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Can McLaren do it again ?   
14 August 2002 Volume 4 - Issue 24   

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Hungaroring is not that dissimilar from Monaco. It is a slow course, overtaking is impossible, aerodynamics play less of a role, horsepower is not as important and mechanical grip makes a difference.

On the other hand it is more forgiving than Monaco where a single mistake results in disaster. In Hungary leaving the track normally does not result in an accident.

The start is halfway down the short pit straight, which leads into turn 1 where we can expect speeds up to 125km/H (78mph) even on the first lap. A short squirt to turn 2, slower at 85km/H (53mph), accelerating through a relatively fast right (turn 3, 200km/H or 124mph) to 300km/H (186mph) before braking for turn 4 which begins the twisty bit where speed will remain below 140km/H (88mph) up to after turn 9 where cars will briefly get up to 230km/H (142mph) through turn 10 before braking, accelerating and braking for 11 and 12 (190km/H or 118mph and 240km/H or 148mph respectively) after which drivers will get a chance to glance at their dash to ensure everything is OK before braking for turn 13 a slowish lefthander that leads on to the faster turn 14 that marks the start of the pit straight where the faster cars may get to just over 300km/H (186mph).

There is virtually no overtaking opportunity. The lead on to the straight (turn 14) is negotiated at around 135km/H (83mph) at which speed aerodynamics count. It will be hard to match the speed of the leading car let alone exceed it which will be needed to power past on the straight.

The race will therefore be decided in qualifying, the start and in the pits. Expect qualifying to be brutal and the start to be ruthless. Michelin tyred cars will use their cold performance advantage to qualify better and cars with superior launch control will try to make up as many places as possible at the start. Although on all tracks it is getting more difficult to make up lost ground on the circuit at Hungary it is impossible. To win here pit timing is essential.

Coming up with a winning race strategy on other circuits is always difficult but here as in Monaco luck plays a far bigger role. As tyre wear should not be that much of a factor (it takes longer to fuel than changing wheels) strategy will revolve around vehicle weight. Lighter cars will be more nimble and faster so on paper two stopping may be the fastest way of getting through the race. Relative position is very important when planning pit stops as it is all too easy to end up behind a slower car for a considerable part of the race. So expect sudden changes of plan as teams use their stops to advantage.

Being not much faster than Monaco must make McLaren feel that they have a chance to do well but to have any chance of winning again they need to qualify on the first row of the grid.

In my opinion Ferrari are most likely to win. They are not only fast but their cars seem more nimble than Williams on the tighter circuits. I certainly expect to see Michael Schumacher on the podium but if Barrichello�s bad luck run continues he may not get there.

Williams could struggle to stay in touch with the lead. As I said their chassis are not particularly suited to slower circuits and they may not have solved their tendency to chew up their back tyres.

Montoya�s amazing qualifying ability may put him on pole again, from where he could win the race.

I do not see any other team getting near the podium unless there is carnage at the front. Renault and Sauber will probably compete for the best of the rest title and Jordan and BAR will be embroiled in their own battle, not far behind.

If given a slightly better car Fisichella may do well as he likes slower, tighter circuits. Villeneuve could also do well if his car can.

Both Honda powered teams have not done well this season. I have always blamed that on the Honda engine not living up to expectations but am starting to wonder if that was the right call. If their problems were only horse power one would expect them to be much worse in the second part of the season as that is mostly fast tracks where power does make a difference and they are not. They may not be much better but are not falling back either which is making me wonder.

Similarly both Arrows and Jaguar are getting worse. In the case of Arrows it could be sheeted home to a shortage of funds but Jaguar are not doing much better. My guess is that the current Cosworth motor is a dog.

Arrows will not be racing in Hungary. It must be hard to convince anyone that this team is worth investing in after such poor performance. They may not make the rest of the season.

Toyota may be new to formula one and it may take years before they develop the team and car to be competitive but they are not going to get there with their current drivers.

That leaves Minardi that is up for sale again. Webber will again show what can be done with an under budget and slow car and Yoong has been replaced by Anthony Davidson (one of BARs test drivers) which can only be an improvement.

F1 looks as if it is heading for interesting times. Last year Prost went belly up. At the end of last season Stoddard bough Minardi but is either not rich enough or stupid enough to prop it up. Arrows do not seem to be far from the end and I wonder how long Jordan will survive � even if they do manage to get an engine for next year. Ford must be wondering if it is worth continuously pouring money into the Jaguar team that can barely stay ahead of the last car in the field.

All of this proves that money alone does not guarantee success. Over the last few seasons viable engines seem to have emerged as one of the primary reasons for succeeding and there seems to be very few teams world wide that are capable of building competitive engines.

Cosworth were very good in their day but there are no indications that they are getting it right, BMW got it right in a very short time but have no intention of supplying motors to any other team, Ferrari are supplying previous season engines to Sauber which ensures that Sauber will never catch up to Ferrari. The Ilmor Mercedes engine is exclusively built for McLaren and Renault and Toyota, while not up to scratch yet, are not interested in supplying engines either. Asiatech engines are for sale but must be the last choice.

With teams or organisations capable of building competitive engines in short supply and dedicated to particular constructors are we going to see a reduction in the number of competitors in future?

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