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

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.