Lewis Hamilton believes that his Mercedes team have no chance of winning Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix after he finished this afternoon’s faster practice session here about half a second slower than pacesetter Sebastian Vettel.
Red Bull’s speed confirmed the Briton’s worst expectations, after he said last time out in Germany: “The way things are, I expect Pirelli’s revised tyres to suit the Red Bull. Everything always seems to.”
Mercedes knew they would struggle here, having been banned from the recent test session at Silverstone as the FIA’s punishment for the illegal test they conducted with Pirelli back in May. But today they were able to assess the scale of the new mountain they have been left to climb.
“We don’t seem to have the pace that we had at the last race, but we’ll make some changes tonight and try to understand it,” Hamilton said. “We came into the weekend on the back foot trying to understand the tyres, and we did a lot of laps today. We’ve learned quite a lot, we’ve made some changes, and we can make some better changes for tomorrow. But…”
He was encouraged that on race pace over long runs this afternoon his lap times were competitive with Red Bull’s Mark Webber but with 40C ambient temperature expected on raceday, and Mercedes’ history of eating its tyres, neither he nor team-mate Nico Rosberg are sanguine about their chances.
“Red Bull looked very, very good today,” Rosberg said. “I don’t think we have the speed this weekend. The hotter it is, the worse it is for us and the more we’re going to struggle. And this is likely to be the hottest race of the year. It’s going to be tough.”
Hamilton agreed. “Ferrari are competitive, there’s Lotus and then the Red Bull is absolutely ballistic,” he said.
Vettel admitted he was surprised by his speed, as he ended the day 0.44sec ahead of Webber. “I think it’s too early to tell. First practice and second practice were very good for us, which I think is a bit of a surprise,” he said. “You try to do what you can and you don’t know where the others are, but I think tomorrow will be closer and we have to make sure we get everything out of the car. But it’s nice when you feel in control of the car and you can play around, and I think ours really suits the track.”
Webber added: “Generally we focused on ourselves today and did a pretty good job, I must say. We had a bit of traffic I think, but apart from that it was pretty smooth, to be honest. In the end we kept our head down, shifted away at our own agenda and we don’t have a huge amount to go through tonight as the car ran seamlessly. That is a nice bonus in terms of data to process.”
Lotus may be the dark horse again tomorrow, however, and though he had a trying day Kimi Raikkonen was pleased to see team-mate Romain Grosjean get closest to the Red Bulls, with a lap just 0.153sec slower than Vettel.
“I think we’ve always been a bit more happy when it’s more warm,” he said of Lotus’s most acknowledged strength. “Now it’s a bit difficult to say with the new – or different – tyres than we raced at the beginning of the year but last year helped us and the tyres should be a mix of this year and last year so let’s hope that it works well for us.”