Looking ahead to Hungary

The Hungarian Grand Prix weekend has already started, in welcome contrast to a silly little festival of pastimes that is nevertheless managing to turn London into a giant traffic jam. Hugh Podmore looks ahead to the possibilities of this weekend, one of the few real sports taking place in Europe.

The first thing to be said is that the Hungaroring is not, traditionally, a circuit which provides entertaining action. The spectre of procession has thankfully been far from the mind in 2012, as the well-documented unpredictability of the Pirelli tyres serves up race after race of thrills. We may, however, have to rely on the fickle weather of that part of eastern Europe to spice it up somewhat. Germany last weekend was pockmarked with dullery – even 2012-spec F1 cannot fight off totally the dreariness of the new Hockenheim. Circuits still count, and this isn’t one of the best.

So who’s looking good? A safe bet for a good result would have to be Fernando Alonso. Already thought by many before this season to be the biggest shark in dangerous waters, he has now upped his game to an altogether different level. Alonso is driving the best he has ever done, and that is a fearsome sentence for his rivals. Red Bull’s rules wrangles will not have helped them, surely; but Vettel says he would be surprised if there were a considerable negative effect. That Red Bull is still wonderfully quick, and especially in qualifying looks too hot to handle.

What of McLaren? The calls to improve after Britain fell on good English ears, and lo and behold the wonderful if bizarre spectacle of a lapped car (Hamilton) taking and staying gloriously ahead of Vettel in Germany. The upgraded machine has pace, but how its speed translates to the twists and turns of the Hungarian track is an unknown variable at this point in time. Button’s form is returning after a noted indifferent period, and Hamilton’s fragile motivation and mental state might be put into jeopardy by another bad result. One gets the impression that petulance, which has mostly stayed mercifully far from the agenda this year, still lurks below the surface in the Stevenage man.

Lotus, too, are in with a shout. But when will their fabled pace and occasional direct threat transform into a concrete and sustained assault on a race? Will their car only stand a real chance if there is attrition, or if the temperature is cool, or if the tyres misbehave? The great Raikkonen and the young charger Grosjean are both in with a shout if any of those factors intervenes.

Finally, Mercedes are the last real contenders for victory. Schumacher’s driving has much improved of late and he now looks someone to fear, although only intermittently during races. Rosberg has not had a good second half of the season but if circumstances conflagrate, he may have a sniff of a podium. Don’t doubt that he can trash his elder, more decorated team mate on any day he chooses.

But at the final reckoning, you’d have to go for Alonso, on this incredible form.