28 Jul 2012

F1 - Hungary - Qualifying - Lewis storms it

Before the qualifying session started at the redoubtably old-school Hungaroring rumours had started to fly about yet another possibly illegal Red Bull innovation.  I say innovation because, whilst not all gimmicks and gadgets fitted to F1 cars may technically be legal, they usually fit into the grey areas that the F1 rule book intentionally creates.

If the rules were cut and dried we would see 24 identical cars on track.  The grey areas that need to be clarified by stewards and the FIA give us a lot of the innovation that goes on but also adds to the drama and show of F1.

According to paddock gossip Red Bull have a switch somewhere on the car which allows the ride height to be adjusted out of parc ferme conditions.  If this is so, and is a driver operated switch, it falls completely outside the regulations and Red Bull would be in a lot of trouble.  But Adrian Newey is the master of the grey areas.  He won't have designed such an obvious cheat.  No doubt, if there is such a system, the technicalities of it are much more subtle than we have been led to believe.

On to qualifying and in Q1, despite Red Bull's assurance the removal of their unusual engine mapping software would not hinder them, they were very nearly knocked out of the session.

Hulkenberg was first out and on his first fast lap overshot the kerbs at the start of the main (only) straight.  I doubt we'll see this as a regular feature.  Unlike the Tilkedrome that is Hockenheim the Hungaroring is a proper F1 circuit with big kerbs, grass outside the track and gravel outside some of the corners.  This set-up makes the track look prettier and more of a race track compared to the acres of tarmac and painted kerbs at many new circuits.

Initially Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time.  That was until Lewis Hamilton finished warming up his medium compound tyres.  On his fourth lap on the mediums Lewis set a 1.22.4 second lap that was only bettered by himself during the whole session.

With Lewis sitting at the top of the time sheets underneath him the positions fluctuated.

Vettel was struggling to set a competitive time and Alonso wasn't looking too great.

Five minutes before the end of the session Di Resta popped into 2nd place on a set of soft tyres.  Thereafter the session resembled a drying track after a shower.  It was improving rapidly with every lap.  Everyone from 10th down had to fit a set of soft tyres and set a lap.  This they did and the Red Bulls were looking alarmingly close to the knock out zone.  Kobayshi saved his skin at the end of the session to move from 19th to 15th.

Ultimately Ricciardo was 18th and out with Webber in 16th and Vettel 17th.  Kovalainen, once again, was best of the rest in his Caterham.

The Red Bulls looked in trouble.

Q2 started with very slow laps from both Mercedes drivers.  Only Hamilton, Raikkonen and Grosjean didn't use a second set of soft tyres in Q1.  Those who had resorted to a second set started Q2 on the same tyres they had used in Q1.

Hamilton waited a few minutes then set a stunning time of 1.21.0 seconds.  The next behind him was Massa on 1.21.5 and Alonso on 1.21.6

The Lotuses and Williams looked strong but the Red Bulls and Mercedes continued to struggle.  Alonso wasn't setting fastest laps but his times were respectable.

Q2 finished with a major shock.  Webber was pushed into 11th by Bruno Senna, who hauled his car into Q3 for the first time ever.

Knocked out were the aforementioned Webber, DiResta, Rosberg, Perez, Kobayashi, Vergne and Michael Schumacher who was on his best lap when he came across a cloud of dust caused by Maldonado running off track.

Q3 is a ten minute session.  For the first seven minutes we were reminded of why qualifying changed from an hour long session to the current format.  With three minutes to go the track was almost empty and only four drivers had set a time.

The fastest was Hamilton again, on a 1.21.2 but only after abandoning his first run after a wobble.

The final three minutes saw a very busy Hungaroring.  It is only a short track with only one straight and  many drivers were blocked.  Indeed Lewis radioed to his engineer to say he thought he might have blocked Maldonado by accident.

At one point Senna went off but recovered to set another lap and Vettel went off at turn 6, kicking up a cloud of dust in the process.

At the end of the session Hamilton stayed on top.  His performance throughout the practice sessions, and qualifying, has been imperious.  It is McLaren's 150th pole position.

Grosjean drove a brilliant lap to come in 2nd.

The grid for Sunday's race:

1. Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes - 1m 20.953s
2. Romain Grosjean France Lotus-Renault 1m 21.366s
3. Sebastian Vettel Germany Red Bull-Renault 1m 21.416s
4. Jenson Button Britain McLaren-Mercedes 1m 21.583s
5. Kimi Raikkonen Finland Lotus-Renault 1m 21.730s
6. Fernando Alonso Spain Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 21.844s
7. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 20.900s
8. Pastor Maldonado Venezuela Williams-Renault 1m 21.939s
9. Bruno Senna Brazil Williams-Renault 1m 22.343s
10. Nico Hulkenberg Germany Force India-Mercedes 1m 22.847s
11. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1m 21.715s
12. Paul di Resta Britain Force India-Mercedes 1m 21.813s
13. Nico Rosberg Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 21.895s
14. Sergio Perez Mexico Sauber-Ferrari 1m 21.895s
15. Kamui Kobayashi Japan Sauber-Ferrari 1m 22.300s
16. Jean-Eric Vergne France Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 22.380s
17. Michael Schumacher Germany Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 22.723s 
18. Daniel Ricciardo Australia Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 23.250s
19. Heikki Kovalainen Finland Caterham-Renault 1m 23.576s
20. Vitaly Petrov Russia Caterham-Renault 1m 24.167s
21. Charles Pic France Marussia -Cosworth 1m 25.244s
22. Timo Glock Germany Marussia -Cosworth 1m 25.476s
23. Pedro de la Rosa Spain HRT-Cosworth 1m 25.916s
24. Narain Karthikeyan India HRT-Cosworth 1m 26.178s