Hungarian Grand Prix: Friday Analysis

The tenth round of the season got underway in scintillating style this morning, with teams embarking on packed schedules as they looked to examine the latest incarnations of Pirelli tyres. Consequently, teams and fans learnt a lot from both FP1 and FP2, with the most poignant discovery being the sheer dominance of the RB9. While the Hungaroring is a circuit which typically plays to Red Bull’s strengths, both Vettel and Webber showed outstanding long and short run performance, sending out an ominous message to their rivals. Lotus appear to be the only team who can hold a candle to Red Bull this weekend. 

FP1

As with most Friday mornings, all eyes were firmly fixed on the latest updates brought by teams to the venue. Following the Young Drivers Test, the majority of teams had made significant additions to their packages and were keen to evaluate them. Moreover, gathering crucial knowledge regarding the new construction tyres was important, especially for Mercedes, who looked to recover the mileage lost due to their YDT exclusion.

Despite a prolonged stay in the garage at the start of the session, Red Bull have started the weekend at the head of the field, as Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheet with Mark Webber just two tenths behind him in P2. Sebastian’s schedule was far less frantic compared to his teammate, as the German had the benefit of his YDT session where he experienced Pirelli’s latest incarnation of tyre. However, his work this morning primarily focused on the RB9’s latest upgrades, as several alterations have been made to the front wing including the addition of vortex generators on the first element. These have been added in order to prevent marbles becoming lodged in between element one and two, which would significantly affect downforce and unsettle the car. As well as this, the new front wing features a curved upper element, which conceals the ‘secret parts’ which the team are reluctant to describe. 
Also near the top of the timesheet were McLaren. Their morning consisted of two constant speed runs early on, followed by several short and long runs evaluating the medium compound tyres. Like Red Bull, McLaren also have significant modifications for this weekend, including an alteration to the scoop on the front wing cascade element, as well at the addition of an extra turning vein on the top of the sidepod. Following the team’s strong showing this morning, where both Jenson Button and Sergio Perez briefly topped the timesheet, it would be easy to overestimate the value of these changes. However, Sam Micheal has downplayed the influence of the changes, stating that the new regulations restricting pressure and camber settings have brought the field closer to them. Micheal claimed that the team have always followed Pirelli’s guidelines, meaning that the latest changes have no negative effect on their pace. The Hungaroring is historically a McLaren circuit and while a podium finish is unlikely, the team seem to have made great gains if FP1 is anything to go by.
Another team who had a positive morning were Williams. The team appear to have benefited from their YDT running, where they trialed a baseline version of their car in order to examine the source of their balance issues. Both Maldonado and Bottas survived off track excursions to finish a pleasing P10 and P12 respectively.  
While Rodolfo Gonzalez kept Max Chilton’s seat warm this morning at Marussia, Jules Bianchi suffered a disjointed start to the session as the team repaired a KERS malfunction. His time in the garage did not restrict his running too much, as the Frenchman still completed 20 laps. Elsewhere, Mercedes completed the most mileage of the day, with both Hamilton and Rosberg clocking up 28 laps each as they look to recover from their YDT exclusion. They will look to build on their FP1 efforts this afternoon.
FP1 Timesheet
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:22.723 19 laps
02 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:22.982 +0.259 24 laps
03 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:23.010 +0.287 20 laps
04 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:23.099 +0.376 22 laps
05 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:23.111 +0.388 20 laps
06 Jenson Button McLaren 1:23.370 +0.647 26 laps
07 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:23.390 +0.667 20 laps
08 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:23.531 +0.808 28 laps
09 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:23.591 +0.868 26 laps
10 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:23.911 +1.188 21 laps
11 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:24.119 +1.396 21 laps
12 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:24.150 +1.427 27 laps
13 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24.157 +1.434 28 laps
14 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:24.204 +1.481 15 laps
15 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:24.299 +1.576 19 laps
16 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:24.314 +1.591 23 laps
17 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:24.383 +1.660 24 laps
18 Paul di Resta Force India 1:24.608 +1.885 21 laps
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:25.827 +3.104 24 laps
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:26.808 +4.085 25 laps
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:27.617 +4.894 20 laps
22 Rodolfo Gonzalez Marussia 1:28.927 +6.204 25 laps 

