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Ben's Notes: Five reasons why Alonso is the one to watch in Budapest

Fernando Alonso won his first Grand Prix around the Hungaroring in 2003

By Ben Edwards, 
C4F1 commentator

1. The Hungaroring has seen some of the best results achieved by McLaren over the last two and a half years of the most recent McLaren-Honda partnership. Fernando Alonso was fifth here in 2015 with Jenson Button also making it into the top ten for a rare double points finish, while last year Alonso was seventh and perhaps more significantly qualified seventh despite dropping it in the final part of the damp qualifying session; in fact he was seventh in every session! 

The first half of the team’s 2017 campaign has been pretty woeful but let’s not forget that Alonso was also seventh on the grid in Spain, and Button’s sole appearance at Monaco saw him qualify ninth on the only other high downforce, relatively slow track so far. Engine penalties have already been taken in order to put them in a stronger position here and sheer horsepower is not much of a factor on this layout. It is true to say that best of the rest behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull means seventh, but lots can happen around this tricky circuit in the high heat of summer.

2. Alonso celebrates his 36th birthday on Saturday, just in time for qualifying. He is the third oldest driver on the current grid behind Kimi Raikkonen (38 in October) and Felipe Massa (who turned 36 in April), yet is convinced he is driving better than ever. The way he adapted and performed at Indianapolis, as well as grabbing the opportunity to set the pace in the first part of qualifying at Silverstone, demonstrate that he has lost none of his nerve and sheer commitment to being the best, and he still commands huge respect within the paddock. Highly rated new team mate Stoffel Vandoorne has only beaten him once in qualifying this year. Age is no barrier to the truly great; Juan Manuel Fangio was 46 when he won his fifth and final world championship.

3. The Hungarian Grand Prix has been a notable event for the Spaniard. Yes, he retired in his first ever race here for Minardi in 2001, but when he returned in 2003 at Renault after a season as test driver, he became the youngest ever winner of a Grand Prix at this very venue. He had recently turned 22, it was the 30th GP of his career and he won by over 16 seconds. Since then his record for being youngest winner has been taken by both Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen, and he hasn’t added any more victories in Hungary, but he led in both 2006 and 2009 before suffering misfortune with wheel nuts, and he also led here in 2014 for Ferrari before Daniel Ricciardo zapped him at the end. 

4. This is the last race before the summer break, and for all of Alonso’s talk about deciding nothing regarding his future until October, there is no denying that this is a key time to impress. It seems as though all other F1 avenues are closed to him, and that staying at McLaren is his only chance of being in a high profile seat, but who knows? Key decisions will be made over the next few weeks, decisions that not only determine driver line-ups for 2018 but potentially for the next few seasons and Alonso will want to keep his name in the frame. For a man who has been in a relatively uncompetitive car, he has done that with aplomb this year and Hungary offers one more chance to underline his talent. 

5. Of course, listing Alonso as a man to watch this weekend means I have put the commentator’s curse on him, and he’ll probably get taken out on the first lap, as he was in Austria… So, who will win the Hungarian Grand Prix? 

It could be a close run thing, and if Ferrari want to prove they can take the fight all the way to Abu Dhabi, this is a big weekend for them. High temperatures are forecast for Sunday and that could benefit the Italian team with regard to tyre behaviour, despite what happened at Silverstone, but Lewis Hamilton has a brilliant record on this 2.7 mile track and is on a roll after the highs of his home race. 

Stealth campaigner Valtteri Bottas has yet to score a podium in Hungary when driving for Williams but as we saw in Austria and Sochi, he cannot be ignored. Meanwhile Red Bull will be looking to this weekend as a real opportunity to mix it with the two dominant teams. Ricciardo won in style here three years ago and Verstappen is due some luck. 

Potentially we could have six cars fighting over the first few places on the grid and a game of cat and mouse on a track where overtaking is tricky. Throw Alonso into the mix with one of his exceptional first laps, and we could be seeing far more of him than expected.