With the typically large Hungaroring crowds in full force, the drivers delivered some exciting action today on what is frequently called a driver’s circuit. Most of this excitement was sideways, as the track was in its usual state on a Friday – green, with grip at a premium. The likes of Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa and Kevin Magnussen were all caught out by the track conditions, in varying degrees of severity. Ironically, the duo who faced the worst conditions of the day were also the duo who topped the timesheet in both sessions, with Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton setting the first times of FP1 and also the fastest later on in the day. Lots of mileage for the title rivals as their battle continues to intensify.
It is now all but confirmed, that the loss of FRIC has not effected Mercedes as much as was first perceived. On a circuit where the benefits of FRIC should be as evident as any other, the Silver Arrows were at their usual scintillating best. Lewis may have topped both sessions, but Nico was never far behind and previous form suggests that the Brit’s advantage will decrease over the course of the weekend. What was immediately evident this morning was the determination to clock as many laps as possible on both sides of the garage. On the green track, neither Lewis nor Nico were concerned by the fact that their early running in the first fifteen minutes was unrepresentative – they know that any advantage that can be gained could make the difference between victory and defeat on Sunday, and that is why they were willing to battle a track which their fellow competitors ignored. With this race having huge psychological implications, it could prove critical to a title race which is remarkably close.
Hence, the real battle this weekend, (barring any unforeseen circumstances) is for the final step on the podium – and what a battle it could be. Firstly, Red Bull’s pace throughout the day was very impressive. Both long and short run performance was impressive, with both Vettel and Ricciardo lapping consistently in the 1:29’s during the race simulation runs in FP2. There qualifying simulation performance in the same session was also strong, with Vettel finishing P3 on the timesheet and Ricciardo ending the day P7. The new front wing details, (including turning veins which could compensate for the loss of FRIC) and a typically audacious rake setting seems to be working well on a circuit which will always favour the traits of the Milton Keynes based squad.
One key aspect of today’s running was the intra-team battle at Red Bull. Sebastian did appear to have an edge over his teammate, which has rarely been the case this season, during both sessions. However, despite having never won in Budapest, the Hungaroring is a track which the reigning champion seems to enjoy. In both 2010 and 2013, the German was close to victory and his own errors of judgement, (particularly in the case of the former), cost him the chance of a maiden Hungarian victory. Based on today’s running, it seems that Vettel will be best placed to mop up any Mercedes dramas on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Red Bull will have close company in the form of Ferrari this weekend. While they typically look faster on a Friday than their genuine pace allows, both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen enjoyed good short and long run pace comparable with Red Bull. For Kimi, a trouble free Friday is integral to his weekend, as he is evidently a sensitive driver and requires a perfect setup to extract the maximum from the car. While the handling of the F14 T looked typically frustrating, with both drivers wrestling with both understeer and oversteer, sometimes with both occurring during the same corner, it seems that Ferrari are one of the biggest winners as a result of the removal of FRIC. McLaren also seem to have made great strides, with both Magnussen and Button enjoying promising Friday’s.
There is a strong possibility that McLaren could beat Williams this weekend, as Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa seem to be suffering from a lack of downforce. The team predicted a difficult weekend in Hungary, and by their recent high standards, it seems as though the weekend will be a case of damage limitation in the tight constructors battle for second, third and fourth.
Today was certainly not without a few dramatic moments. The first came within just four minutes of the green light of FP1, as Max Chilton ground to a halt in the pit lane after an installation lap. An oil leak from the exhaust caused a fire which was effectively extinguished before it escalated. As such, a gearbox and bodywork change later, Max was ready to return to the track in the final five minutes of the session. Certainly not ideal for Marussia, who essentially lost half of their data gathering potential in FP1, but their recovery in FP2 largely compensated for this. Caterham had the edge over their rivals in the first session, but this gap was reduced significantly in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, the lack of grip caused a number of drivers significant issues. Both Felipe Massa and Kevin Magnussen suffered excursions at the turn 7 and 8 chicane, Kamui Kobayashi spun at turn 9 and turn ten sent Pastor Maldonado into a spin as well. Better to make a mistake on Friday as oppose to Saturday I suppose!
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m25.814s
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m25.997s +0.183s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m26.421s +0.607s
4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m26.872s +1.058s
5 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m27.220s +1.406s
6 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m27.357s +1.543s
7 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m27.683s +1.869s
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m27.782s +1.968s
9 Jenson Button McLaren 1m27.804s +1.990s
10 Felipe Massa Williams 1m27.960s +2.146s
11 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m27.967s +2.153s
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m28.101s +2.287s
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m28.208s +2.394s
14 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1m28.266s +2.452s
15 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m28.330s +2.516s
16 Sergio Perez Force India 1m28.376s +2.562s
17 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m28.593s +2.779s
18 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m29.025s +3.211s
19 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m30.363s +4.549s
20 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m30.892s +5.078s
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1m31.004s +5.190s
22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m31.248s +5.434s
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:24.482
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:24.720 +0.238
3 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:25.111 +0.629
4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:25.437 +0.955
5 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:25.580 +1.098
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:25.730 +1.248
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:25.983 +1.501
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:25.999 +1.517
9 Jenson Button McLaren 1:26.234 +1.752
10 Felipe Massa Williams 1:26.402 +1.920
11 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:26.689 +2.207
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:26.703 +2.221
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:26.789 +2.307
14 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:26.919 +2.437
15 Sergio Perez Force India 1:27.013 +2.531
16 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:27.019 +2.537
17 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:27.021 +2.539
18 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:27.480 +2.998
19 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:28.370 +3.888
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:28.469 +3.987
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:28.586 +4.104
22 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:29.036 +4.554