Has the latest technical directive from the FIA regarding engine maps hurt Red Bull's form at all? Cynics may conclude so after a cursory look at the Friday practice times, with the RB8s 13th and 15th in the morning and seventh and 14th in the afternoon. But that would be a simplistic assessment.
The team was focused very much on long-run, heavy fuel simulations in the morning, a programme that continued into the afternoon. In addition Mark Webber stayed on the harder medium tyre, with rain 38 minutes from the end preventing him getting onto the soft. Sebastian Vettel did a seven-lap run on the soft at the same time Webber was doing a run of the same duration on the mediums - and his best time was a full 1s faster.
No other drivers showed quite such a big difference between the two tyre types, so it must be assumed that Webber was struggling a little more than Vettel if they were on similar fuel loads, which the team inferred they were.
However, Vettel's 1m22.8s on the soft was 0.8s off the fastest time - that of Lewis Hamilton's McLaren. "There's room for improvement," Vettel admitted, after visibly pushing the car very hard, clambering over the exit kerbs in a very un-Red Bull-like manner. "There are things that we need to do better for the weekend."
Asked if the map ruling had hurt the car's competitiveness, he responded with "absolutely not," but later in the conversation admitted that given a free choice the team would be running the Hockenheim map.
The good news for Red Bull is that it looks very competitive on the medium tyre. Vettel set a better time on it than anyone else managed - and it came at the end of a longer sequence of laps than those of the next quickest medium times: the two Ferraris followed by Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus and the two McLarens. The difference in best medium-tyre times between those six cars was just 0.15s, and that is the tyre expected to be favoured over a race stint.
Hamilton, quick whenever he ran on softs, had time to tweet during second practice... © XPB
The difficulties Seb refers to would seem to concern one-lap pace on the softs - and there seems little reason why that pattern might be connected with engine maps.
The McLaren upgrades which had the car working so well in the dry at Hockenheim seem to be carrying through here. Hamilton was quick whenever he ran on the softs, and competitively quick on the mediums. His result in Germany floundered upon poor qualifying in wet conditions, and with the forecast for a dry qualifying session in Budapest, confidence levels were high in the McLaren camp. Generally the cars looked more competitive in the cool of the morning than in the afternoon when track temperatures were around eight degrees higher.
Jenson Button was quick in the morning but admitted to "trying a few things to help the balance in the afternoon that didn't work and we'll be going back on them. Lewis showed the car is competitive, but a lot of people showed they were very competitive in that second session - and that surprised us a little. We seem to be quicker on a cooler track. It's going to be a fierce battle I think, but it looks like we'll be among it."
That battle looks sure to feature Ferrari and Lotus. The F2012, as has been the case since Barcelona, looks competitively quick in all conditions, on both tyres and in all the sectors. Its supreme versatility is playing a large part in giving Fernando Alonso the tool with which to use his tenacious skills to their best effect. Felipe Massa was as quick run-for-run and seems very well keyed-in to this track.
Raikkonen spent the morning session further testing the passive F-duct rear wing, the team professing itself very happy with its operation. It is planned to race it for the first time at Spa. Into the afternoon the car was back to standard form and the rising track temperatures seemed very much to the E20's taste. Raikkonen didn't put a good lap together on the soft but even so set he session's second fastest time, less than 0.2s off Hamilton.
...while Michael Schumacher hit trouble for the second consecutive Friday © XPB
Quite aside from Michael Schumacher's accident in the wet late stages of practice two, things were not looking great for Mercedes. It's a car that tends not to like long-duration turns and this place is full of them.
Bruno Senna raised eyebrows by going third quickest in the afternoon on softs but it was difficult to read the Williams' pace over any extended running and that lap was 0.4s faster than any other he did.
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