The rain which has stalked the F1 circus of late refuses to go away – it reappeared again during the second half of second practice and thoroughly doused the Hungaroring.
Fortunately the teams had already logged plenty of laps on a dry track. And the first thing we learned from watching them was that McLaren are quick. That much we suspected heading into the weekend and was tipped here on Wednesday. At that point the odds on Lewis Hamilton taking pole position were 4.00 – that has now fallen to 2.75.
Two odds to have a look at right now are Fernando Alonso at 5.00 to win, having won two of the last three races, and Kimi Raikkonen at 7.00 to finish in the top two – he was second-quickest yesterday and took third place in Germany.
Don’t write off Red Bull
Red Bull did not look particularly fast during the two 90-minute sessions. Sebastian Vettel was eighth, over eight tenths of a second slower than Hamilton. “There’s still a lot of room for improvement and things that we need to do a bit better for the weekend,” said Vettel afterwards.
Much has been made of the ruling by F1’s governing body which prevents Red Bull from using a special engine map they had at the German Grand Prix. The team have played down how much performance they have lost because of the rules change.
History tells us that Red Bull tend to bounce back from these setbacks very well, usually with another cunning new device. It also reminds that Red Bull never really show their hand until they have to, usually with the final lap of the last practice session on Saturday morning.
That was the case at this track last year. Vettel was unhappy with his car’s set-up on Friday and had his mechanics working late into the night making significant changes. He returned to the track the next day and took pole position.
Pole still a priority
Historically the Hungaroring has been a circuit where overtaking is very difficult. So much so that the pole sitter could expect to enjoy a considerable advantage on race day.
So it comes as something of a surprise to note that the pole sitter has not won in F1’s last four visits to Hungary. Why is this, and does it tell those trying to pick a winner anything useful?
Sebastian Vettel took pole position here in 2010 and 2011. But last year it rained - for only the second time in 26 races at the track – and Jenson Button bested him. The year before a blunder behind the safety car cost Vettel what should have been a straightforward win.
Fernando Alonso was on pole in 2009 in rather unusual circumstances – and not just because the timing screens went down at the end of the session and no-one knew who was fastest at first. This was during the refuelling era, and it transpired Renault had fuelled Alonso very lightly to take pole position. He likely would not have won even if he hadn’t hit problems early on - Lewis Hamilton took the win.
Hamilton had led the field away in 2008 but – most unusually – was passed around the outside at the first corner by Felipe Massa. Hamilton’s victory chances were later ruined by a puncture.
Does all this tell us that winning from pole position is no longer the sure thing it once was at the Hungaroring? Not necessarily: misfortune and mistakes have clearly played a big role.
But with tyres that degrade more rapidly and the speed-boosting Drag Reduction System helping drivers attack and gain positions, the advantage of starting from pole position at the Hungaroring has been lessened. Keep that in mind when it comes to picking a winner.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.