Hungarian GP 2008
AUGUST 2, 2008
Qualifying Report - A pretty decent weekend
Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix and, with Heikki Kovalainen behind him on the grid and Kimi Raikkonen back in sixth place, was well-placed to improve his World Championship chances after qualifying in Budapest. With two wins behind him and the McLaren obviously getting better all the time, Lewis seemed very confident.
"So far it has been a pretty decent weekend," Hamilton said. "The team have done a great job in improving the car again, even from the last race and so the pace of our car is great and I think it is a great day to have me and Heikki one two. I think it is about time we did that for the team. It is very satisfying, you know. We were quickest throughout testing yesterday and then also today. Q2 looked a bit close but I think it was just tyre dependent. We made the right choice at the end, so I am very, very happy."
The choice made showed that McLaren is a little more flexible than some would imagine, as the team had planned to use the softer tyres but realised in the course of the Q2 session that the harder rubber was working better.
"It was the safer option to use the harder tyre," Hamilton said. "It doesn't seem to grain as much as the softer tyre, so it worked out really well for me. I think there was a little bit of time lost in the second sector of my lap but I was still very, very happy with it. I have got a little bit of time to get still. The car was great. I think Heikki was quicker than me in the last sector, so he is pushing me hard, but that's good."
It was the first McLaren 1-2 of the year and Kovalainen was delighted as well.
"The car has been feeling strong the last few races and I think as Lewis said we have been improving since the last test and all the way through the weekend more and more the package, so it was just a matter of nailing it in qualifying. It was difficult to choose the right tyre. I was planning to use the softer one with the heavier fuel load in the last part of qualifying but we changed our mind when everyone else went quick with the harder tyre. I think we are going to see a circuit evolving towards the end of the race. It is going to get grippier and grippier and the off-line is going to get dirtier, so we just can't put the wheel off the line. That is going to be crucial tomorrow."
Or to put it another way: qualifying is really important in Hungary as overtaking is tough.
One could tell that from the body language of Felipe Massa. He was not the ebullient little fellow that he usually is, but he was in a better position than his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen who was sixth. Massa's one hope was that he would start on the clean side of the race track and in previous years this has been a big advantage.
"I went a little bit at the wrong time on the track and there were so many cars around. Most of the people were very, very slow on the out lap and that for sure, especially in my case as I like to go slightly quicker, but I cannot pass them, so that's really tricky for the preparations of the tyres and I couldn't prepare the tyres like I am supposed to and I couldn't do a great lap," Massa said. "I think we are pretty strong."
This was seen in the Q2 session when Massa set the fastest lap of all, at 1m19.473s.
"It was a great lap," Massa said. "I was just able to get the best out of the car and the car just had great balance. Unfortunately it doesn't count for much. It just counts for the next qualifying. Anyway, I'm still confident. For sure I'm going to do my best tomorrow to gain some positions."
For Kimi Raikkonen it was not a happy story. He was sixth - and that meant he was on the wrong side of the track and was likely to lose places at the start on Sunday.
"I made a mistake on my final flying lap which cost me precious time, and that followed on from not having got a great lap on my previous attempt, which explains why I'm sixth," said Kimi. "Of course I am not happy and, starting from the third row, my race will be an uphill struggle. I will try and make the most of this situation, given that the car today was not that bad. We are going through a bit of a difficult time but we mustn't give up: all we need to do is put together all the pieces of the jigsaw and then the results will come to us again."
With Raikkonen out of the way, Robert Kubica moved up from his habitual fifth position and was fourth. With more Poles at the Hungaroring than there are in the British construction trade, Robert carried the hopes of thousands and was delighted with the result. It was not good news that he was on the dirty side of the road, but with his car control skills and explosive starting abilities, the first lap is likely to be fun.
"The car has been quite difficult to drive over the entire weekend," he said. "We struggled a bit with the balance, but in the end I was able to make the harder tyre compound work very well and here we are."
The same could not be said for Nick Heidfeld, who had an awful time in Q1 and failed to get into the top 15 for Q2. He blamed Sebastien Bourdais of Scuderia Toro Rosso and later the FIA Stewards agreed and bounced Bourdais back five places, but that did not much help Heidfeld, who has to start 15th.
