2014 Hungarian Grand Prix Preview

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Formula 1 heads to Hungary for the final race before the summer break this weekend, and with championship protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg separated by just 14 points at the top of the standings, there is everything to play for at the Hungaroring.

The race graced the F1 calendar back in 1986, and was the first to take place behind the iron curtain of communism. Bernie Ecclestone had wanted to take a round to the Soviet Union, but eventually settled for Hungary, which has remained a mainstay on the calendar ever since.

In more recent times, the race has been a stronghold for Lewis Hamilton. The Briton is the joint most successful driver at the track, having won it four times in seven attempts. Only Michael Schumacher has won as often at the Hungaroring.

As a result, he goes into this race weekend as the favorite despite losing out to Nico Rosberg at Hockenheim. The German driver will be well aware of his teammate’s penchant for this track, and may have to settle for only a seven point lead before the summer shutdown.

2014 Hungarian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Lewis chases a high-five

The hallmark of a legendary driver in Formula 1 is the ability to create a an association with a circuit by winning there, making it their own. For Lewis Hamilton, it is the Hungaroring. Four wins in seven years, and even when the McLaren was a pig of a car back in 2009, he dragged it to victory. Last year, he claimed his first win for Mercedes at the track, calling it a “miracle”; will he move clear of Schumacher and claim a fifth win in Hungary on Sunday?

A charge for the returning Red Bulls?

Red Bull’s recent form has been good, but not great. This weekend, the defending champion team could strike back at a circuit that should suit the RB10 better than most. Although a victory or even a second place finish is out of the question if Mercedes keeps things pointing in the right direction, a strong double-score could see the team move back ahead in the pecking order after three races on the back foot.

Don’t stop Bottas now, he’s having a good time

Valtteri Bottas is quickly becoming the break-out star of the 2014 Formula 1 season, securing three straight podium finishes since the Austrian Grand Prix. He was the only driver to enter battle with Lewis Hamilton at Hockenheim and win. The flying Finn now wants podium number four, and although the Hungaroring may not be as suited to the FW36, the team should still be fighting at the sharp end of the top ten in Hungary. Felipe Massa will also want to get back into the top ten after two first-lap incidents in the last two races.

Fernando’s choice?

Paddock chatter suggests that Ferrari’s drop to fourth in the constructors’ championship may not seem as innocuous as it actually is. Apparently, Fernando Alonso has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave if the team drops out of the top three in the standings, thus opening the door for him to walk away if he wants. With McLaren sniffing around the Spaniard, you can expect silly season to really get going this weekend.

Hungary for rain

We’re still yet to have a truly wet weather grand prix since Brazil 2012, where Sebastian Vettel edged out Fernando Alonso for the title at Interlagos. This weekend, the forecast suggests that heavy rain and thunderstorms could grace the Hungaroring, and it might just be what F1 needs ahead of the summer break: a crazy race to turn everything on its head and leave us a lot to mull over ahead of the final stretch. With eight races in fourteen weekends from Spa, the stage will be set for a straight fight between Lewis and Nico for the title.

Hungary – Facts and Figures

Track: Hungaroring
Laps: 
70
Corners: 14
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:19.071 (2004)
Tyre Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2013 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2013 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:19.388
2013 Fastest Lap: Mark Webber (Red Bull) 1:24.069
DRS Zone: Main Straight (T14 to T1); T1 to T3

Haas F1 tussling in middle of pack in 2nd season

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) For a second-year Formula One team, Haas F1 should be all smiles.

The only U.S.-based team on the grid has faster cars and has already scored more points this year behind veteran drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen than it did in all of 2016.

Yet it’s that sort of success that can both please and frustrate team principal Guenther Steiner and test the patience of industrialist owner Gene Haas: Despite the better results, Haas hasn’t moved any closer to the front of the team standings as it scraps around the middle of the pack while Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull grab all the glory.

“There are so many people fighting for the crumbs,” Steiner said ahead of the U.S. Grand Prix. “I didn’t expect the competition in the midfield to be so brutal this year.”

Still, it’s better to be in the middle of the scrap than left behind.

“It’s been an up-and-down season,” Magnussen said. “When we’re quick, we’re very quick, but our lows have been perhaps a bit too low.”

For Haas F1, this race weekend is a homecoming of sorts. While the team is based in North Carolina, the Texas race is the only one on the calendar in the U.S., making Haas F1 the home “favorite” with American fans even if it really has no chance of winning.

“It would be nice to put a whole weekend together, have good practices, good weather, not wreck your car… kind of like we did in Japan,” Haas said.

The Japanese Grand Prix two weeks ago delivered Haas F1’s best overall performance this year. It was the first time this season both cars finished in the top 10 and put them at seventh in the team standings with 42 points, one place and already 13 points better than their 2016 finish.

While Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are closing in on another team and drivers’ championship, only 24 points separate the team standings from fifth through eighth place. The most exciting battles and daring drives over the final four races could come from the middle of the pack as teams scuffle for points and the season-ending money that comes with them.

“We’re in that tight pack that ebbs and flows from race to race,” Gene Haas said. “It’s a constant dance around each other for position.”

Haas is still getting used to a Formula One reality that only a few teams have a realistic chance of winning each week and others just dream for a shot at a podium finish. He came to Formula One from NASCAR – where he is still a partner in Stewart-Haas Racing – and a track environment where “at any race, every team has a chance to win.”

Haas F1 impressed the rest of the teams just by not finishing on the bottom in its first season in 2016. That only raised expectations the team could fight its way to the front of the second tier this year. This season began with a thud when both Haas cars failed to finish the first race in Australia. That hasn’t happened since and the team has scored in three of the last five races.

Gene Haas figures reliability problems – a failed suspension system recently knocked Magnussen out of a top-10 finish – have cost his team dearly.

“Right now I feel like our drivers are better than our cars,” he said.

Haas got into F1 with an admitted goal of boosting his commercial enterprises as a high-tech tool manufacturer and he says that’s paying off away from the track. The trick is staying long-term in a very expensive sport that sees heavyweight manufacturers like Ferrari and Mercedes sometimes double or triple the budgets of other teams.

Formula One has not been kind to small teams that join the grid only to go bust within a few years. Haas is the first American-owned team in the series in 30 years. Three other teams that tried to start from scratch since 2010 – Caterham, HRT and Manor – all collapsed and went out of business. Haas said he as a five-year plan in F1 to see if he can stay longer.

“If you do the five-year plan and you look at (those) teams from the past, their five-year plan was they went out of business. You want to avoid that one,” Haas said.

Grosjean, who signed with Haas from Lotus, said he expects the team to be on the grid for the long haul.

“He’s the best team owner I’ve ever had,” Grosjean said. “He’s passionate about racing and really loves it to a high extent. We know the gap is big right now, but that’s where the patience is.”