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What we learned from Friday F1 practice at the Hungarian GP

A largely worthless first practice and a tyre allocation rules trial weighed in to create a mixed up Friday at the Hungaroring, but digging a little deeper uncovers a few intriguing takeaways from the opening day of this year’s Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix

Sir Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Sir Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14

Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc closed out a frantic FP2 session in preparation for Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix, as neither Red Bull nor Mercedes set the Formula 1 timing screens alight.

The Monegasque beat Silverstone podium-finisher Lando Norris to the uppermost echelon of the timing board amid a session that was influenced by both earlier rainfall and the alternative tyre allocation trial set for qualifying on Saturday. Two red flags had stifled running in FP1, as did the emergence of precipitation over the Mogyorod area, leaving the drivers to find scarce grip on a 'green' circuit in FP2.

With the allocation of dry tyres reduced from 13 to 11 for the Hungary weekend owing to the trials of set tyre compounds for each phase of qualifying, teams had to be sparing with their allowances despite the lack of dry running in FP1. Regardless, here are the key takeaways from Friday practice for Hungarian Grand Prix.

The story of the day

A rain-affected opening free practice session at the Hungaroring yielded very little in terms of useable data, save for token runs on the wet compounds of tyre as two red flags interrupted many of the teams' run plans. At the top of the session, under-pressure Sergio Perez's Red Bull swapped ends at Turn 5 and left him careening into the wall, producing the first of two pauses in running.

In the break as the stricken RB19 was fished out of the barrier, rain began to fall and intensified enough to put all dry running into check for the rest of the session. Drivers tentatively visited the ever-dampening circuit on intermediate rubber - and, in Kevin Magnussen's case, the wet compound - to explore the limits of grip available. Carlos Sainz then brought out the second red flag in the second half of the session having lost control of his Ferrari on the exit of Turn 3, clunking the inside barrier on the stretch towards Turn 4. The Spaniard nibbled off part of his front wing and was spared blushes by the marshals after beaching his SF-23 on the grass.

George Russell's late effort on intermediate tyres was enough to catapult the Briton to the top of the timing boards, ahead of Oscar Piastri and Lance Stroll, and there were threats of continued rain into FP2.

Russell topped a disrupted and wet first practice

Russell topped a disrupted and wet first practice

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

This was ultimately not realised and the circuit had dried out by the time the second practice session had begun. The opening 20 minutes were headed by the Williams drivers, as Logan Sargeant's opening effort on soft tyres had given him the springboard to vault to the top of the timing board. The American had admittedly been going against the grain when the rest of the field opened their accounts on the medium compound, while he and Albon focused on the softest compound available.

When Albon switched to medium tyres he ended Sargeant's run atop the timing board, but the Anglo-Thai driver was quickly displaced by a series of soft-tyre laps which had foisted Yuki Tsunoda to the top. This was overturned by Norris on a 1m17.701s lap, before the McLaren driver was succeeded by Leclerc's 1m17.686s.

 
 
       
Driver Info
 
 
 
   
Cla Driver # Chassis Engine Laps Time Interval km/h
1 Monaco C. Leclerc Charles Leclerc Ferrari 16 Ferrari Ferrari 20 1'17.686   203.017
2 United Kingdom L. Norris Lando Norris McLaren 4 McLaren Mercedes 30 +0.015 0.015 202.978
3 France P. Gasly Pierre Gasly Alpine 10 Alpine Renault 26 +0.232 0.217 202.412
4 Japan Y. Tsunoda Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 22 AlphaTauri Red Bull 31 +0.248 0.016 202.371
5 France E. Ocon Esteban Ocon Alpine 31 Alpine Renault 30 +0.359 0.111 202.083
6 Germany N. Hulkenberg Nico Hulkenberg Haas F1 Team 27 Haas Ferrari 29 +0.372 0.013 202.049
7 Finland V. Bottas Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 77 Alfa Romeo Ferrari 29 +0.399 0.027 201.979
8 Spain F. Alonso Fernando Alonso Aston Martin Racing 14 Aston Martin Mercedes 32 +0.419 0.020 201.928
9 China Z. Guanyu Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 24 Alfa Romeo Ferrari 31 +0.422 0.003 201.920
10 Spain C. Sainz Carlos Sainz Ferrari 55 Ferrari Ferrari 20 +0.496 0.074 201.729

The longer runs were most affected by the teams' keenness to save tyres, creating a very clouded picture of what to expect over the remainder of the weekend. Furthermore, the mandated tyre compounds for each session in qualifying - hards in Q1, mediums in Q2, softs in Q3 - created differences of focus between each of the teams as they considered which part was most demanding of their immediate attention.

It is expected that Budapest temperatures will reach around 30C for Sunday's race. This is likely to rule out any mainstream use of the soft tyre, lest it melt into a camembert-like ooze when in contact with the Hungaroring track

Red Bull, for example, poured its focus onto the soft tyre with Max Verstappen given the Dutchman would be expected to make the final part of qualifying. Sergio Perez, perhaps in response to his FP1 scrapes, was given a hot lap on the medium compound as the Mexican hopes to end his streak of not appearing in Q3. At the other end, Kevin Magnussen stitched some hot laps together on the hardest compound as Haas looked to get experience on the compound in use for Q1.

Unpicking the long-run uncertainty

As the teams saved tyres, it created certain levels of variance in the overall order of FP2 as traditional frontrunners did not necessarily assume their normal places at the top of the timing boards. In some cases, a parsimonious approach with tyres forced the teams into longer runs in FP2 than they would perhaps normally carry out, particularly on the medium tyre.

