Hungary practice – how quick are McLaren, and are Renault a threat?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Lewis Hamilton ran new \'antler wings\' on his McLaren in practice today
Lewis Hamilton ran new 'antler wings' on his McLaren in practice today

After the first two practice sessions for the Hungarian Grand Prix Lewis Hamilton, who was fastest, said McLaren could go quicker. Kimi Raikkonen, fifth, admitted he was worried about McLaren’s pace.

And Fernando Alonso, fourth, (with team mate Nelson Piquet Jnr second) was keen to keep a lid on expectations.

So how fast are McLaren, Ferrari and Renault? Here’s a look at the times so far.

Analysing practice and testing times is tricky. Just looking at the single fastest times for each driver can be misleading. But after today’s practice McLaren seem confident they are ahead and Ferrari are backing up that assessment. So what are they reading from the practice session times?

To try and understand that I produced a basic analysis of the times by Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa, Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen in the second session.

I chose the second session because that’s when the track was at its cleanest – the Hungaroring gets little use between F1 races and so is especially dusty early on the first day of a weekend. I filtered out any laps longer than 1 min 40s, which indicated time spent in the pits. Click the thumbnail on the right to see the chart in detail. You can download the data it is based on below.

The graph is a little complicated but I spotted a few things that I think are helpful.

Heikki Kovalainen’s stint from laps seven to 13 is both quick and consistent – every lap between 1’21.1 and 1’21.8. The best lap time set by either Ferrari driver was a 1’21.0, and neither could maintain anything like that pace for more than a lap or two.

It also looks like Lewis Hamilton was trying a similar stint between laps eight and 15, which were generally a few tenths quicker than Kovalainen’s, except for two slow laps which may have been mistakes, traffic or yellow flags.

This to me suggests McLaren are slightly quicker than Ferrari over a single lap, but able to lap consistently quicker over a stint – much like they were at Hockenheim.

What about Renault? In the second session Nelson Piquet Jnr was second fastest overall with a 1’20.748, less than 0.2s slower than Hamilton. Alonso was fourth with a 1’20.928.

But they like Ferrari seem unable to hit this pace as consistently as McLaren. Hamilton did four laps within half a second of his best, Kovalainen three, Alonso two, and Piquet never got within a second of his. Alonso gave an explanation for why this might be:

I think for us, for whatever reason it seems to work better the soft compounds. Canada and Monaco (with softs) were some races that we were quite good in terms of performance and we were quite happy with our car. Then races like Silverstone or Hockenheim, with the hard compounds, we were under-performing a little.

So Renault look like doing well in qualifying but could become moving chicanes in the race.

What’s your interpretation of the Friday free practice session times? You can download the breakdowns of all the laps below.

Hungarian Grand Prix practice session times (PDF downloads):