Tom Clarkson's 2008 Hungarian Grand Prix preview

Published: 01 August 2008

The Hungaroring is the slowest permanent circuit on the Formula 1 calendar. The quicker cars lap at an average speed of ‘just’ 122mph, which makes slow-speed grip the main focus of attention for drivers and engineers.

As at Monaco, the cars use maximum wing levels to optimise downforce and Bridgestone bring their grippiest tyre compounds (soft and super-soft) to boost mechanical grip. Monaco is also a good performance gauge: McLaren won the Monaco-Hungary double last year and they won again through the streets of the Principality in ’08.

After wins at Silverstone and Hockenheim, Lewis Hamilton is gunning for his hat trick this weekend. If he does it, he’ll be the first Briton to win three on the trot since Damon Hill took the spoils in Australia, Brazil and Argentina at the start of 1996. And you’d be a brave man to bet against Lewis: his driving exudes confidence and he was very quick through the telltale middle sector of the Hungaroring during Friday morning’s first practice session.

This sector begins with a quick left-hander (Turn 4); it has a slow, twisty middle and a super-fast end (Turn 11). For a car to be competitive at this circuit it has to be quick through this section and that is the case with the McLaren MP4-23.

Ferrari haven’t thrown in the towel yet, however. Their F2008 sports several upgraded parts at this race, the most noticeable of which is the anvil-shaped engine cover that they tested for the first time at Jerez last week. It’s designed to clean up the airflow over the rear wing and it 'makes a small improvement to the stability of the car', according to Felipe Massa.

After a couple of disappointing races, reigning champ Kimi Raikkonen needs a good result to keep his World Championship challenge on a square footing. He’s seven points behind Hamilton in the points’ table and could keep Lewis honest if his Ferrari’s new parts prove to his liking.

After the wet of Silverstone and unseasonably cool weather at Hockenheim, the F1 circus is set for a real scorcher. The weather forecast is for ambient temperatures in the mid-30s and track temps in the 50s, which will make it tough on the drivers.

'There is no let-up for the drivers at this place,' says Jenson Button, who won the Hungarian GP in 2006. 'The twisty nature of the track means you’re always working behind the wheel and with cockpit temperatures in the mid-50s, that’s quite hard work!'

The combination of extreme temperatures and slow speeds could also make engine and brake cooling a factor. It all adds up to a fascinating weekend and, for what it’s worth, my top three are: Hamilton, Raikkonen, Kovalainen.

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By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller