The Hungaroring will pose Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes team their sternest challenge this weekend as they try to make up lost ground after being banned from testing Pirelli’s latest tyres at Silverstone last week.
Throw in the likelihood of 40C ambient temperatures for Sunday’s race – which means track temperatures 10 degrees higher – and the Hungarian Grand Prix could be another tailor-made tyre degradation disaster for the team that struggled so badly last time out at a cooler Nürburgring.
“It’s going to be tough this weekend,” Hamilton acknowledged. “The conditions won’t help us, plus we’ve not driven the new tyres like everyone else so we have a bit of catching up to do. But that’s what we do best. We have already done a lot of work to improve our race pace, but I anticipate it’s going to be a difficult weekend.”
Mercedes were punished for taking part in an illegal three-day tyre test in Spain last month. But Hamilton has been keeping up his spirits during Formula One’s mini-break with a week in a Los Angeles studio recording R&B songs which he wrote himself. That was followed by a relaxed meeting in Ibiza with Mercedes’ non-executive chairman Niki Lauda on Gerhard Berger’s boat. “But the break was too long,” he insisted. “I’ve missed being in the car.”
He admitted that having a car that has taken pole position in six of the nine races held so far this season is keeping him motivated, even if its race performance remains uncertain. “We have another upgrade on the brakes here and it’s a good feeling heading into any race knowing that we have a great chance of taking pole position, like we did in the last race,” he said. “Even though how it goes in the race remains to be seen. The only downer is the tyres. I just hope that this new step is not a more negative step for us.”
That “new step” means Pirelli’s further revised tyres which mate this year’s softer compounds with 2012’s more durable and bullet-proof construction to obviate any further risk of the spectacular explosive failures that cost Hamilton the British GP.
The Mercedes executive director, Toto Wolff, said the team are under no illusion about the challenge they face here. “First, we will need to do extra homework on Friday to understand how the new tyres work with our car,” he said. “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 Nürburgring, we were overheating the tyres,” Wolff added, “and we want to minimise the chance of suffering a repeat problem here, where the track temperatures will also be high.”
Hamilton’s aggressive style is perfectly suited to the Hungaroring, which is the slowest permanent track on the calendar. “That definitely helps to get the job done in qualifying,” he said. “And perhaps if we can get in front we can make the cars behind suffer overheating their tyres in our wake. It’s better to try to get in front, so that you have a better chance to control things, so qualifying will be crucial.”