Tricky final sector – Track observation

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Hungaroring is one of the shortest tracks on the current Grand Prix calendar, but finding the best grip for a qualifying lap is rather difficult around the tight and twisty layout of the track.’s Balázs Szabó was following today’s track action from different points of the track to observe the cars’ behaviour.

The 4.381km-long track is all about corners, most of them are slow, which all arrive in quick succession. There is a total of fourteen corners and only the main straight is a long full-throttle section. Drivers often have to apply the throttle aggressively out of the slow turns and the elongated bends also put huge loads on the tyres. This unique, street circuit-like characteristics of the Hungaroring means that the tyres hardly get any chance to cool down.

To further increase the stress on the rubber, average temperatures tend to be the highest of the season in Hungary at this time of the year. It also increases the thermal degradation over longer stints.

In fact, drivers not only need to work out the best way how to manage the tyres in the best way to keep them alive for the race stints, but they also must manage them on a single hot lap. The first sector consists of three corners of which the first one is a slightly cambered slow one. The second one is an elongated bend where drivers have to be patient for a relatively long time. Turn 4 is also a crucial one as drivers take it at high-speed, putting huge loads through the tyres for another time. The next corners follow each other in quick succession which means that the heat inside the tyres increase steadily in the middle sector of the circuit.

Hamilton with good rear grip

I spent most of the time during the opening practice session around Turn 12 and 14. These corners presents a real test for assessing how effective a car and a driver can treat the tyres over a single qualifying lap. While drivers have had problems with heating up the tyres at a few circuits so far this year, it was relatively easy today to get the rubber up to temperatures. Although it was not sunny today, it was still warm and the succession of corners meant that one installation lap was totally enough to prepare the tyres for the hot lap.

In fact, Pirelli’s softest compound of the weekend, the C4 provided drivers with the best grip on the first hot lap and only a couple of them could squeeze a better time out on a second or third push lap. Between hot laps during the same stints, the Ferrari drivers, Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel and the solo Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton gave the tyres two or three laps to cool their tyres down before they started their next push lap.

The quick overheating of the tyres forced the drivers to be patient on the first segment of their hot lap to keep the temperatures under control. Looking at the behaviour of the cars close to the final corners, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel could best manage their softs tyres. Both world champions were fast through the first two sectors, but managed to avoid to slide around with the car.

It then allowed them to have a good grip at the rear axle of the car which meant that their cars were fairly stable around the 180-degree tricky Turn 14. Hamilton's performance in the last corner brings a vital change compared to last year as the Briton was struggling for a stable rear end over the whole strech of last year's Hungarian Grand Prix.

In contrast to them, Charles Leclerc achieved similar pace through the first segments of the circuit on the first lap of his second stint during FP1, but the Monegasque slid too much around while driving over the kerbs, producing too much heat in the tyres. As a consequence, Leclerc was unable to maintain the necessary grip level for the final sequence of corners and lost a big chunk of time in Turn 14 by losing control over the rear end of his SF90.

Sun is expected to return for the qualifying session, meaning that drivers have to find the right pace to be quick through the first half of their hot laps without overstressing the tyres to achieve the best performance.