Less than five days after the controversial, team-order blighted German Grand Prix Formula One is back in action, with the cars taking to the dusty, winding Hungaroring circuit just outside Budapest. It’s the last race before the four week summer break, so make the most of it.
The early signs are that Red Bull have every intention of doing just that, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber dominating FP1. FP2 again saw Vettel on top, with Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari splitting the German and his teammate, but the consensus is that this one is already Red Bull’s to lose.
But before all that, fancy some pre-practice news? Well, as you’ve probably deduced by now, Sakon Yamamoto continues in the Hispania car this weekend, meaning Karun Chandhok sits out a second consecutive race. Well done to Sakon for continuing to prove that whilst money can’t buy you love it can secure you a seat with a struggling F1 team.
Sticking with the driver juggling Spanish squad, Bernie Ecclestone has suggested this week that ‘at least two teams’ won’t last beyond 2010, and Hispania are undoubtedly one of them. Would anyone miss them? Bernie reckons not, saying that Lotus aside the new teams have been a nuisance. Let us know your thoughts on that one.
And what about Red Bull’s ‘movable front wing’? Rival team bosses have been questioning the legality of the device, but having passed FIA scrutineering it would seem it’s as legal as a cleverly coded team order. Team boss Christian Horner isn’t concerned: “At the end of the day we are very happy that the car complies with the regulations and the tests that the FIA have carried out. I think the technical team should take it is a compliment when others are questioning the car’s legality.”
That same technical team should also be proud of what their car achieved on the track today. FP1 belonged solely to Red Bull, with Sebastian Vettel leapfrogging teammate Mark Webber at the midway point in the session and staying at the top until the chequered flag fell. The gap between the two was just over a tenth of a second. Third quickest was Robert Kubica, the Renault once again looking potent on a twisty circuit, but the Pole ended the session a full second adrift of the Red Bull drivers. Ominous pace from the energy drink lads.
Next up were a clutch of drivers from whom this a is a happy hunting ground: 2006 Hungaroring winner Jenson Button was 4th; Rubens Barichello, who won here in 2002 was 5th; Pedro de la Rosa- whose only F1 podium to date was here in 2006- was 6th and Fernando Alonso, whose maiden F1 win was in Hungary seven years ago ended the morning 7th. This circuit may not be the most exciting on the calendar, but it’s definitely a significant one to several drivers.
Meanwhile 2009 winner Lewis Hamilton struggled in FP1, only managing 18th fastest, whilst Felipe Massa, returning to the scene of his horrific accident last year, posted the 12th fastest time.
On to FP2, where the fastest Friday times are traditionally set. Following his pace in the morning session there were no surprises when Sebastian Vettel once again topped the leaderboard, lapping the Hungaroring 1.20.087s. He’ll be dipping in to the 1.19s tomorrow, and you’d have to make him favourite for pole.
But there were also signs that the Red Bull boys won’t have it all their own way this weekend, with Ferrari once again showing some decent pace. Fernando Alonso split Vettel and Webber in FP2, though frustratingly for Fernando it’s unlikely that Sebastian will move over for him, even if he does prove faster come the race. Everybody’s favourite supporting cast member Felipe Massa ended the session 4th.
That’s enough cynicism- time for a good news story. 5th place went to under-pressure Renault driver Vitaly Petrrov, who enjoyed one of his most impressive sessions of the season. Vitaly’s being cheered on by a large Russian contingent of fans, and a strong performance on Sunday would do his hopes of driving a yellow car in 2011 wonders. He was followed by Lewis Hamilton, teammate Robert Kubica and Nico Hulkenberg’s Williams, with Button and Schumacher completing the top 10.
Verdict? You don’t need a degree in Formula One analysis to work out that Red Bull look very strong (though it does help), and despite Ferrari’s good showing in FP2 it’d be something of a shock to see anyone but Webber or Vettel atop the podium come Sunday afternoon. Renault look capable of a great weekend, and we’d fancy Kubica to beat at least one McLaren in qualifying if all goes to plan for him. Nico Hulkenberg may be a good bet for a top-10 grid slot, whilst Mercedes look vulnerable to another embarassing elimination in the second round of qualifying. But, as Germany proved- to Felipe Massa in particular- you should never bank on anything, no matter how confident you are of it or how much you believe yourself deserving of it. Crazy things can often become the norm in Formula One.