F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Practice

Hungarian GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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Practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix took place today at the Hungaroring on the outskirts of Budapest, and unsurprisingly, we once again saw Mercedes dominate proceedings.

Lewis Hamilton made a perfect start to his bid for an unprecedented fifth victory in Hungary by doubling up in practice and finishing both sessions as the fastest driver. Mercedes teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg trailed him in both sessions by about two-tenths of a second, but the Briton was not 100% happy with his car, bemoaning a lack of grip on Friday.

Further back, we have quite an interesting battle for the final podium position developing between Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. All four teams look capable of being best of the rest in Budapest, and it will be a close battle in qualifying tomorrow.

Off track, talk turned to the upcoming Russian Grand Prix and some of the problems in Formula 1 at the moment, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner lashing out at journalists for focusing on the negative points in the sport. More on that in my Thoughts from the Track.

Here’s the full round-up from the Hungarian GP paddock today.

SESSION REPORTS

  • FP1 saw Lewis Hamilton finish fastest ahead of Nico Rosberg, with Kimi Raikkonen finishing in third place for Ferrari.
  • FP2 was a near copy: Hamilton again fastest ahead of Rosberg, but it was Sebastian Vettel who put Red Bull up into the top three ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

If Lewis and Nico did really have struggles during practice today, they certainly didn’t show it. Both drivers looked at ease during practice when you go by the timesheets, yet their actual on-track form was a little more difficult. Hamilton complained of more brake problems during FP2, whilst Rosberg cried over the radio: “I need advice!” “For what, traffic?” “No, driving!” Isn’t that what you’re paid to do, Nico?

It’s pretty clear that the Silver Arrows will be juking it out at the front of the field once again, but the battle behind is a little bit more complex. Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams all appear to be in contention for a podium finish, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel finishing third in FP1 and FP2 respectively. Williams drivers Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas confirmed that they expected to struggle more here, so to see them down towards the bottom of the top ten is hardly surprising. Spa and Monza should see the British team bounce back.

Instead, Red Bull and Ferrari will be making the most of this not being an engine-reliant circuit. The RB10 is well suited to this track, and if we can see another great fight between Fernando, Seb and Dan this weekend, that would be just swell.

Regarding silly season: it’s all smoke in mirrors. Marko says one thing, Vettel says another, Christian Horner and Niki Lauda give their pennyworth – and we still don’t know what’s going on. In truth, Seb doesn’t appear to be on the move.

If anyone is, it’s Alonso. The stories linking him with McLaren refuse to die down, and as Jenson Button continues to postpone any decision or talks about his future, the speculation will only continue to circulate.

Now for the political side of things. The team principals’ press conference was icy to say the least. Before, it has been dominated by concerns over the F1 Strategy Group, its work and its membership. This time around, things were a little more relevant to the ‘real world’ as concerns over the Russian Grand Prix came to the fore.

It was very difficult for any of the representatives in the press conference to take a stand on the matter. However, Christian Horner went on quite a rant about the attitude of the journalists in the press conference, saying how it was wrong that the focus was not in the good in Formula 1: the great racing of late; the championship tussle afoot; the emergence of some young stars. Why are we not focusing on that?

Let’s turn that around. Why, if F1 is in such a good place, are we bothering with double points? Or standing restarts in 2015? Or bemoaning the fact that only 52,000 came through Hockenheim’s gates last weekend? It seems to be a trait of the team principals that a difficult question can be avoided by turning it around on the journalist. We’re not promoting the bad aspects of the sport with these questions; we’re looking for answers. It was a quite uncomfortable atmosphere in the room following Horner’s tirade.

Horner said that we should be putting these questions to the two big power players in the sport: Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone. Why don’t we ask them? Well, access is limited. These press conferences present a real chance to talk to the team bosses, who ultimately are in charge of the drivers, who in turn put on the show for us. These matters may be uncomfortable to talk about, but we mustn’t avoid them.

The on-track action returns tomorrow; perhaps we’ll get some more answers then in the fight to finish behind Mercedes. We can hope for another great race to put the attention on that instead of the off-track dilemmas and dramas, and with Lewis and Nico battling at the front, a superb Hungarian Grand Prix may be in store.

Saturday TV Times

FP3 – Live Extra from 5am ET
Qualifying – CNBC and Live Extra from 8am ET

Stefan Johansson’s latest blog: On F1’s rule changes, Rosenqvist Indy debut

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 24: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) leads Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 24, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Formula 1’s seemingly ever evolving rules and regulations changes – notably the radio communications clampdown – and a highly impressive IndyCar test debut for Felix Rosenqvist are among the highlights in Stefan Johansson’s latest blog, which we’ve been chronicling throughout the year on NBCSports.com.

