Following on from back-to-back events in Austria the Formula One World Championship and Haas heading across the border to Hungary for the third round of the 2020 season.
The Hungaroring, located on the outside of Hungary’s capital Budapest, has been hosting Formula One events since 1986, when the purpose-built venue brought the championship under the Iron Curtain for the first time.
It quickly emerged as a popular race venue, courtesy of its close proximity to the vibrant and historic Budapest, with its gothic architecture, social ruin bars, and verdant parks, where East meets West across the Danube River.
Located in a natural valley, the technical 4.381km Hungaroring circuit poses a challenge for teams and drivers alike, with 14 tricky turns, and little in the way of run-off. Overtaking is often at a premium at the Hungaroring, placing an extra importance on grid position, while the intensely hot Hungarian summers means the tires can be severely punished.
Several medium and high-speed corners mean the drivers also face a test of their endurance, particularly at the end of a triple-header of races, only the second time in history that there has been three grands prix in as many weeks.
After back-to-back races in Austria the Haas F1 Team and drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are keen to assess its VF-20 at an entirely different race track, and continue building on the lessons that were learned across the past two weekends.
Grosjean has race-winning experience at the Hungaroring in junior categories and in his first full-time Formula One campaign in 2012 recorded a podium finish, classifying third. Magnussen registered a standout seventh in 2018, with Grosjean 10th, ensuring both Haas F1 Team racers brought home points.
The Hungaroring was less kind the following year and thus Haas F1 Team is keen to make amends as Formula One brings its opening trio of races to a close.
The Hungarian Grand Prix will take place across July 17 to 19, with two 90-minute practice sessions on Friday, final practice and a three-part qualifying hour on Saturday, the results of which set the grid for Sunday’s 70-lap grand prix. Lights out is due for 15:10 local time (08:10 EST/13:10 GMT).
Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner Q&A
The team brought both cars home to the checkered flag at the Styrian Grand Prix after a disappointing double DNF the weekend before. What positives can you extract from Sunday’s race result and what, if any changes were made to deliver a stronger performance? GS: “Obviously the Austrian Grand Prix was a disappointment for us with having two cars not finishing. Coming back to the same place for the Styrian Grand Prix, this time we were able to finish and fight a little bit with our opponents – not in the right place, but at least it’s better than last year. We need to get better in order to fight for points. It’s a start and hopefully going forward we can get into that fight.”
Technical gremlins have impacted both Friday practice sessions this season with Grosjean losing an FP1 for the Austrian Grand Prix and Magnussen missing out on FP1 at the Styrian Grand Prix. How much of an impact does that have in terms of the overall weekend and what measures, if any, can be implemented to minimize the risk? GS: “After four months of not driving a Formula One car, it’s obviously not good not going out in FP1, but also missing a complete session – it’s a disappointment. We always try to do our best, I mean – for sure, we always try to evaluate what happened, but you can never exclude an issue. We just need to keep our heads down, try to do better every time, and try not to make any mistakes from our side.”
Have you had to re-evaluate the team’s goals or objectives for the season based on performances to-date? GS: “Not really because we didn’t have objectives when we started off as we didn’t know where we were. Now we roughly know where we are. Obviously, we’re not on the top of the mid-field, we’re in the second part, we just need to get better as we go along and get more out of the car. Hopefully some of the tracks coming, they’ll help us as they’re a little less power sensitive.”
Hungary represents the third and final leg of the opening triple-header to start the delayed 2020 season. Knowing there are at least two more triple-header stints to come on the calendar, what’s your take on the flow of back-to-back race weekends – where do the challenges lie, or is it a benefit to simply keep the momentum going and continue racing? GS: “Absolutely – keeping momentum going and go racing, that is what we need to do. I think everyone on the team is very motivated and very happy that we’re back racing. For sure by the third triple-header it’ll be a little bit old, and people will be tired, but at least in the next triple-header some of the team can go home in-between – that’s not been possible between the Austrian and Hungarian events. It’s very demanding on the guys, on everybody, but we were not doing a lot for four months at the beginning of the season. In the end though, I think we’re all happy to be here and go racing.”
Last week saw F1 announce two additional race dates, Mugello and Sochi. What’s your take on how the revised 2020 calendar is coming together and how are teams addressing the element of ‘the unknown’ as the final calendar is yet to be determined? GS: “It’s good to see more of the calendar come together but there’s still about two months missing I’d say. I think we’ll get the October calendar pretty soon. The unknown is not fantastic, but the picture is getting clearer and clearer. The biggest thing is financially we don’t know what we’re getting, and we don’t know what we’re going to spend. It’s all a little bit of a guess at the moment, but it is what it is. I think it’s very difficult for Formula One to get assurances from governments that races can be held going into the later part of the year – the pandemic is not over; it changes all the time. We’re just dealing with it on a day-to-day basis and hopefully we get all the details soon.”
Haas Driver Romain Grosjean Q&A
You saw the checkered flag for the first time this season at the Styrian Grand Prix finishing P13. Specifically, what areas of the car had improved in race trim compared to what you experienced the week before in the Austrian Grand Prix? RG: “Compared to last week, I think the cooler track temperatures helped us to get the temperature of the car under control. We still have some work to do on that point, but obviously it was better. We also learned from the set-ups, we changed things from the first week to improve. The car behaved okay for the race. We’re still not as fast as we want to be, but we’ve made some good progress. We now have a solid base from which to start working on for Hungary.”
