The Hungarian Grand Prix mainly saw development and results, both positive and negative. Instead of unveiling new parts galore, many of the front running Formula One teams tested recent updates from the German Grand Prix and gathered valuable data to crunch before heading back to the factories. As the last race before the Formula One summer break, those teams with upgrades in the works and significant development still to come will no doubt be working overtime (when possible) at their respective factories. Hungary, if you will, was a partial test session during dry free practices and in race trim for certain teams, notably Lotus, Ferrari, and McLaren.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton was all smiles after winning the grand prix from pole position, but his recent comments shed some light on McLaren’s recent upgrades to the MP4-27. ”It was a really enjoyable race – but it wasn’t at all easy,” he said. ”It was one of the toughest races I’ve ever driven. I’ll savour it all the more for that.” Translation: the updates to the car are clearly moving in the right direction, but he had to fight like heck to keep the surging Lotuses at bay. While nobody can deny that McLaren is fighting hard to improve pace and reliability, Lewis fought hard on a track where passing is notoriously difficult. How much more difficult will it get for Hamilton and Button when the teams return to high-speed circuits? Or circuits with better passing opportunities? Oddly, the big story for McLaren is not their recent victory, but whether the Woking-based team has the stamina and development pace to KEEP UP with the other teams that have handily outpaced them on a more consistent basis.
McLaren’s heavily revised sidepods, which debuted at the German Grand Prix last weekend, seem to be paying dividends. The revised exhaust layout can be seen in the image below.
While the picture may not display the subtle changes the team worked through in their wind tunnel, there are visible cues on the top surface near the leading edge of each side pod. These turning vanes (featured below) presumably direct airflow over the top of the side pods in a way that better generates downforce by the rear diffuser. These type of aerodynamic devices are also present on the Lotus E20. Considering how aerodynamically sensitive modern Formula One cars are designed, these relatively small vanes probably go a long way in keeping airflow against the bodywork and in not wasting any airflow being “pushed away” from the bodywork by friction and pressure drag. Managing how the air contacts the car (by friction) and the resulting air pressure changes–usually low pressure pockets as air moves around a physical obstruction, the car–are ever changing problems that keep engineers and aerodynamicists in business with Formula One teams.
While Lotus debuted a new double-DRS system back in Hockenheim, the system was not put into service this weekend with the exception of some dry free practice running. Kimi’s car featured the “super” double DRS system during free practice, while Grosjean’s car featured a more conventional layout. Rumor has it that Red Bull Racing has developed a double-DRS system of their own entering the fall leg of the championship. Although both Lotuses put together a solid showing in Budapest, it appears that Kimi might have been hampered early on with a KERS problem. The team was heard coaching him on the radio as he reset the device. If this is true, the lack of early pace could have cost Kimi the track position necessary to leap frog Hamilton. If KERS was a problem for Kimi, heat could have been a likely culprit as the track temperature was sweltering this past weekend. One thing is becoming clearer, however, the E20 likes hot conditions. Despite the soaring track temperatures, the E20 was relatively easy on tire degradation compared to teams like Mercedes, which have struggled terribly with the Pirelli compounds this season.
Ferrari have been a bit mum on visible developments with the F2012 since introducing significant upgrades earlier in the European leg of the F1 calendar. In broad, ambiguous brushstrokes, of course, Fernando Alonso captured Ferrari’s development plan in the week following the Hungarian Grand Prix and the upcoming fall races:
“We need to work. I think we saw today in dry conditions there are three teams in front of us, Lotus, McLaren, Red Bull, it has been like this all season more or less. So we need to close this gap. I think we have some nice ideas to develop in this coming weeks, and hopefully in Spa and Monza we can introduce them . . . [i]‘m happy to relax a little bit, I think we arrive quite tired at the end of July, we had three races in four weeks, a lot of work in the factory, a lot of aeroplanes, hotels, I think we need to have two or three weeks off to relax and come back in September with the batteries full.”
Alonso is clearly not comfortable with the F2012′s development pace compared to other teams, who appear to be developing their cars at a very quick rate. “We have been racing with the same car from three or four races with no new parts in the car, this is the problem. We are losing ground with the fastest cars . . . [w]e need hopefully after the summer break to bring some updates to the car and hope they really work and close that gap, because if not it will be too much.” Hopefully, the folks back in Maranello have a significant set of upgrades for the F2012 to take to the much faster tracks coming in September.
And last but not least for Hungary, Red Bull Racing. The team has been dogged by allegations and finger pointing regarding the RB8′s compliance with the technical regulations as of late. Christian Horner has been adamant that the team have not breached any regulations and that they are simply pushing the envelope, which is apparently drawing a lot of unnecessary scrutiny in his eyes. One thing that is very clear from Hungary, however, was Sebastian Vettel’s desperation resounding in his radio transmissions to the team during the grand prix. He and Christian Horner sounded quite bullish coming in to the Hungarian Grand Prix, playing down the significance of the engine mapping SNAFU and the ride height issue. However, if all was well at Red Bull, shouldn’t the RB8 have dominated this weekend on the tight, twisty, and unending corners of the Hungaroring? The RB7 would have eaten that place up, right Sebastian? Perhaps Red Bull Racing have been unwilling to admit they are on the outside looking in. Either way, the team will no doubt be working feverishly back in Milton Keynes to find more speed.
Summer break? Game on, boys and girls.