Hungary 2012: Qualifying Analysis

Hungary 2012: Qualifying Analysis

The Hungaroring is notable for really testing the full capability of the car. It’s a tight, twisty circuit where the exit of one corner is the entry to another. Heavy emphasis is on pure downforce and traction. In 2010, the Red Bull RB6 destroyed every other car by more than 1.5 seconds with an advantage of over a second in the middle sector alone. If your car has an aerodynamic advantage, the Hungaroring will make it apparent. This year, it highlighted McLaren’s rejuvenated pace. Their upgrades at Hockenheim, which we discussed in detail in this week’s TechF1Podcast have brought them back to where they started in Australia; in possession of the fastest package on track.

McLaren back on top

In the podcast, I voiced my belief that if the qualifying session remained dry in Hockenheim, McLaren could’ve bagged a qualifying 1-2. Jenson Button wasn’t quite so happy with his set up this time around but put the car in a commendable P4. Hamilton was simply in a class of his own and took a dominant pole position.

The final corner provided a great vantage point for the advantage the MP4-27 possessed over it’s competition. It had significantly better traction and aerodynamic downforce, which meant Lewis in particular could confidently take an early apex to the corner and confidently apply the throttle to accelerate. The earlier you got on the trottle, the more of an advantage you gained down the straight to the finish line. In contrast, Alonso in the Ferrari had to battle with the steering whilst tentatively searching for traction before firmly putting his foot down much later.

Hamilton was fastest in the two traction heavy sectors, sector one and three. He had an advantage of over two tenths in the final one alone. (Full sector times of the top teams posted below)

Hot temperatures aid Lotus

Ever since the start of the season, Lotus have been pipped for a good weekend. They have a fundamentally fast car, which many in the paddock believe to have the best high speed cornering performance.

Their pace in Bahrain and Valencia made it apparent their car prefers hot temperatures (minus an alternator failure). This is because they are of the way the car is kind to it’s tyres and can thus make them work best relative to the other cars in hot temperatures. It’s also the reason they admit they have struggled in qualifying, because they struggle to get sufficient heat into them for one flying lap.

Today the track temperature reached 45C in Q3 and Romain Grosjean pulled out a gem of a lap today to qualify P2, four-tenths faster than Raikkonen. They have better race pace so certainly have a great chance for a win.

James Allison, their technical director however dismissed the motion of a tyre advantage. He told SkySportsF1 that the tyres brought to the race this year were “annoyingly conservative”. This year Pirelli chose the soft and medium tyre whereas last year they had the supersoft and soft tyre.

Red Bull’s lack of traction

A lot has been said and an excess of hyperbolic claims have been made regarding Red Bull’s torque maps. I’m not going to join in and speculate with claims of any certainty but I will share what I noticed.

Usually, the Red Bull has superlative traction off slow corners. Part of the reason for that is Red Bull often run more rear downforce and shorter gears gear than other (and thus sacrifice top speed).

However, Red Bull today seemed to lack that advantage. The best places to view this lack of traction was the last corner and the Turn 6-7 slow chicane. We know that their controversial torque maps were designed to improve drivability and concentrated revs towards the lower end; both characteristics that aid traction.

As I said earlier, traction is crucial at the Hungaroring with it’s many slow corners. Vettel in the Red Bull was almost half a second slower than Hamilton. It’s a good bet that the torque maps change certainly has had some effect.

Ferrari’s true pace

I find it rather confusing why some journalists are confused with Ferrari’s performance. The car that’s been on pole position for the last two grand prix, is now on the fourth row? There is a rather simple answer to that rhetorical question: the last two qualifying sessions have been wet. The Ferrari gets good heat into it’s tyres and thus is suited to those conditions. Alonso being the fighter he is, made the best out of those conditions to deliver two fantastic laps.

The F2012′s pace in Hungary is more representative of where it truly lies in qualifying at this point in the season. Ferrari themselves have admitted the car inherently lacks traction so Hungary isn’t an ideal circuit for them. It also lacks in downforce compared to the Red Bull, Lotus and McLaren. It was an inspired effort from Felipe Massa, who had struggled during Friday practice.

When both the drivers qualify within hundredths of each other, without making any mistakes, that’s your accurate measure of the car’s true pace.

Mercedes’ Woes

Mercedes were simply devoid of pace. Their downturn in performance is down to their sheer lack of substantial upgrades since Monaco, where they had a lighter gearbox and redesigned rear suspension to improve tyre wear. Ross Brawn meekly claimed in Silverstone they had spent resources trying to understand tyres better instead of pushing for aerodynamic upgrades but the decision have clearly come back to bite them. They claimed even before the race they were half a second slower than the very top teams but I believe the gap is rather more.

Michael Schumacher flattered the car’s capability thanks to his wet weather skills in the last two qualifying sessions but on both occasions, went backwards during the race. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of them currently is their race pace compared to that of the Sauber, which is kinder on it’s tyres and was running consistently half a second faster in Hockenheim. Mercedes switched both Schumacher and Rosberg onto a 3 stop strategy in Hockenheim but the plan didn’t work. Michael finished P7 and P9. The Saubers finished P3 and P5.

Sector Times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton 28.986 (1) 29.254 (2) 22.650 (1)
Romain Grosjean 29.251 (12) 29.224 (1) 22.843 (5)
Sebastian Vettel 29.064 (3) 29.364 (4) 22.855 (7)
Jenson Button 29.040 (2) 29.400 (6) 22.928 (11)
Kimi Raikkonen 29.100 (6) 29.420 (7) 22.881 (8)
Fernando Alonso 29.080 (4) 29.371 (5) 22.969 (12)
Felipe Massa 29.183 (9) 29.516 (12) 22.835 (4)
(Q2) Mark Webber 29.091 (5) 29.632 (15) 22.716 (2)

Speed Trap

Driver Top Speed (km/h)
Alonso 303.1
Vettel 303.1
Button 302.6
Hamilton 302.3
Raikkonen 301.7
Massa 301.4
Webber 300.6
Grosjean 300.2

Exceeding Track Limits


(Image from @trwblanchard on twitter)

Vettel exceeded track limits on his fastest lap in Q3 but his time was not reset. This is because he is in fact losing time here, trying to get traction off the run off in the final corner, not gaining an advantage.