Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 26° Track 57° Humidity 31% Wind 1.8 m/s
It was a torrid FP3 for Mercedes after their shining victory in far off Englandland. With a track temp north of 50°C and gusty winds it was struggle city as the team from Brackley spent half the session on the Soft tyre, perhaps intimating that they were already invested in running the harder tyre for the first stint.
Ferrari, which were nowhere in Silverstone, had spent their time wisely as Vettel rang up the top time, nearly a full second up Bottas in the Mercedes, even when it got round to setting fast times on the SuperSoft tyres. They were triumphant on the Supers, but such is the degradation at the Hungaroring that if Mercedes follow through on running the Soft for Q2 a delightfully strategic race is in the offing, even before the almost certain Safety Cars get tossed into the mix.
But it was Red Bull that failed to save their best for last as they were unable to make any improvement on yesterday’s showing timewise and to further dump buckets of salt into that wound, Ricciardo was forced to park up the car after it began belching smoke into T11 and by all indications it was going to be a brand new gearbox needed to get him back on track. Which does come with a 5 spot penalty and no doubt will ruin many a prediction after yesterday’s glory runs made him look the favourite. Good of him to be keeping Hulkenberg company, who was also dinged for a 5 spot for replacing his gear box at the start of the weekend.
Also suffering, but from an inner ear condition, was Felipe Massa who has officially bailed on the race after giving it a go in the last practice session. This means that Paul di Resta will be stepping in, as the reserve driver for Williams, which will spice up the show a bit as his times will be compared to Stroll’s straightaway, despite him having yet to turn a single lap in the 2017 car. It will also be good news for Grosjean, who will finally have some company in the biggest complainer department.
McLaren, fantastically enough, finished the session strong and it was Vandoorne going P6 in the last seconds, just edging Hulkenberg but nearly 0.2s up on Alonso. Should he best Alonso in qualifying, it would be the second race in a row in which Stoffel started ahead of his storied teammate, and P6 represents a real chance for Macca to lift themselves off the bottom of the championship standings. Especially as Sauber’s big update has mainly unlocked the rest of the power in their year old Ferrari PU, which had been dialed down to a lack of cooling.
The HALO as well has drawn plenty of comments, and SKY thoughtfully went through and got comments pro and con from the drivers. With the aesthetics aside, it’s clear that the device will perform as intended, thought the doubling of driver self-extraction time does tend to give one pause. It’s also clear that the situation it’s intended to prevent is an incredibly rare occurrence in F1 and as such the debate will continue unabated over the summer break (have fun and be civil, please).
With Mercedes on the back foot this week, the benefit to the championship of having 2 different design concepts competing for ultimate glory become rather apparent as the schedule stretches out to completion. It’s definite that the long wheelbase low rake Mercedes concept is doing them no favours at this track, just as it gave them an overwhelming advantage at the high speed Silverstone. Adding to their misery, it’s also possible that the gearbox heating of their hydraulic damper fluid might have been responsible for their gearbox issues, meaning getting the balance for the car would be even more challenging.
Meanwhile the shorter wheelbase, higher rake Ferrari looked designed to excel at exactly this kind of track. And by all appearances they appear to have sorted the issues associated with the loss of the flexible floor slot. The balance for each competitor is in the compromises for the tracks at which they are less suited and as such it will swing from race to to race, exactly the ingredients a true race fan wants in a championship battle.
Green Light!! Despite all eyes being on di Resta and Williams, it was Mercedes first out of the gate in Q1, Bottas trailed by Hamilton. By the end of the first minute, half the field was onto the very challenging Hungaroring and Bottas wound it up for his first go.
Behind him, it was Hamilton, immediately topping the Finn’s sector times. Bottas bailed halfway through his lap, but Hamilton kept his foot in and went to the top, with a 1:17.905, matching Bottas’ FP3 effort.
It was Vettel, though, effortlessly going 0.3s faster to settle ahead of the Mercedes, at least until his teammate crushed it, with a 1:17.382, showing Ferrari clearly the team to beat at this qualifying.
Down to the 12 minute mark and it was Hamilton having a second and more successful go, up to P2 and into the window with the Ferraris, just a tenth off Raikkonen’s time.
Slightly further back it was di Resta, having acclimated to the track and car, rocking up with a 1:21 but still 2s off the time of Stroll. But this distraction went rapidly by the wayside with the emergence of Ricciardo and Verstappen, the third piece of the Hungaroring puzzle.
It was Verstappen just ahead of his teammate, a pattern that has been seen before. With 8 minutes left in the session, it was Bottas unusually languishing about in P6, the only of the top 3 to still be in the 1:18s.
Vandoorne confirmed his FP3 numbers by going P7 and looking very exciting, at least until Alonso wandered out and bested him by a single tenth, making Macca look very racy indeed and putting sudden pressure on Renault, Toro Rosso, and Force India. HAAS and Sauber were nowhere and good news from Horner as it turned out to be a hydraulic issue meaning no grid penalty for Danny Ric.
5 minutes to go and it was Di Resta out for Williams, to have a go at a proper time whilst at the back it was Di Resta, Wehrlein, Ericsson, Stroll and Magnussen with it all to do.
