A Formula 1 car is a temperamental beast at the best of times, but getting one set up properly for the Hungaroring uses up a lot of brain power. On a Friday, with changing weather conditions and an improving track, getting the cars in shape is like doing a Crossword Puzzle: it doesn’t matter if the “Across” answer seems correct, if it does not line up with the “Down” solution.
That was definitely the case today and although the Ferrari crew can only really know what its own cars are doing, you only had to watch the TV screens to see that, throughout the length of the pit lane, teams were facing similar conundrums. Essentially the two conflicting factors here are that, as more and more laps are completed, not just by the Formula 1 cars but also by those in the support races, the very dirty and green track surface gradually cleans up and provides more grip. However, at the same time, during the day the temperature rises – the track exceeded 50 degrees this afternoon – which had a negative effect, mainly on the harder of the two Pirelli compounds on offer this weekend.
The engineering “trick” is not to over react to the changing conditions, but to estimate where the track will be for qualifying tomorrow and Sunday’s race. That’s no easy task either as it’s meant to get cooler and possibly even wet on Sunday. For the record, Fernando Alonso completed 49 laps today and ended up fourth fastest, behind the inevitable pace-setting Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with Sebastian Vettel third for Red Bull. Kimi Raikkonen was sixth, doing ten laps more than his team-mate, with the McLaren of Kevin Magnussen keeping the two Prancing Horse apart.
Fernando Alonso: “Going from one race to the next doesn’t usually involve many changes, but here, unlike what usually happens on a Friday, we had to work a lot on the set-up, to try and adapt the car to the circuit, the tyres and the high temperatures. So there was rather more work than usual, but it produced results and we improved run after run. Sure, there’s still a lot to do to be as competitive as we’d like, but I think we’re on the right road. There’s less grip here than in previous years, but it’s the same for everyone and now we have to try and prepare the car as well as possible for qualifying and the race. High temperatures like those we saw today are always challenging for the tyres, but the forecast is for cooler conditions from tomorrow and maybe rain on Sunday, so we have to be ready for every eventuality.”
Kimi Raikkonen: “In the first free practice session, we managed to do a good job, testing various solutions on the programme and I was feeling reasonably pleased with the handling of the car. Then, in the afternoon, I went out for a second run on the Medium tyres, because the behaviour of this compound seemed worse as the temperature went up and that affected the handling of the car, while on the Soft I had no problems. In the second part of the session I did a race simulation with both compounds: unfortunately when I fitted the Mediums I had a problem with the left rear and I had to pit earlier than planned. The telemetry didn’t show any problem on the car, so I hope that the data will point us in the right direction for the next two days.”
Pat Fry: “The Hungaroring always presents a major challenge for drivers and also engineers, especially during free practice. All the teams know this track lacks grip and, especially on Friday, one has to adapt to the gradually improving conditions, as the rubber gets put down on the surface. Today, because of instability that seemed to affect other cars as well as ours, we had to pay particular attention to set-up, trying to improve the balance at the entry and exit to the corners. This track is very demanding on the aerodynamic front and today’s high temperatures had a significant effect on tyre behaviour, although it’s due to get cooler for the rest of the weekend. The lap is particularly short and will make managing the ERS system very interesting during the race and this is an area where we are learning a lot race after race. The performance level over short and long runs are similar to those seen in recent races and it looks like being a very tough weekend. Overtaking opportunities are strictly limited and so, more than elsewhere, you need to get the best possible result in qualifying.”