With Hamilton just one point behind Rosberg, the championship is delicately poised as the drivers head to the Hungaroring in the next round on the F1 calendar.
The Hungaroring was the first circuit in the world to be built specifically to host Formula 1 and this weekend is the 30th anniversary of its first Grand Prix.
Much has changed since the first race back in 1986 when Hungary was a part of the Soviet Union and the Hungaroring was built – albeit quickly in just 9 months – in relative remoteness about 20 kilometres from Budapest.
Now, drivers scramble with excitement to the Hungaroring to take in the summertime warmth and battle their way around a uniquely challenging track.
What’s so different about Hungary?
The Hungaroring, at 4.381km (2.722 miles) in length, is known colloquially as ‘Monaco without the walls’. The twisty track undulates up and down over the hills as the drivers contend with regular, tight, slow corners.
The lap begins with a 610m downhill sprint to the Turn 1 right hairpin followed by the Turn 2 left hairpin. There is a right twist at Turn 3 before a left kink and long right hairpin at Turn 5.
The second section is perhaps the most enjoyable with the drivers and their cars pushed to the limits through the left-right-left-right zig-zag corners between Turn 8 and Turn 11. It’s a section that tests aerodynamics, balance, and the bravery of the drivers.
Turn 14 is the key corner of the lap. A difficult 180-degree right-hander, the drivers need to find good traction and strong exit speed to get the most out of the relatively short straight that follows.
“The Hungaroring is a great little circuit, and has quite unique characteristics that not many other tracks share,” said McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
“It’s a bit like a street circuit in the way it’s configured, even though it’s purpose-built, and it requires absolute precision and concentration to get the most out of every lap.”
“Since you need good balance and downforce, the best way to get a good lap time is to really attack the corners – a bit like in karting – so from that point of view it’s a really fun circuit to drive.”
Low grip adds uncertainty
The Hungaroring is renowned for its poor grip – due mainly to the build-up of dust between each Grand Prix – and there will be further unknowns after new asphalt was recently laid on the track.
It will mean that the teams will probably approach the early practise sessions with hesitation while the racing line is developed and the track ‘grips in’.
“New track surfaces are always a little bit of a venture into the unknown as you don’t know how much grip there will be, how the surface will evolve over the weekend and how the tyres will perform with the surface,” adds Jolyon Palmer from Renault.
Can Red Bull challenge?
The Hungaroring has been a difficult venue for Mercedes and they have failed to win a race there since the start of the V6 hybrid era.
Their task is made more complicated by one intriguing statistic – only 13 of 30 pole sitters have won despite it being one of the toughest circuits to overtake. Even if Hamilton and Rosberg can turn in strong qualifying laps, teams like Red Bull and Ferrari will highly fancy their prospects for a strong result in Hungary just like in 2015 when they managed to keep Mercedes off the podium.
The head of motorsport at Mercedes, Toto Wolff, went so far as labelling Red Bull as the ‘major’ threat.
“This circuit has not been kind to us over the past two years and it plays to the strengths of our rivals,” said Wolff.
“The Red Bull, for example, is a car that functions well where high drag isn’t penalised as much as at other types of circuit. So, in wet conditions and at low-speed circuits such as the Hungaroring, they are a major threat.”
“We will need to be flawless to come out on top at this track.”
With Red Bull and Ferrari expected to mount serious challenges and Hamilton sitting just one point behind Rosberg, there will be no time to look away from the action in Hungary.
The race will start at 14:00 local time and will run over 70 laps.