A troubled Lotus, an undrivable Sauber, overheating tyres on the Toro Rosso, a technically unreliable Force India and a still down on power McLaren meant a hard to predict midfield scrap. Further forward, Red Bull were looking strong, as well as Williams edging closer to Ferrari.
It was Nico Rosberg who wasted no time in hitting the track as the German looked to set the pace after being beaten in all three practice sessions by his teammate Lewis Hamilton. Gusty conditions over the bowl complex of the Hungaroring saw Rosberg run wide of the track limits on three occasions as he set 1:25.262, swiftly followed by his teammate with a 1:24.293.
The rest of the field followed the World Champions’ lead causing headaches for many as they navigated the slower cars. Rosberg complained of understeer, much the same as the midfield drivers were feeling. The Red Bulls continued to impress as their former Renault counterparts, Lotus, struggled with car handling.
Pastor Maldonado ran wide at turn 1 while Romain Grosjean powerslid through turn 2. At one point it even looked unlikely they would be able to save the embarrassment of being beaten by the Manor cars – the soft tyre saving their blushes.
Carlos Sainz’s first lap on the softs not quite on the money, as the Toro Rosso continued to perform poorly around the Budapest track. This would eventually see him through by the skin of his teeth as Jenson Button was unable to get within 1.7 seconds of Hamilton’s fastest time. The energy deployment down the home straight faltering which was the downfall of the man from Frome.
Q1 saw both Manors, both Saubers and Jenson Button drop out of the running. The biggest surprise though was the troubled handling of the Mercedes for Nico Rosberg.
No such rush at the start of the second session before the silence was broken by Sebastian Vettel. The former World Champion and the rest of the field all returned with soft tyre on their wagons, leading to steady out laps to maintain as much tyre life as possible. The temperature having risen slightly since Q1 meaning the Pirelli rubber was even more sensitive.
Fernando Alonso’s McLaren having engine problems before stopping tantalising short of the pit lane. The determination and desperation of the Spaniard shown by his attempts to push the car back to the pit lane much to the delight of the Hungarian crowd. Social media rejoiced at the nostalgia it evoked seeing a driver turning into steward for a brief moment.
When the green light showed again around half the field headed back out, with Nico Hulkenberg posting an impressive time to go 5th, though this was soon bettered by Raikkonen and Kvyat.
Romain Grosjean put in a very tidy effort to scrape into Q3 along with Max Verstappen in 9th place. Nico Hulkenberg, Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez, Pastor Maldonado and Fernando Alonso all were eliminated.
The two Mercedes drivers were the first to head out on track for the final session of the Saturday, at a place where grid position is of elevated importance. Rosberg set the pace on used soft tyres, before Hamilton bettered his effort by 3 tenths of a second. The Ferrari pair soon followed with Raikkonen slightly behind Vettel, before Daniel Ricciardo split them.
The Williams drivers struggling to match the times of the Ferrari drivers as they look to cut the 50 point deficit in the Constructors’ Championship. Felipe Massa shown to have run wide on his first attempt in Q3 which explained the 0.6 gap to his teammate.
Lewis Hamilton endured traffic behind Kimi Raikkonen meaning a less than ideal preparation for the World Champion. This did not show in the end as the Briton set a scintillating time to go half a second clear of his teammate. Daniel Ricciardo’s lap was a very controlled tour of the circuit, once more splitting the Ferraris.
Daniil Kvyat will be slightly disappointed with 7th place in a car that had far more potential. The Williams pair stooped under the radar slightly as others stole the limelight. A very credible performance from Max Verstappen was largely ignored by the FOM cameras; he will be one to watch for race day.
As ever, body language told a story of its own – Rosberg well aware it could be a difficult afternoon tomorrow – especially given a certain Daniel Ricciardo has saved a set of soft compound tyres.
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:22.020
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:22.595 (+0.575)
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:22.739 (+0.719)
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:22.774 (+0.754)
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:23.020 (+1.000)
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:23.222 (+1.202)
7 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull 1:23.332 (+1.312)
8 Felipe Massa Williams 1:23.537 (+1.517)
9 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:23.679 (+1.659)
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:24.181 (+2.161)
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:23.826
12 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:23.869
13 Sergio Perez Force India 1:24.461
14 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:24.609
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren no time
16 Jenson Button McLaren 1:24.739
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:24.843
18 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:24.997
19 Roberto Merhi Manor 1:27.416
20 Will Stevens Manor 1:27.949