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BUDAPEST: Fernando Alonso will be seeking back-to-back victories as Formula One heads to Hungary on Sunday and into the second half of the season with the championship race still wide open.
Alonso’s victory at Sunday’s Germany Grand Prix has given the Ferrari driver the advantage in the title race, but the feeling in the paddock is that the season is only about to start.
The race at the Hungaroring could be a watershed for the teams – not only does it mark the start of the season’s second half but is also the last Grand Prix before the mid-season break.
Alonso is 34 points ahead of Red Bull’s Mark Webber in the standings and 44 up on Webber’s teammate Sebastian Vettel after his victory in Hockenheim, the third of the season for the Spaniard.
However, Alonso and the Ferrari team remain wary, saying that despite the wins for the former two-time world champion in Malaysia, Valencia and Hockenheim rival teams have the faster pace.
“Therefore we have to be very careful,” said Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo. “After we had a difficult start to the season, maybe our rivals did not expect to see Ferrari capable of fighting back this strongly, but now they will redouble their efforts to beat us.”
Vettel and Red Bull are still stinging from a 20-second penalty for the double World Champion in Hockenheim, which demoted the 25-year-old German from second to fifth.
Motor racing governing body FIA has also now introduced a rule change to outlaw controversial engine settings on the Red Bull, which F1 bosses believe infringed rules and improved cornering. The new ruling, which limits how much teams can change specific settings, is to be implemented at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
However Red Bull still look the strongest threat to Ferrari, with Vettel, who was second in Hungary last season behind McLaren’s Jenson Button, looking forward to the Hungaroring circuit.
“The track itself is one of the slowest on the calendar, but as a driver you shouldn’t underestimate it, as there are a lot of opportunities to make mistakes,” he said.
McLaren, meanwhile, remain optimistic after the Hockenheim race saw Button finish second and Lewis Hamilton show speed after a puncture ruined his chances and he eventually had to retire with a gearbox problem.
“The result in Germany puts us right back in the hunt,” said Button, who in 2006 won his first Grand Prix in Hungary.
“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.”
He added: “Our pace at Hockenheim gives us cause for encouragement – it’s just that, as always, we’ll need to run flawlessly through qualifying and the race if we’re to be in the hunt at the end.”
Hamilton, who is now fifth in the championship, 62 points off the lead, hopes McLaren’s recent upgrades will bear fruit in Hungary. “I rolled the dice in Germany and got two ones. That’s life, sometimes, but at least I get the chance to give them another roll this weekend – and I’ll be hoping for two sixes,” he said.
“I think there’s good reason to feel confident, too. Our Hockenheim upgrade package seems to have delivered the pace we anticipated and a good result just before the summer break would be the perfect way to end the first half of the season.”
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said he believed the second half of the season would see the team hit back.
“I firmly believe that we have the drivers, car and team to win both (drivers’ and constructors’) titles – and I think the difficulties we encountered during the first 10 races have strengthened our resolve to fight back to the front,” he said. – Sapa-dpa