The 2013 Formula 1 world championship resumes after a three-week break, with a visit to Hungary and the dusty Hungaroring. The Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix is a favourite with many of the drivers on the grid; Ferrari's Felipe Massa calls it a fun track to drive and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton says he not only loves the layout of the circuit but also the city of Budapest.
The Hungaroring is a short track but one packed with a number of challenging corners, mostly taken at slow and medium speeds. The difficulty in setting a fast lap time is as much because of those corners (and the lack of straights) as the fact the racing line demands precision driving.
And as any driver will confirm, deviating even marginally will create problems - the lack of grip and width on most parts of the track, for example. This also feeds into another problem - overtaking chances are at a premium. Consequently, Saturday qualifying could be crucial.
Meanwhile, Pirelli continue to dominate the sport's headlines. The Italian tyre manufacturers have been forced into restoring some of the specifications of their 2012 tyres for the rest of the season, following the disastrous race weekend at Silverstone.
For the Hungarian Grand Prix, Pirelli will offer teams P Zero White (medium) and P Zero Yellow (soft) tyres but with two critical differences. They have retained the Kevlar supporting belt from last year's tyres, which were re-introduced for this championship after Silverstone. In addition, they have also introduced changes to the rubber compound for both tyres.
The new mix was tested during the young driver test in the UK and the feedback, so far, has been good. Ferrari, Red Bull and Lotus all responded satisfactorily to the new tyres and will be confident of strong pace this weekend.
The race weekend will consist, as usual, of two practice sessions on Friday. There will be a third practice period on Saturday morning, followed by the qualifying. The race is scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
Where to Watch Friday Practice for 2013 Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix Live
Live coverage of the first practice session starts at 8.45am BST on Sky Sports F1.
Live coverage of the second practice session starts at 12.45pm BST on Sky Sports F1.
Real-time Internet updates are available on the Live Timing section of the sport's official website.
Expect championship leaders Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull to be eager to re-establish control of their respective title races and pick up where they left off in Germany in the last race.
The defending world champion eased to his fourth win of the season at the Nurburgring. Title contenders Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen settled for fourth and second respectively, meaning Vettel extended his lead at the top of the table. The German now has 157 points to the Ferrari driver's 123. Raikkonen is a further seven points behind Alonso. Hamilton is fourth for Mercedes and Vettel's retiring team mate, Mark Webber, rounds out the top five.
However, with 10 races left in the calendar (including this weekend's race), Vettel will know the championship is very far from settled. All Alonso and Raikkonen need is one poor race from the Red Bull driver and they could close to within a few points of the champion.
Meanwhile, over in the constructors' championship, Red Bull are far more comfortably placed. The fact both Vettel and Webber have been scoring points regularly has boosted the Milton Keynes outfit to 250 points. Their nearest rivals are Mercedes, who have 183 points, and Ferrari, who have 180. Lotus (157) and Force India-Mercedes (59) round out the top five. McLaren-Mercedes' miserable season shows no signs of abating; Jenson Button and Sergio Perez can only muster 49 points for sixth place.
- Length: 4.381km
- Lap Record: M Schumacher (Ferrari; 2004) 1:19.071
- 2012 Pole Position: 1:20.593 - Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)
- 2012 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes)
The Hungaroring is one of the slowest tracks on the sport's calendar, with a top speed of only marginally over 300km/h. The outfield section is particularly demanding, on the tyres, the car and the driver. The difficulty is largely because of the way each corner flows into another.
Once cars start the second section (after Turn Five), they are almost always either turning in or exiting from a corner, with Turns Six through 11 particularly demanding. There is really only one straight of any note - the start/finish line - but even coming into and leaving that section cars are compressed into two tight right-handers, which force the driver to control speed and racing line through for maximum gain in time and positions.
An additional problem is that the Hungaroring is not used very often, which means it takes time to rubber in, meaning lap times are likely to tumble dramatically as each session passes. The dusty track will also play its part in a slow start to the weekend.
And just to complicate matters, weather conditions will play a role in how the tyres behave and the race pans out. Traditionally, the Hungarian Grand Prix is hot and dry, with temperatures over crossing the 35C mark. It was very different last year, with a sudden spell of heavy rain during practice. The point is that the hotter the temperatures get, the more tyre degradation could become a factor.
There are, therefore, a number of factors to contend with this weekend - new tyres, a dusty and slow-speed track and the balance between tyre wear and tyre performance.
"The circuit requires as much downforce as possible, because the speed down the straight is not so important here. You need a car that is very stable and that is kind to the tyres," Massa explains.
The track itself starts with a tightening first corner that forces drivers to scrub nearly 200km/h and control speed through the exit. The flowing nature of the track is immediately emphasised, with the second and third corners almost rolled into one; there is a short burst of acceleration between the exit of the first and corner and apex of the second, where cars drop back to 100km/h.
The track opens up briefly through the third corner, with a short straight into Turn Four taken at 280km/h. What follows is a deceptively slow left-hand kink, the exit for which lines up directly into the entry to the fifth corner and from this point on, drivers will be constantly switching directions with a maximum speed of 240km/h on the entry to Turn 11.
Exiting Turn 11 ends the second sector and sets the car up for a sequence of three long-apex hairpin-like corners that once again emphasises balance and braking. The last corner is Turn 14, which brings the car back on the start-finish straight.
As explained earlier, Pirelli have offered their medium and soft compound tyres for this race... the same compounds as last year. The difference is in tyre construction - this year's rubber is significantly softer, meaning lap times will be faster but tyre wear is likely to be an issue as well.
And this is where the Kevlar belting should step in to ensure safety. Increased wear on the rubbers - and the Hungaroring is particularly hard on tyres - should be offset by harder support structures.
Tyre wear aside, Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery believes tyre performance could be the more serious factor. This means the windows of optimum performance for each set of tyre is likely to be more critical for a good finish.
The slower corners around the Hungaroring limit the amount of extreme pressure each tyre faces. However, the outfield section, with its linked slow speed turns and constant changes in direction, will place the tyres under considerable lateral pressure.
"You would think that because the average corner speed is medium-low that the tyres don't suffer as much, but because of the number of corners, it's unrelenting and a lot of energy goes through the rubber," Xevi Pujolar, Williams' chief race engineer adds.
The good news is no rain is forecast this weekend. The not-quite-good news is that temperatures are once again expected to be on the higher side, which may worry Ferrari and Lotus a little bit. Neither team has been particularly comfortable in hot weather races so far.
The first practice session starts at 10am local time, with temperatures just crossing the 30C mark. Cloud cover will be at an absolute minimum, humidity at 40% and winds barely crossing the 5km/h mark, meaning it will likely be a physically demanding 90 minutes.
The weather is not expected to improve very drastically by 2pm local time, when the second session starts. If anything, it will become a little hotter and there will be a little less cloud cover. Driving conditions may improve slightly though, with a decrease in humidity levels and a few gusts of wind expected from the north-west.