The day Formula 1 first set a wheel at a race track following the passing of one of its own.
“I swear I’ll never do this again” I said when Friday was over at the Hungaroring. We arrived late, the heat was grueling, the earplug stuck in my ear cavity for having it accidentally pushed in too deep (leave now, kids), every beverage was about five times more expensive as at your local grocery store, and all you had was a plastic chair for the - fairly - low amount of money I had paid in advance for Friday. But it was mostly the heat.
In all honesty, I could not care less about visiting the F1 race on a Sunday for what it was worth, but Friday is definitely an attractive one for the money. If only God opened the taps in the skies for a few minutes, that would have made things a little bit more bearable.
Moaning aside, July 24th, 2015 was unwillingly a significant moment in modern F1 history, unfortunately. This was the first time Formula 1 cars rolled out to a race track during a race weekend, after having lost Jules Bianchi, the Frenchman who - during his short career in the series - drove around with the slowest cars, but made some remarkable impression with his talent, singling out a future seat at Ferrari - as it was revealed by the Italian stable.
Suffice to say, many of the GP2 cars hit the track with giant #ForeverJules stickers on their air pods and no F1 driver was missed out about their thoughts and feelings about the situation. Jules wasn’t a superstar or a multiple world champion as Ayrton Senna had been 21 years before, nor his passing was as traumatic as the Brazilian hero’s in the common psyche - as his 9-month fight slowly, but surely was slipping towards the inevitable. Jules’ death, though, is somewhat more tragic than Ayrton Senna’s. This is an era where the management of Formula 1 and the FIA actually do care about safety and make sure everything is up to standards: the cars, the drivers, the tracks and everything else. The sport is suffering a backlash from fans and even insiders saying it’s ‘too safe’ now and ‘needs to be more dangerous’. I understand the mechanics of that sort of thinking and I tend to agree with some points of the argument, but I cannot really embrace or accept it as a whole.
Sure, that’s the price you can pay when you sign up for doing this, but e.g. if you assemble the factors that lead to Jules’ death - without going into any details here - and find there was other people’s pride, self-interests and general neglect involved at some point, one can truly say: “I did not sign up for this.” And when you cannot ‘ban’ pride, interest or neglect, you have to work elsewhere to make sure you try everything this would not happen again.
With such thoughts in mind, the Friday practices of F1, GP2, GP3 and the Porsche Pirelli Supercup went ahead and they did what they do best: to drive as fast as they could to beat everyone else.
Last year I noted the differences between the various engine notes in F1. The Mercedes was flat-sounding, the Ferrari carrying a nasal tone and the Renault being a louder one.
When in Monaco, though, I could differentiate the McLaren-Hondas even from behind the fences. Raspy and deep, they sound nothing like the other engines, like it was running on five cylinders instead of six.
[A Mercedes followed by a McLaren-Honda; the difference in the tone of the engines is striking]
[The rest of the engines sound something like this]
This year, though, I had to notice that the Mercedes powerplants upped their game, being the loudest ones of the bunch and the Renault eninges sounded somewhat different in the Red Bulls and the Toro Rossos. In one particular occasion Daniel Ricciardo drove past with a “tsk, tsk, tsk” sound coming from the rear end as if pressure was escaping from the turbo periodically or something like that, and lo and behold, the engine went up in smokes half a lap later.
The GP2 cars looked and sounded as fantastic as ever, although earplugs are very much advised when sitting close to these machines, even more so with GP3 cars, believe or not.
Johnny Herbert took the wheel in a factory-branded Porsche car at which point I had to stop and ponder about time passing.
[Johnny took a break from his TV commitments to race - once again - at the Hungaroring]
This Sunday will mark the 30th running of the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix. It came through a long and difficult, yet sudden birth throughout the late 70s and early 80s, picking up a tradition established in the 30s first. Often dubbed as a ‘Mickey Mouse track’ the Hungaroring has turned from a track to ridicule to a one respected by drivers and experts.
Its twisty and narrow nature, the heat, the bumps give it a character that is either hated or loved, but it’s getting more and more apparent each year that it possesses a character in the wake of newer tracks. Perhaps not as exciting for single seater cars in a wheel-to-wheel combat, but a really fun place with tin tops or when pushing a lap on your own. Since its inception, there are only two other tracks on the F1 calendar that have been a constant fixture from year to year: Monza and Monaco with Monza being in jeopardy lately, thus the Hungaroring is unwillingly and undeniably drifting towards a ‘cult’ or maybe even a ‘classic’ status by the opinion of some.
[Kimi still being a fan-favourite... for a little more while]
It’s just the heat. Mid-July - God forbid - the hottest time of the year. As I was leaving, I felt I would never return to this place at such time of the year again - I know, I’m weak. But I’m not willing to give up the legends of the past and the future just yet.