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BBC Sport's fuel-adjusted Hungarian GP grid

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F1 Mole | 18:33 UK time, Saturday, 25 July 2009

Fernando Alonso might be on his first pole position of the season for Renault at the Hungarian Grand Prix - but the double world champion was actually only the seventh fastest man on pure pace in qualifying on Saturday.

The top 10 in qualifying are not allowed to refuel before the race, so they have to go into the final session with enough fuel to see them through to their first pit stops in the race. And the more fuel you carry, the slower your car is over one lap in qualifying.

That means that once the weight of the cars is published, it is possible to work out not only who was actually the fastest, but also when the various drivers are likely to stop for the first time.

Here at the Hungaroring, that information leads to the following fuel-corrected grid:

Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Hungaroring

1 Sebastian Vettel (lap 20)
2 Mark Webber + 0.242 seconds (lap 19)
3 Nico Rosberg +0.319 (lap 18)
4 Lewis Hamilton + 0.394 (lap 18)
5 Heikki Kovalainen +0.470 (lap 20)
6 Jenson Button +0.562 (lap 25)
7 Alonso +0.592 (lap 13)
8 Kimi Raikkonen +0.987 (lap 18)
9 Kazukia Nakajima +1.120 (lap 20)

That sets up a potentially fascinating race. As has been the big talking point all weekend, the McLarens are in a position to interfere significantly in the battle for victory and for the world title.

Their Kers power-boost system gives them a gain of 16 metres on the run to the first corner - slightly more than two grid positions - so Lewis Hamilton in fourth place could easily leapfrog at least one of the two Red Bulls into the first corner.

The situation is complicated, though, by the fact that both McLarens are starting from the dirty side of the grid - which in Hungary is often a significant factor. Drivers starting in the dust often lose places to those who start on the outside, the racing line, in the odd-numbered grid positions.

Hamilton and Kovalainen believe their Kers systems will be enough to negate the disadvantage of starting on the dirty side of the grid. Vettel - who starts second behind Alonso and ahead of Webber - is in theory doubly vulnerable, to the McLaren and to his own team-mate.

In theory, Alonso, three places ahead of Hamilton and also light on fuel, is less vulnerable to the world champion. For the Renault driver, that is a good job, because to have any chance of the podium finish he is aiming for, he needs to stay in the lead on the first lap.

If he does that, he has a chance to run at his optimum pace until his first stop on about lap 13 - which is five laps earlier than Hamilton and seven before Vettel - and make up some time. The Spaniard will almost certainly have to do three stops from there, whereas the others have the flexibility to do two or three - and most likely two.

But if Alonso is passed, his afternoon will be ruined - all the advantage of being at the front will be wasted and he will quickly fall down the field once the pit stops start to come into play.

For championship leader Jenson Button, this is turning into a nightmare weekend.

The Brawn driver qualified eighth, but is not as slow as that suggests. He is carrying a heavy fuel load and fuel-corrected, he is sixth. His 0.562secs margin to Vettel is slightly less than it has been in the last two races, but even that may not be an accurate reflection of his form.

He was hampered in qualifying following the accident that befell the unfortunate Felipe Massa.

The Brazilian was hit on the head by a spring that fell of Button's team-mate Rubens Barrichello's car, so Brawn felt they had no choice but to change the offending part on Button's car.

That meant he was late out in the final session and when he did go out he found he did not like the feel of the car on heavier fuel.

It is too soon, then, to judge the Brawn's ultimate pace, but in some ways that may be immaterial. Down in eighth place, he may not have a chance to display it until it is too late.

Button's best hope is that Hamilton will get into the lead at the first corner and hold everyone up. Whatever happens, though, Sunday's race is a great opportunity for the Red Bull drivers to carve a significant chunk out of their rival's championship lead.

It should be a cracker.

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