What to watch for in Hungary…

Two Mercedes at the front in Budapest last year, same story this time around?

Two Mercedes at the front in Budapest last year, same story this time around?

Three weeks, three races but Formula 1’s finally escaped Austria and made it to Hungary for the first change of venue of the season. The Hungaroring is capable of throwing up really interesting races or quite processional affairs, but with a Mercedes vs Red Bull fight at the front and a really tight midfield battle, plus some fun off-track stuff to monitor, it should be an interesting weekend. 

We covered the main performance topics in our review of the Styrian Grand Prix so I thought a quick-fire run through of things you should be watching out for at the Hungarian Grand Prix would be of better value here.

Red Bull’s strength

Mercedes reckoned it was being beaten by Red Bull in low-speed corners in Austria, and the Hungaroring is more low-and-medium-speed than anything else. Traction zones are important and it’s a place that rewards strong aerodynamic performance.

This has usually been Red Bull’s big strength and there were signs of that in Austria as well. If it can stop its car being too nervous at the rear, Max Verstappen should challenge the Mercedes drivers like he did last year.

But if Mercedes engine gains are as good as the Red Bull Ring suggested, the Honda-powered Red Bull might just be outgunned in qualifying.

Ferrari’s test on a slower circuit

It’s clear now that Ferrari’s got a qualifying mode deficit with its engine (I wonder what could be the reason for that…). So at a power-sensitive track like the Red Bull Ring with so many straights and fast corners, it was probably at its most vulnerable.

The Hungaroring might be a better chance of leading the midfield. But its car’s not exactly perfect and the upgrades that were fast-tracked didn’t seem to do much to help.

This is a big test of whether Ferrari’s got a serious, fundamental lack of performance or if it can aim for better things at certain circuits.

Everyone vs the year-old Mercedes

McLaren, Racing Point and Renault are enjoying life in the midfield with Ferrari in turmoil because it gives them more to fight over than just seventh place.

But the speed of the Racing Point last weekend was seriously impressive, to the point where Red Bull boss Christian Horner said everyone should be worried about it.

So, will Racing Point finally hook it all up this weekend? And if it does, could it be so fast that a podium challenge is on the cards? Well, at least for Sergio Perez.

Renault vs the year-old Mercedes 

On-track, Racing Point is a threat to a lot of teams. Off-track, it’s under attack from Renault.

We don’t know how long the FIA will investigate Racing Point’s brake ducts after a protest from Renault last weekend but there’s every chance more shots will be fired this weekend.

This battle’s not going away. Renault and other teams are not happy with Racing Point copying the 2019 Mercedes design and are now suggesting something far more sinister has gone on, as there’s a clear accusation that Racing Point’s not copied it in the legal way that it claimed.

Vettel’s future

The rumour in Germany is that Sebastian Vettel’s been offered a contract by Racing Point to lead the team next year when it becomes Aston Martin.

Obviously, that will require one of Lance Stroll (the owner’s son) and Perez (well-backed, better than Stroll and contracted to 2022) to move aside.

Questions will be asked of all drivers on Thursday and then Racing Point team boss Otmar Szafnauer is in the FIA’s official press conference on Friday.

Chances are, they will all just stick to their scripts from last weekend: Vettel saying all options are open, Szafnauer saying Racing Point has two drivers under contract that the team’s happy with.

But Vettel’s future is a major talking point and the last truly interesting piece of the driver market puzzle, given Mercedes is expected to retain Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull has made it clear Vettel’s not going back there.

This story could, and should, evolve more this week.