Sebastian Vettel is looking to end the first half of the Formula One season with something the three-time defending world champion and current points leader has never accomplished before: a victory at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Vettel, who has been driving for Red Bull since 2009, has won two of the last three races and leads Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso by 34 points, 157 to 123. Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus is third with 116.
Last week, the teams held in-season testing sessions in Silverstone to assess new tyres provided by Pirelli and dispel safety concerns after several blowouts on the same circuit at the British Grand Prix in June.
“This will be our first race back on the 2012 tires and we will see how they respond to the demands of the long corners and high track temperature,” Vettel said.
Pirelli will provide medium and soft tyres for the Hungarian race.
The Hungaroring is the slowest circuit on the Formula One schedule after Monaco, with few opportunities for passing. A hot, sunny day is forecast for Sunday’s race with temperatures in the area seen reaching at least 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit). As the course is in a valley, temperatures on the track are even higher and can easily reach 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) or more.
In 2007, Vettel made his debut with Toro Rosso, Red Bull’s junior team, at the Hungaroring, switching midseason from Sauber.
“Hungary has some interesting memories for me. It was my first F1 race with the Red Bull family,” Vettel said. “Let’s hope I can add to my memories by winning there for the first time before I go on holiday.”
Following a three-week gap since the German Grand Prix in Nuerburgring, the teams will again have several weeks off after the Hungarian race, the 10th of 19 during the season. They return to racing on August 25 at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit for the Belgian GP.
While Alonso and Raikkonen are Vettel’s closest rivals, McLaren has done very well at the Hungaroring over the past years, winning six of last eight races here.
Lewis Hamilton, racing for Mercedes this year after six seasons with McLaren, has won the race three times, including last year.
Between them, Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg have started five of the last six races from pole position, with Rosberg winning at Silverstone and Monaco. Hamilton is fourth in the standings with 99 points but has no victories so far this year.
“I’ve always enjoyed the Hungaroring,” Hamilton said. “I love the layout of the circuit.”
Lotus, after two dreadful races in Monaco and Canada where it gained just three points in total, now looks to be on the rise. The team had both drivers on the podium in Germany, with Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean accompanying Vettel.
Since winning here in 2005, Raikkonen has been second at the Hungaroring three times and third once. The Finn highlighted the need for a strong result in qualifying.
“I have finished second in Hungary too many times, so I know how important it is to lead the race after the first corner,” the 2007 world champion said. “It would be nice to take the break after this race and recharge the batteries in the middle of the season with a good result.”
For Ferrari, success in Hungary could be the start of a stronger second half of the year, just like in 2012.
Alonso has not won since the Spanish Grand Prix in May but has finished on the podium in two of the last three races.
Still, Ferrari has had a hard time during qualifying lately, with Alonso starting ninth and eighth in the last two races and Felipe Massa 11th or worse on the grid in three of the past four events.
Sometimes Ferrari seems to prefer concentrating on readying its cars with a race setup rather than qualifying.
This could make Hungary, whose 14 corners and short straight make passing difficult, especially challenging for the Italian team.
“For sure 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,” Alonso said. “You need a car that is very stable and that is kind to the tires to avoid degradation. I’m hoping our weekend goes in the opposite way to what people are expecting.”
The expected presence in Budapest of Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone could add some off-road spice to the Hungarian Grand Prix.
It was revealed last week that Ecclestone has been charged by German prosecutors with paying a $44 million bribe in connection with the sale of a stake in F1. He has until mid-August to respond to charges of bribery and incitement to breach of trust.
While sentences in Germany for bribery range from three months to 10 years in prison, it is not yet certain that the case will go to trial.
Ecclestone, an 82-year-old Briton who Forbes magazine reports to be worth $3.8 billion, has insisted he did “nothing illegal.”