The F1 season so far has proven momentum must never be taken for granted. Lewis Hamilton had it after four straight race victories early in the season, then came Monaco. The momentum shifted to Nico Rosberg, but then came his retirement at Silverstone. So then it was Hamilton's turn to have the momentum for a couple of races, right? Well no, not quite. His momentum lasted for all of three practice sessions before his spectacular brake failure in qualifying meant victory was Rosberg's to lose at Hockenheim. Rosberg's win opened the gap over his old friend to 14 points in the drivers' championship at the half way stage, though that is hardly a commanding lead given the season we have seen so far. He now looks to defend that lead at a grand prix where Hamilton is tied for career victories with Michael Schumacher (four). Both Mercedes drivers know one thing - the four weeks of summer will go a lot quicker if they spend it dwelling on a victory in Budapest.
The brilliant Valtteri Bottas is currently on an absolutely scintillating vein of form which has earnt him three consecutive podiums and the plaudits of the F1 paddock. Though Felipe Massa has had rotten bad luck - especially on the first lap of races this season - Bottas has been beating the Brazilian in qualifying as well as in races this year. Williams has said for a long time they have a future world champion on its hands and the last few races suggest they just might.
Sebastian Vettel has come in for a hard time this season but his last two races have been impressive. His wheel-to-wheel race with Fernando Alonso in Silverstone proved the immense talent of both racers, and the reigning world champion turned in another ballsy drive in Hockenheim on his way to fourth. Vettel is doing his reputation no favours from his petulant radio messages but he has done plenty to remind us in the last two races of his talent. Nico Hulkenberg also deserves huge credit for ten consecutive points finishes, consistency that is a stark contrast to team-mate Sergio Perez, who bounces between the sublime and the anonymous far too often.
Out of form
Despite being retained by Lotus for next season Pastor Maldonado is still without a point in 2014. Lotus said its recent extension was a "renewal of vows" between team and driver after a tricky season and Maldonado will surely want to reward his team's faith with a strong result before the summer break. Lower down the order, Max Chilton has not beaten Jules Bianchi on a Sunday since the Bahrain Grand Prix. Since scoring points in Monaco Bianchi's performances have appeared to step up a gear, with his recent test for Ferrari even starting speculation he may not be far away from a step up to a bigger team. Chilton has been dwarfed by Bianchi since Monte Carlo and will know the one person you cannot consistently finish behind in F1 is your team-mate.
This is something Kimi Raikkonen will also be painfully aware of with his current record against Fernando Alonso 10-0 in the Spaniard's favour. Marco Mattiacci came to Kimi's defence on that subject and said those scorelines mean nothing in F1 but when you are paying a former world champion £8 million a year the situation is definitely newsworthy. Raikkonen seems to be making gradual baby steps of progress and it is arguable his situation would not be magnified quite so much if he was not racing alongside Alonso. The Finn is not a fan of media situations but he will have to defend his record once again in Hockenheim and hope for improvement on track, or face the prospect of facing even more speculation about his future during the summer break.
One to watch
At the moment Williams appears to be the only team to have a legitimate chance of beating Mercedes in a straight fight. As Bottas was told over the radio in Hockenheim, he beat the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton "fair and square", something which is a huge moment in the season for Williams. However, the team knows the Budapest circuit does not play into its strengths, with Red Bull likely to pose a bigger threat due to the circuit characteristics and the reduced importance of the power unit. The lap is taken at 55% full throttle, a stark contrast to the 65-70% of the last four races. But the man to beat is undoubtedly Lewis Hamilton with four career victories at the Hungaroring to his name. He came into Canada with people talking up his record, only for reliability issues to deny him the chance of challenging Rosberg for the win. If ever Hamilton needed to put it all together on a circuit he excels at it is this weekend.
