Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2021

Will Mercedes still be ahead when the “extreme” Hungary heat fades?

2021 Hungarian GP Friday practice analysis

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Valtteri Bottas headed the times at the end of a very warm Friday in Budapest.

But the heat, which Lewis Hamilton described as “extreme”, is not forecast to return this weekend. So how confident can Mercedes be of staying ahead?

The Hungaroring saw the hottest running so far this year and extremely high track temperatures. Although the morning and afternoon sessions saw similar air temperatures in the 31-32C region, as the skies stayed clear all day track temperatures escalated from a very warm 53C to a staggering 63C.

As such hot conditions are not expected over the rest of the weekend, second practice may not have been particularly representative of what lap times drivers can actually achieve. Rain is forecast early in the morning and the track may still be drying ahead of final practice. Qualifying is set to be overcast, with the asphalt considerably cooler as a consequence, and more rain possible.

Today’s afternoon session indicated Mercedes were on the pace of Red Bull. But will that hold up when the mercury falls?

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Hungaroring, 2021
Verstappen was quicker on a cooler track in the morning
Verstappen set the fastest morning time with a 1’17.555 late in the session as track temperatures rose. Bottas, however, was only 0.061 seconds behind him despite setting his time on a slightly cooler track earlier on.

Although Carlos Sainz Jnr was able to set the fourth-fastest first practice time for Ferrari, he was more than half a second adrift of Verstappen, the top teams seeming to have an edge over the rest by several tenths.

That gap stayed roughly the same in second practice; Esteban Ocon leapfrogged up the times to fourth-fastest for Alpine, just under half a second slower than Bottas, at the top of the times. However, Ferrari seemed to truly struggle with the higher temperatures, neither car finishing in the top 10.

McLaren’s Lando Norris was surprised by some of the developments on the times sheet. “Alpine were very fast today, AlphaTauri were very fast today,” he said.

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“Ferrari were maybe a little bit slower than we were expecting, I thought they would be very fast here. Even we were expecting to be a bit better.”

Lando Norris, McLaren, Hungaroring, 2021
Ferrari’s lack of pace surprised Norris
He indicated the higher temperature may have played a role. “The conditions are very different to what they were last year. It was much colder last year, the Tarmac was still a bit fresher and newer so it changes.”

In the hot conditions Pirelli discovered larger than expected gaps in performance between their tyre compounds. The soft tyre compound was forecast to be 0.6-0.7 second per lap quicker than the medium, but on Friday it was up to a second per lap faster.

Last year none of the drivers who reached Q3 did so on the medium tyre and it looks like that will be the case again this year. Even for the top teams, getting to Q2 on medium will be “a big challenge and a risk because one second on this circuit is quite a lot”, said Pirelli’s head of motorsport Mario Isola.

Does the heat also explain why Red Bull found themselves almost three-tenths of a second behind Mercedes in second practice? The RB16Bs seemed plagued with understeer in the hot afternoon session.

But Verstappen wasn’t concerned by their position at the end of Friday’s running, saying there were “a few adjustments we were trying from FP1 to FP2” which they may need to reconsider. “We just need to look into which things worked and which things didn’t,” said the world championship leader. “The track was also very hot so it’s never easy like that.”

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2021
Soft tyres will be the way to go in Q2
Verstappen said Red Bull’s deficit was mainly over a single flying lap. He believes it was probably due to the track conditions rather than any more serious, underlying issues.

A cooler track may swing the pendulum back towards Red Bull, but a wet one would throw a different variable at the drivers. Lewis Hamilton said there is little teams will do with their set-ups to prepare for that possibility.

“You can’t plan for the rain,” he said. “On a hot day like this you can’t set the car up soft for the rain.

“It’s quite unpredictable so you just try and get the car in the best place as you can and try to understand the tyres as much as we can. There’s not a huge difference between the set-ups in a way.

“We’ll set the car up for dry qualifying and if it rains, it rains.”

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Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Valtteri BottasMercedes1’17.6161’17.01255
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’17.7221’17.03952
3Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’17.5551’17.31045
4Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’18.7651’17.75955
5Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda1’18.4661’17.82443
6Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’18.1811’18.11358
7Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’18.1151’18.44156
8Fernando AlonsoAlpine-Renault1’18.3851’18.16953
9Sebastian VettelAston Martin-Mercedes1’18.9891’18.22853
10Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’18.6491’18.31351
11Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’18.7551’18.32055
12Charles LeclercFerrari1’18.3911’18.37053
13Daniel RicciardoMcLaren-Mercedes1’19.2651’18.73753
14Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda1’18.7701’19.67121
15Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’19.27721
16George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’19.7241’19.29253
17Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’19.8241’19.47954
18Mick SchumacherHaas-Ferrari1’20.3831’19.81755
19Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’21.8891’20.18633
20Robert KubicaAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’20.63923
21Nikita MazepinHaas-Ferrari1’20.9921’21.88151

Teams’ progress vs 2020

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2021 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a freelance journalist who roams the paddocks of Formula E, covering the technical and emotional elements of electric racing. Usually found at...

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2 comments on “Will Mercedes still be ahead when the “extreme” Hungary heat fades?”

  1. Does the heat also explain why Red Bull found themselves almost three-tenths of a second behind Mercedes in second practice?

    According to the F1 site Friday analysis that accounts for fuel loads and tire age, Red Bull is actually on par with Mercedes.

    That’s the problem with taking Friday lap times at face value.

    1. It’s funny, when RB are behind suddenly it’s ‘just practice’. When Merc are behind they have to overcome a huge chasm in performance…

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