"On my last lap in Q1 I had four cars in my way," he said. "Most of them at least tried to give me room, but it still cost me time. Towards the end of the lap I had one car in front which was on an OUT lap. He saw me and accelerated. He then overtook Sebastien Bourdais before the last corner, and then Sebastien was right in my way."
The biggest surprise of qualifying, however, was the pace of the Toyotas. They were quick from the start of the weekend and in Q2 Timo Glock was second fastest.
"It wasn't easy today because we had a very tight choice over tyres," the German said, "so we had to make a close decision for every lap. But in the end my engineers stayed cool and got it right. In Q2 the car felt perfect. Then on the very last lap it was a bit trickier again because the tyres didn't behave quite as well, but I'm happy with P5. We are in a great situation for tomorrow."
There were some who wondered about fuel loads - because of Toyota's record with playing with such things - but in recent weeks the car does seem to be better. Jarno Trulli, usually the fastest qualifier of the two, was back in ninth. He was disappointed.
"Since this morning I have struggled for grip and balance and unfortunately we weren't able to find the answers in time," he said. "I'm happy for Timo, who has done a good job this weekend and it is clearly important for us. Overtaking is very difficult here."
At the back end of the top 10 we had Fernando Alonso in his Renault, Mark Webber in his Red Bull and (behind Trulli) Nelson Piquet in the second Renault. The French engine folk have been making much noise recently about how they have a power disadvantage and so this was a fairly logical explanation.
"We knew that the qualifying session would be very close and that proved to be the case," said Alonso. "We managed to reach Q3 with both cars, which is positive. But I think the race tomorrow will be difficult, that's for sure."
Piquet was happy as this was a sign that his performance is getting better, although he was still a long way off the pace of Alonso, although this may be down to fuel.
Mark Webber seemed happy enough.
"It would have been nice to have had a bit more pace in Q3, but Q2 and Q1 went well for us," he said. "I'm disappointed I'm on the wrong side of the grid, an odd number is always better, but we definitely have a chance to get something from where we are, so we'll see how we go tomorrow."
David Coulthard was 13th and complained of handling problems.
Outside the top 10 we had Sebastian Vettel in his Toro Rosso, a good effort given an awful Friday, during which he broke down twice.
"It was a shame to miss out on Q3 by one hundredth of a second," Vettel said. "We can be happy though, especially given I only managed nine laps yesterday! We did a good job today. I've yet to do a long run this weekend but I think we can find a good compromise between qualifying and race pace and we have a good set-up on the car."
Sebastien Bourdais qualified 14th until he was handed a five place penalty for holding up Heidfeld. When all was said and done, however, he was still way off the pace of Vettel and cannot afford to be if he is to be seen around F1 next year.
Honda had a lot of modifications on its cars in Hungary and this seemed to produce some more performance, with Jenson Button 12th on the grid.
"We've definitely made some progress with the new developments to the car and in particular the new rear suspension is working well," he said. "This has enabled us to improve the car step by step over the weekend. I got the most out of the car today and it's encouraging to see we were only three-tenths away from the top 10 as it has been a while since we were that close."
Rubens Barrichello was originally 18th but moved to 17th after Bourdais was penalised.
"I felt the super-soft option tyre was working slightly better with the car so I stayed with that for my final run," he said. "I went in too quick for Turn 11 and made a mistake which ruined my lap. With that went the chance to progress to Q2."
It was not a great weekend for Williams with Nico Rosberg 14th on the grid after Bourdais's penalty.
"We therefore weren't looking too bad for qualifying," he said. "I made a mistake on my fast lap in Q1 and lost two and a half tenths in one corner, so my Q1 time did not show the true potential of our car. We then had a good chance of making it into Q3, but a hydraulic problem meant I couldn't go out at all in Q2 which was disappointing."
Kazuki Nakajima was 16th and complaining ot traffic and struggling for balance.
"We now need to go through the data and work out what's happening in order to get the most out of the car for tomorrow," he said.
Down at the back as usual were the two Force Indias and there are beginning to be signs of stress and strain within the team as there is frustration that the performance is not what was hoped, even if it is better than used to be the case.
"The balance was not too bad, but unfortunately the grip level is still very poor," said Giancarlo Fisichella, who moved to 18th when Bourdais was penalised.. "I think we're not particularly quick round here and we have to accept that, but we are still quite close to the others."
Adrian Sutil was 20th and the only man not to break into the 1m21s.
"I am not happy," he said.