FP2

Sebastian Vettel picked up from where he left off in FP1, finishing the second session of the day at the top of the timesheet with Mark Webber once again finishing just behind. It is a rare occurrence for Red Bull to show their hand during Friday running, (they have not achieved a double 1-2 on Friday since the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2010), however, this shows how critical today was for team’s to establish their true pace on the new tyres. During both long and short runs, the Red Bull’s seemed invincible.
FP2 followed the typical second session format. Prime compound runs at the start, followed by qualifying simulation runs on the option tyre, before teams settle down for longer stints to finish the day. What became apparent from these long runs is that the anticipated thermal degradation on the soft tyres is not to the extent which was initially suggested. Mark Webber for instance, managed to maintain consistent pace on the soft compound well into the stint. The lack of thermal degradation was also evident during the qualifying simulation, as Romain Grosjean managed to go P3 on his second timed lap on the soft compound. On a circuit which is historically tough on tyres, these results were surprising and may prompt all ten Q3 qualifiers to set times on the soft rubber. 
Meanwhile, Mercedes suffered a poor Friday in general. In FP2, it became noticeable that during long runs the car was leaning heavily on the rear tyres and with around six major traction events around the lap, this will significantly hinder their tyre preservation efforts. Even their usually foolproof short run performance was lacking and a forlorn Hamilton admitted that they seem to have lost ground in terms of the development race. “We don’t seem to have the pace that we had at the last race,” he said. Such a sudden change of fortunes could be linked to their YDT exclusion, which became a more significant penalty with the introduction of the new tyres. Not only Sunday but Saturday could also prove problematic this weekend. “Red Bull seem particularly quick this weekend,” conceded Hamilton. “Fuel loads play a huge part and when we get to qualifying we are generally able to pull out a little bit more. I was told that on the same laps on the long runs that Mark Webber was eight-tenths faster at some stages, so that’s interesting.”
Another team who experienced a difficult FP2 were Toro Rosso. Despite showing impressive pace at the last two races, they seem to have slipped back in the pack, while bringing a new front and rear wing this weekend. According to Team Principal Franz Tost, both drivers have struggled with the balance through the medium speed corners which has led to their excursions as they search for much needed grip. The team will surly now have to reevaluate the upgrades and their overall value. 
Finally, do not be deceived by Kimi Raikkonen’s P8 placement on the timesheet. The Finn decided to complete an extended medium tyre run, which delayed his qualifying simulation. This meant that he was out of sync with the rest of the field; as they were completing the opening stages of their long runs, Kimi was lapping around six seconds a lap faster on a short run. The Finn experienced several hair raising skirmishes with Jenson Button, as he kept catching the Brit in the final sector on three timed laps in succession due to the speed differential. Kimi is still Red Bull’s closest challenger this weekend, proving why he is widely tipped to take his second victory of the season in Hungary.

FP2 Timesheet         
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:21.264 34 laps
02 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:21.308 0.044 42
03 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:21.417 0.153 40
04 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:21.426 0.162 34
05 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:21.544 0.280 37
06 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:21.802 0.538 42
07 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:21.991 0.727 40
08 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:22.011 0.747 32
09 Jenson Button McLaren 1:22.180 0.916 41
10 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:22.304 1.040 41
11 Paul di Resta Force India 1:22.526 1.262 39
12 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:22.529 1.265 37
13 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:22.781 1.517 36
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:22.837 1.573 42
15 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:22.841 1.577 39
16 Jean-Eric Vergne STR 1:23.369 2.105 34
17 Daniel Ricciardo STR 1:23.411 2.147 41
18 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:23.646 2.382 34
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:24.325 3.061 38
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:25.065 3.801 36
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:25.143 3.879 39
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:26.647 5.383 33
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