The 2012 Formula 1 World Championship is now at the Hungarian Grand Prix, the final race of the year before the teams and drivers head off for a well-deserved mid-season rest.
Championship leader Fernando Alonso comes into this race secure in the knowledge that no matter what the result on Sunday, he will continue to lead the race for the drivers' title. The Ferrari ace has 154 points to his name so far this season and sits 34 points clear of Red Bull's Mark Webber, who can score a maximum of only 25 points this weekend, and given that Alonso has dominated recent races (two poles and two wins in the last three races), it is a safe bet to assume the Ferrari team will be confident of a strong finish to take into the break.
Meanwhile, the defending constructors' champions Red Bull enjoy a similar position of power to Alonso's. The team has 230 points to their credit and despite Ferrari's strong comeback in recent races, enjoys a solid 53 point advantage over their Italian rivals. Jenson Button's fortunate second place finish at the Hockenheimring last weekend means the McLaren team pip Lotus-Renault to third, for now, with 160 points to the latter's 159.
The Hungarian Grand Prix is often overlooked when time comes to discuss different historic venues in the world of Formula 1. In truth, it has little to recommend itself - it is not as glamorous as the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, it does not boast the outright speed and power of the Italian Grand Prix or the exotic value of the Singapore Grand Prix.
However, it remains one of the most challenging tracks in the calendar and its combination of straight-line speed combined with a host of slow speed corners at the opposite end of the track means the car has to be balanced just perfectly. In addition, the Hungaroring, traditionally, is a dusty circuit, meaning mechanical grip, at least early in the weekend, will be critical. But that isn't the only reason mechanics and aerodynamics will play a big role.
The track has just one straight of any note - on the start-finish line. The rest of the track comprises a number of slow and medium-speed corners, meaning that teams will look to run high levels of downforce, not unlike those in Monaco. The trick, however, will be to balance the aerodynamics so as not to lose too much time on that one 700m straight. Put simply, either a team decides to be very fast around the slow corners and sacrifice top speed for the few seconds you're on the straight or rely on top speed to gain valuable fractions on your rival and prepare to defend stoutly through 14 twisting corners.
Downforce levels will also have to help with braking. Unlike Monza, for example, the Hungaroring is not particularly hard on either the brakes or the engines. There are no extra-long straights that force the engine's capacity or ultra-fast corners leading into slow ones that call for excessively strong braking. However, bear in mind there are still one or two places on the track that will require hard braking... into Turns One and Five, for example. There is also the sequence of corners from Turns Six through to Turn 11, which tend to flow into one another very quickly. The more downforce the cars can run, the better they can take these turns, particularly since these corners are on the open side of the circuit - where the wind will blow dust onto the track.
Finally, the tyres will play a critical role this weekend... but not for the reasons you think. Once again, the Hungaroring is a relatively low-speed track, meaning tyre wear will not be too much of an issue. However, graining will certainly be a problem the teams will have to deal with and given the Pirelli's reputation as being unpredictable, we could be in for an interesting weekend. Tyre wear is expected to be more severe early in the weekend, probably on Friday, than for the race itself - because by that time the track should have enough rubber laid down - but should there be any rain through the weekend (and it is expected!) then all that rubber will be washed off and we'll be back to square one.
What the Grid Says
"It's going to be tight again. It's a very short circuit, and as we saw this year, in two or three-tenths there are eight, nine cars. In Hungary we need to make a perfect preparation again, a perfect qualifying, because you can be starting in 12th or 13th if you make a little mistake, so we need to approach the race in the same way we did the last couple, try to maximise what we have in Hungary and hopefully bring in some new parts that can help us," Alonso explained to Formula1.com.
The championship leader added that he was not as concerned as he would have been, earlier in the season, about the lack of top speed for the F2012, explaining that not only was that not a necessity for the Hungary race but he felt the team was improving on that score.
"I think we should be able to fight for points because we recently looked quite strong on circuits that don't have so many fast corners, such as Valencia. Although it's quite a slow circuit, it's very difficult to get a good lap time because you need to hook up all the corners perfectly, so it's quite challenging," Force India's Nico Rosberg explained to the official Force India Web site.
Meanwhile, McLaren's second place finish at the Hockenheimring - a welcome bit of good news in what is threatening to become a disappointing season - has given Button the confidence to consider a race win at the Hungaroring.
"The result in Germany puts us right back in the hunt. In that situation, there's nothing better than a back-to-back weekender: you return to the cockpit almost before you've unpacked your bags from the previous race, so it's great to carry forward that momentum," the 2009 world champion enthused.
Weather Forecast for Friday
The teams and drivers around had better batten down the hatches and prepare for a lot of rain this weekend. The 2012 championship has seen a lot of wet weather running in recent races and this weekend might provide a little bit of welcome change. Initial forecasts suggest teams should expect cloudy weather and light rain on all three days.
The first Free Practice (FP1) session gets underway at 10am local time. The weather early in the morning is expected to be sunny and clear with only 14 percent cloud cover, 60 percent humidity and the mercury touching 30 degrees Celsius. The clouds are expected to drift in as the day wears on and conditions are expected to get hot and dusty, with temperatures rising to a maximum of 32 degrees Celsius and winds up to 6km/h. The second Free Practice (FP2) is scheduled for 2 pm local time and conditions should, forecasts suggest, be not too different from the morning. The only noticeable change is likely to be increased wind speeds - up to 8km/h - and some rainfall.
Where to Watch Live
You can follow all the action live on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports F1 HD. FP1 will air from 8.45 am BST to 10.55 am BST and FP2 from 10.55 am BST to 11.35 am BST. You can also follow the action live, via text updates, on the Formula1.com Web site's Live Timing section.