After a crushingly disappointing outcome to the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring last time out, McLaren-Mercedes is hoping that the tight, twisty nature of the Hungaroring next weekend will provide payback – with both drivers having triumphed in Budapest before.
Heikki Kovalainen lucked into his maiden grand prix victory at the circuit close to the Hungarian capital last year, with team-mate Lewis Hamilton having similarly prevailed twelve months earlier still – and the track's layout, much like Monaco earlier in the season, should suit the MP4-24 down to the ground. Hopes at Woking are undoubtedly high.
“Obviously I won in Hungary in 2008, so it will be nice to come back to Budapest again,” affirmed Kovalainen, who didn't benefit from the full package of aerodynamic updates introduced in Germany as did Hamilton. “This race is likely to be won or lost in qualifying; you've got to be at the front and run an aggressive first stint if you are to succeed. The track is also quite hard on tyres, so you need to find a balance that will allow you to look after your rubber until the finish – the softer rubber, in particular, tends to suffer at the end of the race so you have to be careful.
“I'm really looking to running the team's new upgrade package this weekend. I had a strong weekend at the Nürburgring and I didn't let a single car past me in the race – with the improved car I'm really hopeful of getting another strong result at the Hungaroring.”
Hamilton, for his part, looked in even better shape in Germany – or at least he did until the first corner. Having equalled his best qualifying performance of the campaign so far in fifth, the reigning F1 World Champion made a blistering KERS-aided getaway when the starting lights went out and very nearly got into the lead around the outside, but following a light touch with Red Bull Racing rival Mark Webber, the Stevenage-born ace found himself with a punctured tyre and a long trip back to the pits – ahead of an even longer drive to the chequered flag. Assuredly, in Hungary, the 24-year-old is due a change of luck.
“The Hungaroring is one of the most demanding circuits for drivers,” he contended, “because you're busy throughout the entire lap. It's a bit like a kart circuit – there are lots of twists and turns and the only place to relax is along the start/finish straight, which is quite short. It's also quite low-grip, which makes overtaking particularly tricky.
“I really enjoy the place, though – I won here in 2007 and was on pole last year. It's a circuit that really rewards consistent, precise driving – push too hard and you tend to lose rather than gain time. Given the potential we showed in Germany last weekend, I'm hopeful of getting a result that demonstrates the improvement we've made over the past few weeks.”
Indeed, the updates brought to the hitherto unloved and underperforming MP4-24 certainly seemed to provide the catalyst for a far more respectable showing around the Eifel Mountains circuit, even if just a single point at the end of the weekend was ultimately poor reward.
The multiple world champions, though, have won in Hungary five times in the last ten years – comfortably more than any of their competitors – and eight times in total, and a first podium finish of the current season would be the perfect way to mark the tenth anniversary of the squad's last one-two there courtesy of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard in 1999.