Red Bull came into the Hungary weekend expecting to be overshadowed on pace by Ferrari – and there was nothing about Friday practice which suggested it was wrong.
The tightly-packaged track layout of the Hungaroring doesn’t give the Red Bull the chance to stretch its legs and the Ferrari’s great low-speed acceleration and traction is a particular boon here, especially in the middle sector.
“The car felt very good straight out of the garage in FP1,” said Carlos Sainz, “and we could put together some very good laps. For FP2 we tried a couple of changes in the set-up to evaluate which direction is best to take for tomorrow and the race. We lost the feeling a bit, but we are in a good place in terms of car balance and pace.”
Ferrari’s single-lap pace was 0.15s clear of Red Bull’s in FP1 and almost double that in FP2. In the long runs, that difference was even greater.
Long-run averages in FP2
|Sainz||1m23.57s (6 laps)|
|Leclerc||1m23.65s (5 laps)|
|Norris||1m24.176s (4 laps)|
|Verstappen||1m24.43s (8 laps)|
|Vettel||1m24.487s (7 laps)|
|Perez||1m24.73s (7 laps)|
|Ricciardo||1m24.732s (7 laps)|
|Bottas||1m24.957s (5 laps)|
|Alonso||1m25.086s (9 laps)|
|Russell||1m25.262s (8 laps)|
|Gasly||1m25.425s (7 laps)|
|Tsunoda||1m25.502s (12 laps)|
|Ocon||1m25.675s (4 laps)|
|Magnussen||1m25.828s (12 laps)|
On the medium tyre – expected to be favoured for the race – Sainz had almost 0.9s on Max Verstappen. Charles Leclerc was quickest of those doing their race sims on the softs – though neither Red Bull ran that tyre for the long runs.
Red Bull was by its own admission was experimenting with set-ups and it would be surprising if that 0.9s gap was replicated through the rest of the weekend. Sergio Perez was again struggling for single-lap pace but was much closer in the race sims.
He said: “We were trying different bits to get comfortable with the car and we got a good understanding from it so that should translate tomorrow – to both low and high fuel but certainly the Ferrari looked very strong today.”
In fact, it wasn’t a Red Bull which was the closest to the Ferraris in single-lap pace – but Lando Norris’ McLaren. He was quick to dampen down expectations around that, though.
“We tend to turn it up more on Friday compared to Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, just to get a first reading of qualifying whereas the others step it up on Saturday,” Norris said. “But still the car feels in a good place around here. It’s suiting this track but I am not expecting to be fighting for pole.”
Although this is very much a rear-limited track, just like at Monaco it is highly rewarding of a car which can get its front tyres straight up to temperature and that has always been very much a strength of this McLaren.
There has very often been a price to be paid for that on race day, but around here with the race day, the limitation tends to be the thermal degradation of the rears, the McLaren may be in reasonable shape. Unusually, both Norris and Daniel Ricciardo split their long-running between the soft and the hard – though possibly just because they wanted to save as many sets of the medium as possible.
But on the softs, Norris averaged around 0.6s slower than Leclerc. On the hards, he was much quicker than the similarly-shod Alpine of Esteban Ocon.
But perhaps the most intriguing long run of all was that by Sebastian Vettel, in the Aston Martin with its controversial new high-downforce rear wing.
In the qualifying simulation, Vettel was seventh-fastest, around 0.75s adrift of Leclerc’s Ferrari. But his seven lap run on the mediums was virtually as fast as Verstappen on the same tyre and comfortably faster than Fernando Alonso’s Alpine.
Mercedes suffered a terrible FP2. Lewis Hamilton had been on-course to put in a lap that would have been around 0.7s off Leclerc (potentially putting him P6/7) but ran wide and damaged the floor badly enough that he abandoned his long-run attempt.
George Russell was eighth-fastest, around 0.9s adrift of the Ferrari and his medium-tyred long run was significantly adrift of Alonso’s, barely any quicker than Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri.
Hamilton referred to the car as, “a bit loose” and Russell commented: “Not our smoothest Friday. We were trying quite a few things with the car, using it as a test session because the weather forecast for the weekend meant this session wasn’t going to be very representative so we have used it to try to learn more about the car.”
That was a reference to a forecast which initially suggested rain throughout Saturday and a dry but much cooler Sunday. Later forecasts suggested that might swing around.
Even if the track temperature doesn’t approach the 50-deg C seen today, Ferrari’s pace looks set to be hot. Can Mattia Binotto’s aim of winning all the remaining races to pull Ferrari back into championship contention begin here?