The Hungaroring is another relatively short track, not too dissimilar from the Red Bull Ring. What are the main characteristics of the circuit and what’s the key to a good run there – both in qualifying and then in the race? What do you need from the car in order to be competitive? RG: “Yes, it’s a short circuit, but it’s different in the way that the straight-line is much less important. You can run maximum downforce on the car – that should help the characteristics of the VF-20. You need good tire management over your qualifying run and for the race as well. It’s normally very hot in Hungary at this time of the year. You need to have a car you can trust going into all those fast corners through the middle sector. The last two corners are also very important in order to get a good lap time. That’s actually where I lost pole position back in 2012, I didn’t go as fast as I should have on the last two turns – that’s where you can gain some good time.”
You have a mixed history at the Hungaroring in Formula One – tending to either score points (including a third-place podium in 2012) or DNF. Do you think about that history and those results when you start preparing for the weekend or is it a clean slate each time? RG: “For me, Hungary holds two good memories. Obviously, there’s my first time being on the front-row in qualifying from 2012 – my best qualifying slot to-date. Then in 2013 I should have won the race, but I had a couple of drive-through penalties, but I still finished sixth despite the 50-second penalty. I got home and the next morning my son, Sacha, was born. Hungary’s normally the time of year we celebrate my first son’s birthday. I love the atmosphere there, love the fans, love the circuit. It can be hard on you, it’s a tough one, as I said, it’s very hot normally. But let’s see where we can go this weekend.”
Hungary represents the third and final leg of the opening triple-header to start the delayed 2020 season. Knowing there are at least two more triple-header stints to come on the calendar, what’s your take on the flow of back-to-back race weekends – where do the challenges lie, or is it a benefit to simply keep the momentum going and continue racing? RG: “I think you can argue a couple of different ways. It’s good to keep the momentum going, to keep that flow, but it’s also hard on the body for everyone. The key is to rest well between races and make sure you come back stronger. I’ve said it a few times, but I really like the calendar. I like the fact that we’re staying a bit more in Europe this year. I think we can have fun and it’s going to be exciting as it continues.”
Haas Driver Kevin Magnussen Q&A
You saw the checkered flag for the first time this season at the Styrian Grand Prix finishing P12. Specifically, what areas of the car had improved in race trim compared to what you experienced the week before in the Austrian Grand Prix? KM: “I think the race performance, from the Austrian to the Styrian Grand Prix, was more or less the same. That was good as the car was actually pretty strong in race condition at the Austrian Grand Prix. But obviously we had the brake problem that hindered our performance there – which we didn’t then have as bad at the Styrian Grand Prix. I think generally the car is very good in race conditions, especially compared to qualifying trim. Qualifying is really where we need to focus because the race performance is decent.”
The Hungaroring is another relatively short track, not too dissimilar from the Red Bull Ring. What are the main characteristics of the circuit and what’s the key to a good run there – both in qualifying and then in the race? What do you need from the car in order to be competitive? KM: “The only real similarity is the length of the lap, I don’t think they have a lot else in common. The Hungaroring is a much lower speed track, there’s less straight-line speed there meaning the sensitivity there on a lap time is less. Hopefully that can be a good thing for us as we saw at the Red Bull Ring our straight-line speed isn’t the strongest.”
You’ve had just one points-scoring finish in five starts at the Hungarian Grand Prix – a seventh place effort with Haas in 2018. How would you categorize your relationship with the Hungaroring, and do you think about those results when you start preparing for the weekend? “To me, it doesn’t mean anything what I’ve done in the past – whether I’ve had good results or not. There’s always an opportunity for a good result no matter what. I don’t see it like I have a particular weakness in Hungary. In the past, before Formula One, the Hungaroring has been very good to me. I’ve won races there and been successful. Just because I haven’t had good fortune there in Formula One, it doesn’t mean there’s any particular weakness there. I think we have a better chance of scoring points in Hungary than we did at the Red Bull Ring – even though that track has been very good to us in the past with Haas.”
Hungary represents the third and final leg of the opening triple-header to start the delayed 2020 season. Knowing there are at least two more triple-header stints to come on the calendar, what’s your take on the flow of back-to-back race weekends – where do the challenges lie, or is it a benefit to simply keep the momentum going and continue racing? KM: “I think it’s only a positive. I only have good things to say about these triple-headers. Of course, if we had a full season of triple-headers from March to December, that would be pretty stressful. But as we find ourselves in this situation where the first half of the season has been canceled, I think it’s only good we get as many races in as possible. The good thing about it is you get really fit. You’re driving the car all the time, every week, and your neck gets very strong. You’re getting accustomed to driving the car a lot which you don’t normally get the chance to. Your general fitness level is very good when you don’t drive the car, you’re in the gym working out, but your racing fitness becomes much better when you’re driving the car – so that’s the positive. I’ve missed driving the car, I’ve missed racing, so at the moment I can’t get enough.”