In his latest conversation with Jan Tegler, Johansson looks back at the Hungarian Grand Prix and Rosenqvist’s test debut in Scott Dixon’s No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, among other items.

Jenson Button spoke out heavily against the radio restrictions when he had his braking issues, and was later assessed a drive-through penalty.

Here’s what Johanasson had to say about the rules, many of which exist, yet few of which seem to have real clarity:

“Unfortunately, F1 is mirroring what’s happening in the real world where more and more rules and laws are added but none are ever cancelled it seems. In the end it becomes so convoluted that the outcome of a dispute in civilian life often depend on who has the best lawyers, really. Sadly, it now seems to be heading in the same direction in racing too,” he writes.

“There are now so many grey areas in F1 that allow conflicts to be argued in so many ways that it’s difficult to follow. The rules should never be enforced by a subjective judgment. In my opinion, one of the major problems with the rule making in Formula One is that they don’t nip some of things in the bud before they become glaring issues. This is why we end up with this endless stream of knee jerk rules to fix a problem that should never have existed in the first place.

“They’ve created their own monster with these ultra-complicated cars. When you have an issue like Jenson had, being advised over the radio how to address it, is clearly not going to lead to a performance improvement. And if there’s a safety issue, I can’t see why you shouldn’t be allowed to relay that to a driver.”

On the Kimi Raikkonen/Max Verstappen battle for position:

“It’s a perfect example. What is blocking? Is it one move? Is it two? Is it a move and a wiggle?

“I can totally sympathize with Raikkonen because he went one way then Verstappen moved, so he went the other way and committed to it but Verstappen moved again. It wasn’t really a big move but it was enough that Kimi couldn’t avoid him. At that point, you’re already 100% committed, you’re braking on the limit and you don’t have even five inches of margin to make another change.

“If the driver in front changes his mind, there’s literally nowhere to go. It’s lucky that Raikkonen didn’t hit Verstappen harder.”

And on Rosenqvist, the talented young Swede’s, maiden IndyCar test at Mid-Ohio and Indy Lights domination in Toronto:

“Felix was amazing, he just cleaned up in both races. So did Scott but unfortunately he got hosed on strategy again. Until the last pit stop he had everyone under control and looked like he was cruising to the easy win on top of the pole he got in qualifying. Unfortunately things have worked against Scott for the last three races.

“Going for the championship title is going to be very tough now. Scott’s had two engine failures that left him with no points – that’s at minimum 80 points that he missed out on, plus the win in Toronto. He probably could have won at Detroit and would have been 2nd at worst at Road America. That’s a lot of points to give away.”

There are several more great nuggets within Johansson’s latest blog, which you can view in its entirety here.

Previous linkouts to Johansson’s blog on MotorSportsTalk are linked below:

Additionally, a link to Johansson’s social media channels and #F1TOP3 competition are linked here.

Mercedes fined for unsafe release, Hamilton avoids grid drop

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP sits in his car in the garage during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Mercedes has been fined €10,000 for unsafely releasing Lewis Hamilton into the pit lane during the final Formula 1 free practice session for the German Grand Prix.

Hamilton was released into the fast lane at the start of FP3, forcing Haas driver Romain Grosjean to hit the brakes and come to a stop.

The stewards confirmed they would be investigating the incident after the session, meeting with Hamilton and a team representative at 12:30pm local time.

Hamilton entered the weekend with two reprimands to his name already in 2016, with a third resulting in a 10-place grid penalty.

The precedent for unsafe releases was unclear, with penalties ranging from a reprimand to a grid drop and a fine.

The stewards at Hockenheim opted to go with the latter, fining Mercedes €10,000 for the incident, meaning Hamilton avoided any individual penalty.

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

RC Enerson stars in first official day in Coyne’s No. 19 IndyCar

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – On Friday, 19-year-old rookie RC Enerson delivered arguably one of the most impressive debut days in an IndyCar in recent memory – if not ever.

With only one day of testing, Enerson took what he learned from his first day last week and translated it into some seriously impressive practice pace for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy 200.

Enerson went from 1.1042 seconds off the pace in the first 75-minute practice session in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, 21st, all the way to within 0.5322 off in the second – all the way up to seventh in that session and second Honda in the field, only behind defending Honda Indy 200 race winner Graham Rahal.

