Rain hampers drivers in Hungarian practice washout

Lewis Hamilton in his garaged car at the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Championship leader Lewis Hamilton has set the fastest time in a rain-affected day of practice at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The Briton set his fastest time of one minute 17.233 seconds in the morning session when the track was largely dry. Max Verstappen was second fastest in first practice, the Red Bull Racing driver 0.165 seconds off the pace, and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was just 0.001 seconds further back.

The 90-minute morning practice run took place in generally rain-free conditions, but showers arrived in time in the afternoon. The later session started dry, allowing a handful of drivers to improve on times they set earlier in the day, but after only five minutes Alex Albon red-flagged the track with a monster crash as rain began drizzling onto the circuit.

The Thai driver dipped his left tyres onto the grass approaching the final corner, which sent his Toro Rosso spinning off towards the barriers at the outside of the apex. He made heavy left-side contact with a tyre wall that made him momentarily airborne, and his rear-right tyre burst as it bore the brunt of the heavy landing.

The 23-year-old was taken to the medical centre for a precautionary check in the aftermath but returned to his garage unscathed.

“Driver error,” he said. “I think with the grass being wet, as soon as I touched it I spun. Frustrating.”

The drizzle intensified into steady rain enough to make the circuit too slippery for slick tyres. Drivers returned to their garages after around 20 minutes, and it wasn’t for almost another hour that they ventured back out onto the circuit to undertake any meaningful running on wet-weather rubber.

Even so, the dry forecast for the remainder of the weekend meant data gathered from the approximately 10 laps apiece is of limited usefulness setting up the car, which should be a boon for fans given a lack of practice time tends to lead to more unpredictable racing.

Mercedes is expected to perform strongly at the Hungaroring as the circuit comprises mostly slow-speed corners and features few straights, rewarding the German marque’s downforce-efficient chassis and penalising Ferrari’s reliance on engine power.

“P1 was a good session,” Hamilton said. “Straight from the get-go the balance was quite nice.

“We made some changes over the break but unfortunately didn’t get to test it.

“There was not real much point going out in the wet. It’s kind of irrelevant, especially when you know the race is going to be mostly dry — you just focus on getting the best set-up in the dry and deal with it in the wet.”

But Friday wasn’t all smooth sailing for the constructors championship leader despite Hamilton’s fastest time. Valtteri Bottas was sidelined for most of morning practice after sensing a misfire in his engine early. A precautionary engine change kept him in his garage for the rest of that session, and rain during the afternoon meant he completed little useful running.

Ferrari will attempt to capitalise on its rival’s compromised day with a series of aerodynamic upgrades aimed at improving its slow-speed performance. Vettel used the updates to great effect in the first session to run Verstappen and Hamilton close, but Charles Leclerc complained the car feeling had been detrimentally affected and was consequently off the pace.

Red Bull Racing is also expected to figure in the fight at the front given its car typically performs strongly in Budapest. Verstappen and teammate Pierre Gasly were second and fourth in the morning and subsequently finished in the top two in the afternoon, albeit after only limited dry running.

Kevin Magnussen figured strongly in the morning for Haas, finishing fifth ahead of Charles Leclerc and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg. McLaren duo Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz followed, with Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen completing the top 10.

Driver will get one final hour of practice on Saturday morning before qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix.