The 2016 Formula 1 season reaches the halfway mark this weekend as the teams travel to Hungary to do battle around the Hungaroring outside Budapest.
Often described as “Monaco without the barriers”, the Hungarian circuit requires precision on the part of the drivers and good stability through the slow and medium-speed corners on the part of the cars in order to produce a quick lap time.
With the battle at the front and in the midfield heating up, there are a few things to keep an eye on during round 11 of this year’s championship…
Can Hamilton take the lead?
Lewis Hamilton has yet to lead the world championship at any point this season and has instead found himself playing catch-up to teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg.
The Briton, who only took his first victory of 2016 at the sixth round of the championship, has successfully turned the tide in recent races and now sits only one point behind Rosberg at the top of the standings.
Finishing ahead of his German rival this weekend would allow Hamilton, who seems to be riding a wave of momentum, to replace Rosberg as the championship leader. Much has been said about Hamilton enjoying a psychological edge over Rosberg of late.
The Briton certainly seems to be enjoying top-tier form at the moment, while Rosberg appears to know that he is under pressure and being hunted down by a driver who is fundamentally a tenth of a second quicker than himself.
While the battle for the 2016 Championship is likely to continue to ebb and flow right until the end, taking the lead this weekend would allow Hamilton to further cement the mental edge he holds over his teammate.
Can Red Bull win again?
Red Bull were the first to admit that the opening half of the 2016 season was likely to be frustrating for them as they remained hampered by a lack of performance from their Tag-Heuer-branded Renault power units. However, against all expectations, Red Bull has enjoyed a strong resurgence of late, with five podiums in the first ten races of the season, including a victory for Max Verstappen in Spain.
The Hungaroring is likely to suit the characteristics of the team’s RB12 challenger, which is widely praised for its aerodynamic efficiency and precise balance through slow and medium-speed corners. Furthermore, this weekend is likely to be a challenging one for Mercedes, who have yet to taste victory in Hungary despite their dominance over the rest of the field since 2014.
With Daniel Ricciardo smarting from his lost opportunities for victory earlier in the year, and with Max Verstappen eager to further stamp his authority on his new team, expect both drivers to give it their all on a weekend that represents a golden opportunity for them and Red Bull.
Can Ferrari produce an urgently-needed miracle?
As has been well-documented, Ferrari’s early-season revival appears to have stalled. The Scuderia found themselves significantly off the pace around Silverstone, with Kimi Räikkönen finishing fifth while Sebastian Vettel came home in a modest P9.
Ferrari appear to have slipped behind Red Bull in the pecking order for the moment and find themselves only six points ahead of the Milton-Keynes-based squad in the Constructor’s Championship. Rumours of a decisive intervention by Ferrari Chairman Sergio Marchionne certainly indicate that the Italian squad are under pressure both on the circuit and off it.
Despite Marchionne demanding a victory as soon as possible, the Scuderia would probably be satisfied to see off Red Bull this weekend and secure a podium in order to steady the ship to some extent. Last year’s edition of the Hungarian race will bring back fond memories for Ferrari, as Vettel flew off the line, overtook the Mercedes duo and charged to victory.
A repeat of such a heroic feat seems less likely this time around, but as always, hope is eternal.
Can Kvyat kick-start his second Toro Rosso stint?
Despite his promise after his Red Bull demotion that he would answer his critics on the circuit, Daniil Kvyat has found the going tough since his return to Toro Rosso.
The Russian youngster’s P10 finish at Silverstone ended a barren four-race run that yielded no points, all while teammate Carlos Sainz delivered a handful of impressive performances.
Kvyat has certainly worked hard to keep a brave look on his face during the past few months, but there is no doubt that he is under pressure and probably feeling a little lost right now. His performance in Great Britain, which saw him fight back from qualifying in a lowly P15 to secure a championship point was a small step in the right direction.
Last year, Kvyat enjoyed a strong race in Hungary and finished in second place – his best-ever finish in Formula 1. While such a feat is unlikely this year given the quality of his machinery, the Russian could still produce a strong race weekend that restores some much-needed confidence.
Red Bull has maintained that Kvyat remains a part of their plans, but the races are slowly beginning to tick away for a driver who is fighting for his future in the sport. A strong weekend around a circuit that he has been successful on is as good a way as any to remind the paddock of his ability.
A strong weekend for McLaren?
McLaren’s strong performance in Austria, where Jenson Button secured a solid sixth-place finish, led to hopes that the struggling Woking-based squad were enjoying a resurgent spell.
However, Silverstone proved a weekend to forget as both Button and teammate Fernando Alonso failed to finish in the top ten.
Fortunately for McLaren, the Hungaroring plays to the strengths of their MP4-31 challenger as there is a lesser emphasis on engine performance. This means that the team should be at less of disadvantage compared to their rivals despite their Honda power unit’s relative lack of power.
In an era where engine performance has proven to be so crucial, strong weekends were always likely to be few and far between for a team with a deficiency on the engine front. This makes it all the more crucial for McLaren to repeat their heroics of a year ago, when Alonso and Button came home in P5 and P9 respectively, thus grabbing a fistful of points for the British team.
In fairness, McLaren have certainly made progress from the doldrums that they found themselves in last season, which should make a points finish possible for both cars this weekend. They may even overtake Toro Rosso for sixth place in constructor’s standings, which would be a welcome boost for a team that has failed to taste victory since 2012.