Lewis Hamilton aiming to prolong Budapest love affair
Mercedes driver fifth fastest as Ricciardo tops practice times prior to Sunday’s Grand Prix
Britain’s Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes during the second free practice session at the Hungaroring racetrack in Mogyorod, northeast of Budapest. Photograph: Zsolt Czegledi/MTI/ AP
Silverstone is Lewis Hamilton’s home track but there is little doubt that the hot, dusty bowl of the Hungaroring is a circuit he enjoys like no other.
With five wins here, Hamilton is the most successful driver to have raced in Budapest and both he and Mercedes are fired up to make it one more. His confidence is high and reflected in the strength of the relationship with the team, with whom he admitted he expected to see out the rest of his career.
Their first task however will be Saturday’s quest for pole position. Hamilton has five of those already secured here but another would be special, bringing him equal with Michael Schumacher’s record of 68.
It will doubtless give him no little pleasure to do so at one of his favourite circuits but the race may prove a tighter affair. The twisting, slow-speed corners of the Hungaroring make aerodynamics and downforce more important than power and Red Bull, who have brought major aero upgrades, were looking to make the most of it.
Daniel Ricciardo topped both practice sessions on Friday and Ferrari too were strong, Sebastian Vettel was second in the afternoon, with Hamilton in fifth – the top five separated by just over three-tenths of a second.
“It’s super tight between Ferrari, Red Bull and ourselves at the top of the leaderboard so it’s looking like it will be an exciting weekend,” said Hamilton. “There’s some more work to do overnight to get the car just where we want it and I believe the pace is in there.”
Vettel leads Hamilton by one point in the world championship and the German admitted after Silverstone that the Scuderia could not match Mercedes over the single lap discipline. Hamilton and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas have taken pole in the past four races and in eight of the 10 rounds this season. The Briton acknowledged the efforts his team had made.
“It still remains quite close but we have generally had the upper hand in qualifying,” he said.
“We’ve had that gap and in the race it has been a little bit closer. It is just great work by the team, we have not brought many updates to the car, we have just been able to exploit it a little more. We are all pushing the car to the limit. That includes me. The engineers and mechanics are optimising the envelope and I have to extract everything from it.”
Extracting the maximum is something he has done well at the Hungaroring. Alongside those five wins was a standout run in 2014 when he drove from a pitlane start to third place, 5.8sec behind Ricciardo’s winning Red Bull.
The Mercedes was the class of the field but, as recovery drives go, it was still a mighty effort. His car had to be rebuilt overnight after catching fire in qualifying and then with cold brakes he spun on the opening lap, damaging the front wing.
Rear brakes that were then too hot also cost him time and by the end he was losing almost half a second a lap due to a fuel pressure problem. It was a combative run that epitomised how he is able to make a charge at the Hungaroring.
The circuit is a kart track and rewards drivers who attack the 2.7 miles and 14 corners.
“It’s a track that you can be aggressive at,” said Hamilton. “I think this year more so, this car has come in my direction, so even at Silverstone I was able to be incredibly aggressive, particularly with these very hard tyres we have. It’s about being closest to the edge.”
How much he and Mercedes can extract in Hungary will be highly significant in indicating who has the upper hand going into F1’s summer break. If Mercedes can outdo Ferrari here, having enjoyed an advantage over the Scuderia at the power-hungry Silverstone, it will suggest that they have truly solved the balance and set-up issues that stymied their performance on similar layouts such as Sochi and Monaco.
Certainly Hamilton’s confidence in his team was high. His contract is up next year and when asked about his future he reiterated his admiration for Williams but added: “There is no other team, apart from Ferrari, that would be interesting. But right now I love being here and the people I work for and work with. I love the company. No other team in the sport takes care of you like Mercedes does.
“To turn your back on that and leave that behind, it would be a difficult call to make. If I was to jump ship from here, that would be when I stop.”