It is expected that, after variable weather on Friday, normal service will resume and Budapest temperatures will reach around 30C by the time of Sunday's race. This is likely to rule out any mainstream use of the soft tyre in the race, lest it melt into a camembert-like ooze when in contact with the Hungaroring track surface. Most plumped for extended runs on the medium compound, and the following table shows the best times of those conducting the longer runs. In the event that a driver conducted multiple runs on the same compound, the longer run has been used.

Average medium FP2 runs

 

Team

Driver

Avg. Time

Laps

1

Alfa Romeo

Bottas

1m23.368s

10

2

McLaren

Norris

1m23.464s

16

3

Alpine

Gasly

1m23.685s

15

4

Aston Martin

Alonso

1m23.781s

14

5

Mercedes

Russell

1m23.833s

9

6

Williams

Albon

1m23.915s

16

7

Haas

Hulkenberg

1m24.794s

19

*Ferrari, Red Bull, AlphaTauri did not complete representative long runs on mediums

Alfa Romeo became the surprise that caught the eye on a mixed up Friday

Alfa Romeo became the surprise that caught the eye on a mixed up Friday

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

The performance of Alfa Romeo on their long-run simulations is a surprise, but the strong feedback from the drivers after the session suggests that some of it is rooted in reality rather than skewed by the tyre allocation limitations.

"Our car seemed to work quite well with the medium," reckoned Valtteri Bottas after the session. "That was the only compound we used. And yes, today they work well with our car. We'll find out tomorrow with the hard and the soft as well. But at least today, what was positive for the car, it was really stable overall, which helped to attack the corners on this kind of track. And that's why I think the lap time was also half decent.

"For me here, it seems like we could be a bit more competitive. It seems like in the slow speed stuff the stability of the car is really good here and there's only a couple of higher speed corners and the balance is actually OK. So I think this track might suit us a bit better, but let's see tomorrow."

Having been surpassed by Williams of late in the battle for seventh in the constructors' standings, Alfa Romeo at this stage appears to stand a good chance of providing the British squad with a very real threat. Naturally, there will be some regression to the mean - but if the C43's drivers can make the most of that balance in qualifying, then Alfa will set itself up nicely on a circuit where overtaking is notably difficult to achieve.

McLaren's pace looked strong too, although the team perhaps has some concern over the overall performance of the MCL60 in lower-speed conditions. Norris's overall stint was nonetheless impressive, sitting in the low 1m23s comfortably for about half of his longest run, and Piastri's average time over a seven-lap stint was a 1m23.640s - two tenths off his team-mate's average lap.

While Mercedes did its medium tyre runs with a set it had already used in FP1, these had scarcely had the sheen taken off of them before the Perez-enforced red flag and subsequent onset of rain. Regardless, the tyres were not at their absolute peak of performance and this somewhat hindered its overall run plans.

"It didn't feel too bad in all honesty,” said George Russell. “We were obviously on very different programmes to everybody else, as we only used one set of tyres throughout. It was a set of used tyres as well from FP1. So, the lap times don’t really give a true representation, and I'm sure tomorrow will be better. But we're still just focused on trying to improve.

Russell dropped to the bottom of the timesheet in second practice, but run plans largely dictated that outcome

Russell dropped to the bottom of the timesheet in second practice, but run plans largely dictated that outcome

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

“We always know that we sort of tend to get better as the weekend progresses, which is the right way round for it to be. There were a few interesting things we learned even in that one session, so let's see what we can do tonight.”

Red Bull and Ferrari conducted somewhat unrepresentative longer runs on the soft tyre, but the first-named team was slightly quicker through Verstappen's nine-lap stint. The Dutchman's average stint sat at 1m23.335s, compared to the 1m23.547s of Leclerc and 1m23.850s of Carlos Sainz.

Nailing the oft-maligned tweaks to qualifying, as the drivers proved not to be particularly wild fans of the limited running across the sessions, will be particularly crucial in the tight and testing environs of the Hungaroring circuit. Red Bull, undoubtedly, will be the favourite heading into Sunday's race. But, if a different team is able to capitalise on the chaos and beat Verstappen to pole, then he'll have more of a job on his hands to extend his current streak of wins.

"Once I put the helmet on and got in the car, it all felt in a way like I never really left" Daniel Ricciardo

What they said

Max Verstappen: "We will look through the data to see if everything is correlating well because we haven’t used a lot of tyre sets today. With this new format you are just super limited with the tyre sets that you can use, and I didn’t want to use them today to at least have a bit more of a better preparation tomorrow. We have to see what we can do to improve that, because we are literally saving tyres, which I think is not the correct thing. But from our side the car felt not too bad. We had a bit of understeer, but then I went out again and the long run looked quite competitive. It’s a bit difficult to say looking at the one lap pace yet, but the car is still strong."

Lewis Hamilton: "It wasn't feeling good. It was feeling like the car at its worst today but we work on the set-up tonight and hopefully tomorrow, usually like last year it felt terrible at the beginning and then you turn it around with some set-up changes. So we're working on that tonight. Hopefully tomorrow will be better."

Daniel Ricciardo: "I think position, it's probably not too relevant at the moment. But I think it was more just for me today to feel basically where I am with a car. And it all felt pretty familiar. I think obviously, there's a lot of outside attention. But once I put the helmet on and got in the car, it all felt in a way like I never really left. So that was nice. And obviously this morning, we didn't really get anything but this afternoon, I think yeah, just a little bit on the new tyre, but nothing really I'm concerned about, I think the car felt okay. So to be honest it doesn't feel too bad, a bit of work tonight, but nothing crazy."

Ricciardo put in a decent opening day on his return to F1 action

Ricciardo put in a decent opening day on his return to F1 action

Photo by: Michael Potts / Motorsport Images

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