Lewis Hamilton topped both practice sessions at the Hungaroring, with the McLaren driver eager to continue the form that earned him victory at the Nürburgring last weekend.
“I think we’ve probably got about the same pace as we had in Germany, which is encouraging,” he said. Hamilton, the winner here in 2007 and 2009, clearly enjoyed his return to Budapest and, as with all the teams, made the most of dry weather after rain had hit the circuit.
In the first session drivers were initially a little cautious on a track that always lacks grip on the opening day due to underuse during the year. But they began to set times around half an hour in, with Hamilton and Jenson Button the first to record quick laps. Fernando Alonso split the pair and when the Red Bulls joined at around the halfway stage they too were in the top-six mix.
With 20 minutes to go Hamilton put in a 1min 23.350sec lap, just over two 10ths quicker than Vettel, which was to remain at the top of the time sheet. Alonso held third, Mark Webber, who lost his front wing after clipping a damp kerb in turn nine, was fourth, Button fifth and Felipe Massa sixth.
The threat of rain at the start of second practice brought the teams out promptly, with Alonso quickest of the early runners on the prime tyres. However when the rain held off, teams began using the super-softs to evaluate performance. Alonso was quickest first out but was soon bumped into second by Hamilton, whose 1:21.018 was enough for another top.
Button enjoyed the super-softs as well, taking third, and said: “I hope to challenge for victory, but I’m not the only driver thinking that. Ferrari and Red Bull will also be looking to have good weekends.” Webber and Vettel managed fourth and fifth.
The final part of the session was used for evaluating the operating window of the option tyres, during which the Red Bulls looked far more competitive.
Managing these tyres for the qualifying shoot-off and for a full stint will be crucial to the race but, although it is difficult to read too much into practice it seems the form McLaren and Ferrari showed in Germany has carried over to Hungary. Similar temperatures and conditions are expected on Saturday for qualifying.
The Turkish Grand Prix is almost certainly off next year’s calendar after Bernie Ecclestone did not agree a new deal with the circuit officials. He issued a draft calendar for 2012, with Turkey omitted, to the teams this week. Falling audiences at the circuit, failed contract negotiations and the reintroduction of a race in the US, which would have made a 21-race season, are to blame.