For each Formula One race this season, Matt Majendie will talk with a driver for insight into the track. Lotus driver Heikki Kovalainen takes us around the Hungaroring for the Hungarian Grand Prix, where he scored his only F1 win
'So many corners and it's a very hard circuit to overtake at'
I'll never forget my first grand prix win in Formula One, partly because it's still my only one, in Hungary back in 2008. It was a strong weekend for me and my team [Kovalainen was driving for McLaren then]. I qualified second on the grid and I felt strong throughout, pretty much from the moment I stepped foot on the circuit.
It ended up being a bit of a race between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa and that day I got a little bit lucky. Lewis got a puncture and Felipe's engine blew, which left the way clear for me. But I felt due some luck that day. Those two guys had profited from my bad luck in the past - times when I was running well and going for the podium and something happened. That's just the way it goes in F1 sometimes, but that day in Hungary happened to be my day for whatever reason.
I can't say it's the same for every driver who wins, but there was absolutely no sense of relief that I'd won my first grand prix. When you win a grand prix, you know right away that it's an experience you want to feel more often. As I said, for me, it wasn't relief as I stood on the top of the podium, it was just joy and pure happiness. It was elation as I stood there and heard the Finnish national anthem.
I'll always enjoy going to Budapest to race because of what happened there. But it's not necessarily the track I first dreamed of winning a grand prix at, although it's a good track and a great race weekend. Normally, this is the race with the most Finnish fans during the season. A lot of them fly over here as it's one of the closest races geographically for them. I can't say I hear them all, but you see the flags throughout the weekend and that's a boost.
Off the line and the home straight is a tight opening corner that pulls you hard to the right. There's not a lot of room so it can get messy at the race start. There are often crashes there so you just want to keep out of trouble there for the race start. Down to second gear for a tight and bumpy turn two, then you arc round to the right at turn three almost flat out to a brief straight before cutting back to the left.
It's very bumpy, you get up to sixth gear, then shift to fourth for a small left before going down to second for a really, really long right-hand corner which feels like an eternity as you come through it. Your speed comes right up before a very slow part in first gear - turns six and seven. After that, a low-speed left and right before you start shifting up to fourth gear, then take turn nine at speed and keep shifting up.
You lift your speed on this mini-straight before slowing a bit to take a left and even more for a sharper right. Out of there, you get up speed on another big straight that takes you downhill at the Hungaroring. Often you get a lot of dust kicking up here - all over the track actually. It's a very dusty circuit if it's dry, which isn't always the case even with the race in the height of the European summer.
There's a sudden jerk as you're pulled right down in terms of speed for a right-hander at turn 12 before a very long, looping and skiddy turn 13, a big loop which feels so unbelievably slow in the car. You pick up speed to fourth gear but then down to another looping turn - this time it's wider so you have a bit more speed for what is the final corner of the lap. That takes you onto the long straight and up to your top speed of the course ready for another lap.
It's important to master the track in qualifying at the Hungaroring - more here than a lot of circuits on the F1 calendar. The problem is that there are so many corners and it's a very hard circuit to overtake at. There's only one really good place for overtaking - a solitary straight really - so it means that you need to be flying right from the start of qualifying. Basically qualifying is the key to your entire weekend.