton has as a driver and a relentless competitor.

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