Lewis Hamilton goes into this race with a 17-point lead over Sebastian Vettel, a lead he dared not dream about when only qualifying in 14th for the German Grand Prix. Mercedes aren’t over-confident for this weekend’s race and early indications do give the feeling that Red Bull and Ferrari have a bit of an advantage on this track and the two practice sessions on Friday seemed to prove that is the case.
Drivers – 188 Lewis Hamilton 171 Sebastian Vettel 131 Kimi Raikkonen
Constructors – 310 Mercedes 302 Ferrari 211 Red Bull
There had been a few fears that Red Bull might incur more grid place penalties for this race but thankfully that hasn’t been the case. The first practice session resulted in Daniel Ricciardo being fastest just 0.079 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel. His Red Bull was running on a harder tyre than that of the Ferrari.
The other Red Bull of Max Verstappen was third and there wasn’t much between the top three cars, just 0.088 seconds in fact. Kimi Raikkonen was fourth fastest 0.335 seconds behind Ricciardo with Lewis Hamilton in fifth. The Championship leader had an eventful first practice after a big spin at Turn Five. He was followed by Valtteri Bottas in sixth who was 0.434 seconds behind his team-mate. Seventh went to the Haas of Romain Grosjean with Nico Hulkenberg in his Renault eighth. Not a good session for Hulkenberg who missed out on the last thirty minutes of the session after his car stopped on the track due to an engine shutdown. He was just ahead of his team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. with the top ten being completed by the Haas of Kevin Magnusson.
The Hungaroring track is a bit dusty at present so drivers had a job on their hands keeping control. Top of the spins table was Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson with two including a high-speed one at Turn Five that nearly saw his car hitting the barriers. It wasn’t a great session for Sauber with Antonio Giovinazzi, who was standing in for Charles Leclerc, suffering a lock-up early in the first practice session.
It was Sebastian Vettel who was fastest in the second practice session with Mercedes again out of the top four. Vettel was 0.074 seconds faster than Max Verstappen in second with his team-mate Daniel Ricciardo back in third and Kimi Raikkonen fourth. Lewis Hamilton was the fastest of the Mercedes finishing fifth fastest but 0.753 seconds behind Vettel.
The British driver made errors in his fastest lap and there seemed to be problems with a lack of rear grip. The same problems befell Valtteri Bottas who was sixth fastest and over a second off the pace.
Seventh spot went to Romain Grosjean with Carlos Sainz Jr.in eighth followed by the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly and the Forced Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez in tenth and eleventh.
Fernando Alonso was 12th in his McLaren but his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne was down in 19th. His McLaren became the latest car to spin at Turn Five while on his qualifying simulation run. Others having problems were Kevin Magnusson whose Haas had engine problems and it was a late start for Nico Hulkenberg as his Renault needed an energy-store change.
Mercedes do seem to be lagging a little bit behind Ferrari and Red Bull so that lead at the top could narrow as we reach the halfway stage of the 2018 Championship. Ferrari and Mercedes have that extra power mode that gives them the edge over Red Bull when it comes to qualifying, so it could be a big day for Ferrari on Saturday and possibly Sunday too barring accidents etc.
I’ll be back tomorrow with a report on final practice and qualifying, till then enjoy your racing.
By Steve Ashfield for Pillow Motor Sport