A flurry of laps saw Hulkenberg back ahead of the Macca’s with Palmer claiming the last of the top 10 spots for the moment.
Grosjean, Perez and Sainz all loitered about in the danger zone as the last laps were fired away. Lots of focus on di Resta who managed a slight improvement to P15 as Kvyat briefly brought out the yellows with an off, messing with Perez’ lap.
As the dust settled it was off to the goulash table for Ericsson, Di Resta, Wehrlein, Stroll and Magnussen as the rest reset for the rigors of Q2. For Di Resta, the gap to Stroll was just 0.8s which was very encouraging indeed. For Di Resta that is. Magnussen was also the victim of a peculiarity of F1 rules, having set an identical time to Perez, he was still out due to the fact that he set his time last.
Bottas led the way for Q2, as he did for Q1, with Hamilton and Vettel not far behind. Raikkonen took a bit longer to emerge but as the time ticked off it was the top 4 from Q1 alone on track.
Just as Bottas was winging it toward the start, the Force Indias emerged to spoil the party. Hamilton was on the radio complaining of a vibration and despite that he still managed to better Valterri, with a 1:17.194. But again, it was Vettel, trailing Lewis, that turned the fastest time, into the 1:16s and a solid 0.3s up on the Mercedes man yet again.
For a brief moment it was Ricciardo in P5 and ahead of Verstappen and then it was Ocon, from nowhere going P5. Danny Ric was having none of it and retook P5 and with 9 minutes to go it was Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Bottas and Ricciardo and the astonishing Ocon in P6.
8 minutes to go and the applecart was well upset as Max Verstappen got himself together to go P2 a full tenth up on Lewis and driving the fans mad as his name migrated upwards on the leaderboard.
6 minutes to go and as the field prepared to go out and have their final shot at making Q3 it was Palmer, Sainz, Kvyat, Grosjean and Perez with it all to do.
2 minutes later and it was the rather surprising emergence of the Mercedes duo to lead the field for their final go at glory. As the track filled it was Bottas backing out and Hamilton putting his foot down, setting personal best for S1 and then purpling S2 as he rocketed towards the line, taking P1 away from Vettel with a 1:16.693 and laying down a marker for the final session.
As the checquers fell it was Ocon and Kvyat both on hot laps to make it out of the drop zone, and both failing to improve. Palmer was on his last chance lap and he just about almost but not quite managed to make Q3 yet again. It’s gonna be a long break for the luckless driver from Renault, as Kubica will be testing for Renault in just a few days time.
Done like a dinner were Palmer, Ocon, Kvyat, Perez and Grosjean as the top ten got ready to tilt for all the glory. Happily enough both Macca drivers were through and it was the Hulk, best of the rest in P6 and just ahead of Danny Ric. Sainz was the sneaker, just into P10 and continuing to separate himself from his Russian teammate.
Also looking carefully during the interval were the Mercedes technical personnel, specifically at Hamilton’s floor, as he wonked the nasty kerbs at T4 fairly hard, the same kerbs that destroyed Palmer’s front wing on Friday.
Q3 and it was Bottas out first again, but with only Vettel trailing then Hulkenberg. Hamilton made it out as the first minute had just about run off the clock, slightly out of sequence but presumably with a car in good shape.
First Bottas, then Vettel started to light the board up purple. Hamilton, trailing behind set a green S1 but still a tenth off. Bottas finally hooked it up as Hamilton backed it off in S2 and made for the pits. It was Bottas to the top with a 1:16.631 only to be utterly eclipsed by Vettel, crushing it with a 1:16.276.
Then it was Ricciardo getting it together and bypassing Raikkonen for P3 as Verstappen waited in the wings for a clear track.
6 minutes to go, and it was Max taking a solo as the rest messed about with the fiddley bits, looking for that last hundredth.
And it was Verstappen getting it done with 4:30 left, up to P3 with only Sainz left to set a time.
One minute later and Hamilton was on his way out to the track, followed by Hulkenberg at a 20 second interval. As the 2 minute mark approached, one by one the runners trickled out of their garages. and as Hamilton approached the start/finish, it was again a radio call about tyre vibrations.
Very slow S1 for Lewis, faster into S2 with personal bests and at the end of S3 it was P3. Behind him Bottas closed the gap to Vettel but Raikkonen was setting purple sectors in ominous fashion. BANG!! P2 for Kimi as Vettel failed to improve.
Ricciardo was unable to overthrow the speed of his teammate going P5 and it was status quo ante the rest of the way with no change in order.
Tomorrow’s race sets up nicely for Ferrari, and Hulkenberg with a penalty promises at least some action. The start will be crucial, and after wreaking havoc on Vettel at Silverstone at the last race, it has to be in the back of Mercedes’ mind that he might do the same to them tomorrow.
Tyres and degradation will be crucial tomorrow and Wolff said in a post race interview that they were having a hard time getting the tyres where the want them. The issue is getting the core temperature and surface temperature into harmony and is most apparent in qualifying. Good news for Macca as well, as they will start at P7 and P8 after the penalty to Hulkenberg.
Tomorrow’s race will be a struggle, but with the difficulty of on track passing it might turn out to be one more for the fan of strategy than action. But accidents are also plentiful in Hungary, and the joker of the Safety Car cold enliven the action.
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