With the twisty, bumpy Hungaroring rewarding good aero balance and bravery under braking over pure speed, the Hungarian GP is a favourite with drivers who like racing. It’s a favourite track for Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who has performed disproportionately well at the circuit in previous years. With the focus less on the Silver Arrows’ overall dominance and more on the inter-team rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg, the quiet but steady improvement of the following pack – and notably Williams – has set up an intriguing race weekend.
It was an obviously re-energised Hamilton who dominated free practice, topping the timesheets in all three sessions.With no information on fuel loads or trim, it was difficult to infer any performance upgrades from the chasing teams or how much, if at all, Mercedes had relinquished their more or less dominant quali performance.
Q1 opened with the threat of rain, with dark clouds very evident on the near horizon. Tyre options for the weekend are the medium and the soft option tyre, with most teams reporting a difficulty to get the prime tyre operating effectively: the dilemma for the faster teams being whether or not to gamble on progressing without having to use the better option tyre. With rain reported to be falling ‘in the area’, it was Lotus and McLaren who led the pack out to bank times. Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado, however, did not even complete his out lap, parking his car due to a mechanical issue. Drama was quick to follow, with Hamilton retiring his Mercedes on his first lap with the rear of his car engulfed in flames. Max Chilton was the next call for the gremlins, with his Marussia limping home with a suspected fuel pressure problem. It was Toro Rosso’s Vergne who topped the session on the option tyre ahead of Rosberg on the prime. Mercedes subsequently reported a fuel leak as the cause of Hamilton’s fire. With Bianchi qualifying his Ferrari-powered Marussia ahead of Raikkonen in the works team, attention was again focused on the Finn’s future with the team.
There was more mechanical strife in store. Perez had to retire his Force India due to an hydraulic problem mid-way through Q2. Rosberg consolidated his qualifying dominance in Q2, with the Red Bulls chasing him down. With no time left on the clock, a spin by Kyvat’s Toro Rosso in Turn 12 compromised the final laps of those left on track.
With rain starting to fall ahead of Q3, there was a queue in the pitlane ahead of the green light with all remaining drivers hoping to get a clean lap in before conditions deteriorated. Rosberg was the first casualty, sliding off the track at the beginning of his hot lap, with McLaren’s Magnussen following almost immediately with a heavy shunt into the tyre barrier at Turn One causing the session to be red-flagged. It was slicks for the restarted session, with all runners benefiting from the additional set of the option tyres. A bold early lap from Williams’ Bottas put him top of the timesheet until a stunning lap from Vettel sliced .8 of a second off his time. With the track improving and again dry, it was a scramble to the end with Rosberg snatching pole position from the Red Bull driver.