The Hungarian Grand Prix this weekend marks the eleventh of 18 rounds on the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship calendar – and a pivotal stage during the season as the title battle teeters on a knife-edge.
The race – around the Hungaroring close to the capital of Budapest – has been a regular fixture on the grand prix calendar since 1986, and has smiled on British drivers on a number of occasions.
Most notable have been Nigel Mansell's victory from twelfth on the grid for Ferrari back in 1989, Jenson Button's breakthrough triumph in the top flight in an unusually wet encounter in 2006 and Lewis Hamilton's lights-to-flag glory to secure only the third success of his F1 career this time twelve months ago.
In the past 22 years, the race has been won by McLaren seven times and Ferrari five, and indeed it is the former who appear to be in much the better shape as the weekend approaches, on the back of Lewis Hamilton's second dominant performance in as many outings in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim just under a fortnight ago.
Resulting from that, the young Stevenage ace has opened up a four-point advantage in the drivers' standings over the pursuing Felipe Massa, and sits seven points clear of the Brazilian's Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Hamilton would certainly seem to be the form man as the 2008 campaign races into its second half, and will have fond memories of his maiden Hungarian Grand Prix last year – or race day, at least, following a highly-publicised tit-for-tat spat with then team-mate Fernando Alonso during qualifying that saw the Spaniard demoted five grid positions, and the pair's already brittle relationship reach a new low.
This time around, there is a far more harmonious atmosphere inside the Woking-based outfit, with Heikki Kovalainen providing the perfect foil to Hamilton's brilliance. The young Finn will be no doubt buoyed by the renewal of his McLaren contract for another season [see separate story – click here
], and finished inside the points following a strong performance on his debut in the race in 2007.
Whilst seeking to insist that there is no reason to panic over its recent slump in fortunes – having registered just a single victory in the last five races to McLaren's five, and having been out-scored by the Silver Arrows over the same period by 44 points to 42 – Ferrari does acknowledge that much work needs to be done if the Scuderia
is to rediscover its imperious early-season form, with both Massa and Raikkonen slipping ever-further adrift in the battle for the drivers' crown.
Whilst the defending F1 World Champion is a former winner in Hungary – ironically for McLaren – and has ascended the rostrum on a further two occasions, his team-mate has scored just two points there from five previous starts, and is well aware that he must do significantly better than that this year if he is to further his claim to be Maranello's principal title hope.