Sebastian Vettel had never won in July before this year’s German Grand Prix. That box ticked, Red Bull’s triple Formula 1 champion now has a Hungary voodoo to overcome on Sunday while his rivals figure out how to contain his winning momentum
If the German can triumph for the first time in seven visits on what promises to be a sweltering weekend in Budapest then he will go into Formula 1’s summer break well on the way to a fourth successive title.
This year has already seen the 26-year-old break new ground. He has won his home race for the first time, savoured a first victory in North America and shown his ruthless streak in defying team orders.
Hungary is one of only two races remaining on the current calendar that Vettel has not won – the other being Austin, Texas – and a victory in the heat of the Hungaroring would mean he has won half of the season’s races so far.
“Hungary has some interesting memories for me,” he said this week, casting his mind back to only the second race of his F1 career when he joined Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso in 2007 after a debut as a stand-in with BMW-Sauber.
“It was my first race with the Red Bull family. Let’s hope I can add to my memories by winning there for the first time before I go on holiday.”
Ominously for Vettel’s rivals, on previous form he is likely to get even stronger in the second half of the season so every point they can take off him now could be vital.
The championship leader has hit his stride already, scoring 157 points from nine races compared to 100 last year, and won four races after taking just one by this stage in 2012. He is 34 points clear of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
In the last three seasons, Vettel has come back refreshed after the summer break and put his foot down to win at least three more races – four last year and five in 2011, his most dominant campaign yet.
The introduction of new Pirelli tyres this weekend, after a spate of blowouts at last month’s British Grand Prix led to emergency changes in Germany, could help him further.
Vettel was fastest in a test of the new tyres, which marry the 2012 structure with 2013 compounds to produce less degradation, at Silverstone last week although his main race rivals were absent.
Mercedes, who were not allowed to test at Silverstone as punishment for a ‘secret’ test with Pirelli in June, will have to wait and see but their strength in qualifying up to now should stand them in good stead.
Lewis Hamilton is chasing his third pole in a row with Mercedes and has won three times in Hungary but that was with McLaren, who have won six times in the last eight years but are currently a long way from where they want to be, performance wise.
“We have a number of challenges to overcome,” said Mercedes motorsport head Toto Wolff. “We will need to do extra homework on Friday to understand how the new tyres work with our car.
“Then we will have to get to grips with the high temperatures, a demanding circuit and the soft and medium compound Pirelli tyres.
“During the race at the Nurburgring, we were overheating the tyres and we want to minimise the chance of suffering a repeat problem in Hungary, where the track temperatures will also be high.”
Alonso – who took his first F1 win in Hungary with Renault in 2003 – and Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen will be hoping their cars’ gentle treatment of the tyres can help them put pressure on Vettel.
“People say the characteristics of our car are not best suited to this circuit and that it will be tough for us to fight for the win here, but I am not sure this is an accurate assessment,” said Alonso’s teammate Felipe Massa.
“There have been other circuits where we expected our car to be very strong and it was not and vice-versa,” added the Brazilian, who suffered life-threatening head injuries in a freak accident at the track near Budapest in 2009.
“You need a car that is very stable and that is kind to the tyres to avoid degradation. I think we can be competitive so I’m hoping our weekend goes in the opposite way to what people are expecting.”
McLaren’s Jenson Button is not expecting much but loves the circuit after taking his first F1 win there in 2006 and won his 200th F1 race, with McLaren, “Of course a win in 2013 is going to be difficult but I actually think the team is working very well right now.”
Hungarian Grand Prix Statistics
- Four different teams have won the nine races so far this year (Lotus, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes).
- Red Bull’s triple champion Sebastian Vettel is the only driver with four wins in 2013. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Mercedes’s Nico Rosberg have won two races each. Lotus’s Kimi Raikkonen has won one.
- Alonso has 32 career wins, Vettel 30, Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton 21, Raikkonen 20 and McLaren’s Jenson Button 15.
- Ferrari have won 221 races since the championship started in 1950, McLaren 182, Williams 114 and Red Bull 38.
- Mercedes have been on pole six times in nine races. Vettel has taken the other three.
- Vettel has 39 poles to his credit, putting him third in the all-time list (Michael Schumacher had 68 and Ayrton Senna 65). Hamilton has 29, and Alonso 22.
- Hamilton’s pole in Germany this month was his second in a row and lifted him level with late Argentine five time champion Juan Manuel Fangio in the all-time lists.
- Mercedes have locked out the front row in qualifying three times this year.
- Alonso has not been on the front row in the last 19 races, with his last appearance being his pole in Germany in July 2012. He has not been on pole in a dry qualifying since 2010.
- Caterham and Marussia have yet to score a point after three seasons in Formula 1.
- None of the five 2013 rookies has scored points so far.
- Kimi Raikkonen has now finished a record 26 successive races in the points for Lotus. although scoring systems have changed since Michael Schumacher set 24 in a row.
- Raikkonen last failed to score in China in 2012. He is the only driver to have scored points in every race this year.
- Former champions Williams have yet to score a point this season and for 10 races in a row – their worst ever start.
- Vettel has never won in Hungary.
- This weekend’s race is the 28th Hungarian Grand Prix. Only the Monaco and Monza circuits have hosted more consecutive grands prix.
- McLaren have won six of the last eight races at the Hungaroring, which is the slowest permanent circuit on the current calendar.
- Ferrari have won only five times in Hungary. They have been on pole seven times.
- Despite the circuit having a reputation as difficult to overtake on, only two of the last eight races there have been won from pole – Hamilton on both occasions (2007 and 2012).
- Last year’s race had fewer overtaking moves (19) than the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix (23).
- Hamilton has won three times in Hungary, Button twice. Michael Schumacher won a record four times.
- Button (2006) and Alonso (2003) took their first wins in Hungary. Button’s 2006 win was from 14th on the grid, still the lowest winning start position for this race.
- Only one Hungarian has ever competed in the Formula One championship – Zsolt Baumgartner with Jordan and Minardi in 2003 and 2004. He scored a point in 2004.
- There are two DRS zones to help overtaking.
- Alonso is 32 on July 29.
- Hungary will be a 100th race for Force India’s German driver Adrian Sutil.
- The race marks the mid-point in the season as the 10th of 19 rounds.
(Reuters) Subbed by AJN.