The Sochi elephant in the room
There may be one or two questions posed to drivers or teams principals this weekend about the Russian Grand Prix due to take place in October. The recent death of 298 innocent civilians, allegedly killed when their Malaysian Airlines flight was blown out of the sky by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, has led to growing international scrutiny around Vladimir Putin and his government. The weapons used appear to have been supplied by Russia and UK prime minister David Cameron is among the international leaders calling for heavy sanctions. Perhaps fittingly for a sport which has so fragrantly ignored politics in recent years - the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix controversy springs to mind - there is something quite ironic about the timing of F1's newest addition to the calendar. It is hard to think tensions will have reduced greatly by October, especially with investigations into the crash now properly underway, meaning the Russian Grand Prix might just arrive in the middle of an international storm. The decision to go to Bahrain in 2012 was a PR disaster for F1 and another one might just be looming.
Stewards can't afford to get vague
Generally, race stewards have done a good job in recent races in ensuring they don't become the centre of attention at a grand prix. But there is a danger of this becoming an issue in itself. It emerged this week in Autosport that Charlie Whiting had actually considered Kimi Raikkonen's re-entry to the track during the first lap at Silverstone, which eventually led the crash also involving Felipe Massa and which could have had greater consequences for Max Chilton, unsafe and that he should have taken more care. After the race it was said Raikkonen had not been handed a penalty because he had slowed down and re-joined in a manner which would have been expected by any driver, though his actions were brought up at the subsequent drivers' meeting at Hockenheim. After the race Niki Lauda publically questioned the manner in which he re-joined the track. This is not saying Raikkonen necessarily deserved a penalty, but to not award one and then basically say he should have received one afterwards sets up a dangerous - and confusing - precedent for future races. We at ESPNF1 are all for the recent leniency which has been afforded to the drivers - the entertaining battles we've seen in the last two battles are a direct result of that. But the stewards must remember ensuring safety is still its top priority.
2015 takes shape
We are approaching the time of year where pretty much every story about a driver moving here or there usually needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. With four weeks between Hungary and Belgium all manner of speculation will fill the summer break as pundits and experts attempt to second-guess the make-up of 2015. Much of that will begin at the conclusion of Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix. Some are easy bets; Red Bull junior Carlos Sainz Jr is likely to enter F1 sooner rather than later. Whether that is to Toro Rosso or a team lower down the grid following interest from Caterham remains to be seen. For teams looking for a new driver there is also the ranks of GP2 and GP3 to consider, while several teams also have a young rookie driver on their books. Fernando Alonso will probably dominate much of the silly season headlines as he did last year, while Jenson Button's future at McLaren will continue to be the subject of intense speculation and debate.
Lewis Hamilton's record in Budapest means he edges Nico Rosberg with odds of 8/11. Hungary has provided us with first-time winners before and Valtteri Bottas is 18/1 to turn his recent form into a victory. Pastor Maldonado is favourite to retire at 10/1, while optimistic Kimi Raikkonen fans can get 20/1 for him to turn his season around with a podium finish.
Facts and stats
- If Lewis Hamilton wins the race he will overtake Michael Schumacher as the most successful driver to have raced at the Hungaroring with five wins. They are currently tied on four each, with Hamilton's previous coming in 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2013.
- Hungaroring has been a feature of the F1 world championship since joining the calendar for 1986, when it became the first race to take place behind the Iron Curtain.
- In the last 10 outings, the Hungarian Grand Prix has provided debut victories to Fernando Alonso (2003), Jenson Button (2006) and Heikki Kovalainen (2008).
- Only McLaren, Williams and Ferrari have won this race more than once, with 23 combined victories between them.
- Pirelli is bringing the medium (prime) and soft (option) compound tyres this weekend.
Remember that forecast rain that was supposed to come during the German Grand Prix? You know, the one which held off until 10 minutes after the chequered flag? Well we have a similar forecast this weekend, only it looks even more likely there will be rain. 100% likely, according to the initial forecast, with a bit of thunder thrown in for good measure. The temperature throughout the weekend promises to be hot but that forecast rain for Saturday will be a big consideration for all the teams from the moment they arrive in Hungary.
Nico Rosberg has been denied in the last four races by two separate reliability issues, his performances otherwise have been faultless. However this weekend Lewis Hamilton's record surely edges it, though it will be anything but a walk in the park for the four-time winner.