As I was based in Spa-Francorchamps last weekend for the seventh round of the British Formula 3 Series (not forgetting the Spa 24 Hour Race), I completely missed all of the Hungarian Grand Prix coverage.
With a few days off and several large pots of tea to hand, I finally managed to squeeze in the entire GP weekend into a couple of measly evenings.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton proved himself to be quickest in two of the three Free Practice sessions in Hungary.
The 2008 World Champion topped both ninety-minute practices on Friday, with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel firing back on Saturday morning.
It was certainly a smooth start for a McLaren squad boasting new aerodynamic and exhaust upgrades, while Vettel actually reverted to an old front wing in an effort to lift himself back to the head of the time sheets.
Indeed Hamilton was the first to find advantage, pipping Vettel in FP1 and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in FP2 (both occasions by just over two-tenths), while Vettel proved quickest by three-tenths over Alonso in FP3.
Alonso was certainly the busiest of the leading trio, notching up 82 laps in the available time, despite missing part of FP1 due to a small fire at the rear of his Ferrari.
Neither Vettel nor Hamilton had such dramas, as the duo registered 72 and 62 laps respectively, although the McLaren driver endured a shorter stint in FP3 due to suspected brake trouble.
Red Bull, worried about numerous set-up problems on Vettel’s RB7, broke the curfew for the first time this year to work on the car during late night hours. Come Saturday, it appeared any outstanding problems had been nailed.
Practice proved to be less rosy for the “other” drivers in the top three outfits. Mark Webber crashed on Friday morning at turn nine, destroying one front wing and damaging several suspension pieces. The Australian claimed 4th place in all three sessions, constantly wavering around four-tenths off the quickest pace.
Felipe Massa (Ferrari) struggled for a quick time during the practices – a factor he laid at the feet of tyre testing; however it is unlikely the Brazilian was helped by several spins and off-track excursions during the running.
McLaren’s Jenson Button continued much set-up and update work for the British team, while mostly hanging around the top five, often three to four tenths adrift.
Mercedes proved to be “best of the rest” for much of practice, although a return of high tyre wear at their rear end worried the silver and turquoise team.
Both Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher limply hung around one second off the leading pace – well shy of the front group, but also distant from the chasing few.
Behind Mercedes, the timing screens produced a tense mixed up both, as Renault, Force India and Sauber squabbled just ahead of the Toro Rosso and Williams’ machines.
On Friday morning, Bruno Senna sat in for the under-pressure Nick Heidfeld at Renault, eventually getting to within eight-tenths of teammate Vitaly Petrov. The Russian complained of tyre temperature and floor issues, as the team struggled to find grip around the Hungaroring’s dusty surface.
It was a complaint that also rang true at Sauber, who found great difficulty getting heat into the soft tyres; however there were fewer issues at Force India, as the British squad worked on their Nurburgring updates. It was a sole dim light for a bright day at Sauber – prior to practice, it had been announced that all three drivers (Kamui Kobayashi, Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez) are to be retained for 2012.
There was still little to choose from the three squads as the chequered flag waved – qualifying would surely see a mishmash of the six drivers.
There is no doubt that Toro Rosso and Williams are not quite in that pack. As the little Italian team continue to close, the great British squad fall further toward the rear and are now surely the weakest of the established teams.
Admittedly, Williams have not been helped by further balance issues at the front end of the FW33, despite several aerodynamic upgrades in recent Grand Prix. Toro Rosso, meanwhile continue to adapt to the design progress that they have made so far this year, although there is now nearly exclusively with Williams.
There was no surprise at the rear of the pack, as Lotus once again trounced the “newer teams”, yet remain a long way short of the main pack.
For this race, Jarno Trulli received his upgraded power steering package, immediately reporting a much better feel from his steering wheel; however the veteran now needs to turn this upgrade into finer results.
The pace of neither Virgin nor Hispania was encouraging, with both squads potentially tiptoeing around the 107% rule come qualifying.
Free Practice 1 Pos Driver Team Time Laps 1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m23.350s 19 2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m23.564s + 0.214 24 3. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m23.642s + 0.292 29 4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m23.666s + 0.316 12 5. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m23.772s + 0.422 20 6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m24.115s + 0.765 25 7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m24.250s + 0.900 22 8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m24.369s + 1.019 20 9. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m24.620s + 1.270 24 10. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m25.093s + 1.743 22 11. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m25.113s + 1.763 21 12. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m25.336s + 1.986 22 13. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m25.357s + 2.007 17 14. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m25.836s + 2.486 24 15. Bruno Senna Renault 1m25.855s + 2.505 25 16. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m25.890s + 2.540 28 17. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m26.099s + 2.749 36 18. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m26.124s + 2.774 25 19. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m26.878s + 3.528 26 20. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m27.352s + 4.002 21 21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m28.533s + 5.183 30 22. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m28.903s + 5.553 22 23. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m29.059s + 5.709 24 24. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m29.904s + 6.554 26 Free Practice 2 Pos Driver Team Time Laps 1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m21.018s 29 2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m21.259s + 0.241 40 3. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m21.322s + 0.304 34 4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m21.508s + 0.490 35 5. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m21.549s + 0.531 31 6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m22.099s + 1.081 40 7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m22.121s + 1.103 36 8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m22.440s + 1.422 36 9. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m22.835s + 1.817 40 10. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m22.981s + 1.963 37 11. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m23.030s + 2.012 34 12. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m23.399s + 2.381 37 13. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m23.679s + 2.661 34 14. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m23.861s + 2.843 28 15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m24.181s + 3.163 39 16. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m24.182s + 3.164 26 17. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m24.546s + 3.528 21 18. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m24.878s + 3.860 35 19. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m24.994s + 3.976 38 20. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m25.447s + 4.429 39 21. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m26.823s + 5.805 33 22. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m27.261s + 6.243 28 23. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m27.730s + 6.712 31 24. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m28.255s + 7.237 25 Free Practice 3 Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap Laps 1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m21.168s 17 2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m21.469s + 0.301s 13 3. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m21.639s + 0.471s 14 4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m21.645s + 0.477s 18 5. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m22.002s + 0.834s 14 6. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m22.534s + 1.366s 22 7. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m22.667s + 1.499s 14 8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m23.037s + 1.869s 19 9. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m23.175s + 2.007s 19 10. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m23.276s + 2.108s 18 11. Nick Heidfeld Renault 1m23.281s + 2.113s 13 12. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m23.375s + 2.207s 18 13. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m23.626s + 2.458s 25 14. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1m23.663s + 2.495s 17 15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m23.894s + 2.726s 17 16. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m23.966s + 2.798s 18 17. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m23.998s + 2.830s 15 18. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m25.061s + 3.893s 19 19. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m25.141s + 3.973s 20 20. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m25.501s + 4.333s 20 21. Jerome D'Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m26.955s + 5.787s 20 22. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m26.991s + 5.823s 19 23. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m27.174s + 6.006s 16 24. Vitantonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m27.713s + 6.545s 20