July 25 (Reuters) - Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso could celebrate his 31st birthday by winning his 31st Grand Prix on Sunday at the Hungaroring circuit where he chalked up his Formula One victory nine years ago.
McLaren will hope to get the most out of their upgraded car after Lewis Hamilton’s bad luck in Germany and champions Red Bull will want to put a troubled weekend in Hockenheim behind them.
Alonso will go into the August break on top of the standings whatever happens at the ageing, twisty Hungaroring, where temperatures usually soar after the cooler races in Britain and Germany.
Although Alonso’s Ferrari is not the fastest car on the circuit, the Spaniard has amassed 154 points, shooting 34 clear of Red Bull’s Mark Webber (120).
Webber’s team mate and world champion Sebastian Vettel is a further 10 points back in third place followed by Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton, who are both in the 90s.
After two wins and a second place in his last three outings, a fourth win of the season would put Alonso well on course for a third Formula One title to add to the ones he won as a youngster with Renault in 2005 and 2006.
“I don’t want anyone to come to Hungary better prepared than me, physically or mentally or more motivated than me and I always try and win this competition that runs alongside the one on the track,” Alonso said.
“I expect to go well in Budapest and there is no reason to be pessimistic. However, I am not forgetting that Red Bull and McLaren were quicker (at Hockenheim).”
Team principal Stefano Domenicali described it as a key race and added: “We know we still have a lot of work to do, because we are still not the fastest.”
Reliability has become the watchword for Ferrari, who have not had a retirement since the opening race in Australia while Alonso has managed a top ten finish in every round. He has also racked up 22 successive races in the points.
“We must keep concentrating to the maximum, especially on the reliability front,” Domenicali added.
Alonso became the youngest driver to win a Grand Prix when he led from pole to win in Budapest in 2003 at the age of 22, a record subsequently taken by Vettel in 2008 aged 21.
“It is a dream come true. I am 22 years old and I have my first victory. I hope I have a long career with lots more victories,” Alonso said at the time.
He is not the only one who has happy memories of Budapest.
McLaren have won five of the last seven races there, two of them with Lewis Hamilton and one with Button who was victorious last year and also won with Honda in 2006 -- his first triumph after years of waiting.
“We know we’ve got a good car and a good recent track record there - we won in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011,” team principal Martin Whitmarsh said.
“Winning just before the shutdown is always positive because it provides you with great momentum across the summer break.”
McLaren’s performance upgrades have thrust them back into contention with Button finishing second at Hockenheim, although Hamilton suffered the frustration of an early puncture and eventual retirement.
Webber won in 2010 and a repeat would be timely for the Australian after he bafflingly lacked pace at Hockenheim.
Having been penalised five places on the starting grid at Hockenheim for an unauthorised gearbox change, Webber drove to an uninspired eighth place finish.
Meanwhile, Vettel was stripped of his second place because of an illegal passing manoeuvre and dropped to fifth.
“We have to be quick in all conditions and we weren’t for whatever reason,” said Webber, giving the constructors championship leaders plenty of food for thought. (Editing by Alan Baldwin and John O‘Brien)