That time in free practice two left Enerson a combined 10th on the day, again second among the Hondas only to Rahal.

It didn’t really surprise those who’ve followed his career in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires closely. However, it did wow the paddock at large.

It was fitting, perhaps, Enerson was behind Rahal and then was sat next to Scott Dixon in the day end press conference because Rahal also starred as a teenager in his first season in open-wheel – 2007 in Champ Car – while Dixon became IndyCar’s then-youngest winner at age 20 in his first season in CART in 2001… before Rahal beat that in 2008 at age 19.

“I grew up watching a lot of these guys race,” Enerson explained during the post-practice press conference. “My first Indy 500 was when I was three years old, and seeing these guys go around, and now I’m 19 years old and there’s a lot of the same guys still there.

“It’s kind of like I get to race with my idols, really,” he added, to a room full of laughter.

Dixon followed, “We must have had a good generation, I think.”

But putting aside the obvious “yeah, he’s young” line – trust me as the youngest full-time member in the IndyCar press corps I get that joke at least once per weekend – what Enerson did on Friday was take in a wealth of information the team was throwing at him and translate it into pace on paper.

“It was incredible. It’s completely different than anything I’ve driven, and coming from — every time I come here, I always tend to do alright, and it’s one of my favorite tracks,” he said.

“It’s got this thing about it that it fits the driving style really well, and I’m just excited to be here, and this is probably — it’s probably the best track to make my debut at.”

Enerson, as he told me prior to his race debut last week, noted the difference in the step up from the Cooper tires he used throughout his Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires career versus the Firestones now.

Enerson was really good at learning tire conservation there since there are no pit stops. But he noted the change in grip level on the Firestones, especially since the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is one of the highest grip tracks on the calendar.

“These ones tend to — after the first couple laps where you get your fast time, they tend to not fall off very much and you can keep your speeds up, and it’s amazing. It’s a completely different experience, and it’s challenging,” he explained.

On the tire note, where Enerson will have to learn, and learn quickly, is once he gets his first crack at the Firestone red alternates for qualifying later on Saturday, provided the session is dry.

“With the reds, we don’t get to see them. I’ve never driven on them, so the first time I’m going to get to see them is qualifying,” he said.

“So that’s what I think is the biggest thing for the rookies, I guess, is they don’t get to see those until it’s when it counts, so it’s hard to extract all that not knowing going into it, and I think that’s what comes with the experienced drivers where they’re able to know how much grip they’re actually going to gain to be able to push it to the max right off the bat.”

Still though, his debut impressed many in the IndyCar paddock.

Teammate Conor Daly in the No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda told IndyCar Radio of Enerson, “We have RC here this weekend, and he’s new – but he’s doing a great job.”

Daly’s engineer Michael Cannon, himself a key talent evaluator in his long career in the sport, told me Enerson has “taken like a duck to water” to an IndyCar and is handling everything the team is throwing at him with aplomb.

And Dixon, arguably one of the best drivers of his generation? He knows what it’s like to “wow” people when you’re the new kid on the block, as he did some 15 years ago.

“I think it’s great to see young talent coming through. It’s part of the sport. It’s part of what we need to see,” he said.

“We’ve had a good influx of recent, and it’s pretty cool in the fact that we have a series that, okay, so there’s some bigger teams and some more teams that have done better jobs, but in layman’s terms, you pretty much have the similar equipment. So it’s nice that you can come, and if you’re good you can get close.

“The only hard part with rookies now is the testing program. At least this year was a little more open. It was good that RC had the opportunity to test here last week, but still, you’re competing against guys that have been coming here for years and they’ve had a ton of test days.

“It’s so close right now that you’re looking for hundredths and tenths of a second to make the difference.”

Grosjean set for five-place grid drop in Germany after gearbox change

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 29: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 29, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Romain Grosjean is set to receive a five-place grid penalty for this weekend’s German Grand Prix after a gearbox change on Saturday morning.

Grosjean has led the new Haas Formula 1 operation’s charge in its debut season, scoring all 28 of its championship points thus far.

The Frenchman arrived in Germany hopeful of ending Haas’ difficult run of form, the team having recorded just one top-10 finish in the past seven races.

However, his challenge looks set to become all the more daunting after Haas was forced to change the gearbox on his VF-16 car during FP3.

FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his report that Grosjean’s existing gearbox had not completed the six consecutive events required before a change is permitted, prompting the matter to be referred to the stewards.

Grosjean will therefore drop five places on the grid from wherever he qualifies later today at Hockenheim.

Qualifying for the German Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.