With just over an hour to go to qualifying at the Hungaroring, there is no clear favourite for pole position. That’s quite unusual for 2013, a season in which all of the 9 pole positions so far have been taken by Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton (evenly shared with 3 each).
Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber set the pace on Friday for Red Bull, but did not feature at the front in FP3 this morning. That in itself is not an indication of a lack of pace – they could simply have been running more fuel than their rivals – but it does raise the question: have they sacrificed qualifying pace in favour of race pace, perhaps assuming qualifying supremacy beyond what is realistic?
In FP3, Romain Grosjean topped the times with the fastest lap of the weekend so far, 1:20.730, half a second quicker than Vettel went yesterday. Grosjean is looking perhaps a little bit quicker than team-mate Kimi Raikkonen this weekend, at least on short runs. Raikkonen’s strength this season has been his race pace, which is quite difficult to gauge in practice. Lotus are, nonetheless, in the hunt for pole position. Grosjean has never had a pole position in F1, and Raikkonen has yet to top qualifying since he returned to the sport at the start of 2012. Can they break those two ducks today?
Ferrari are also looking quick. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa have both been within a few tenths of the front-runners throughout the weekend. Massa did not appear to get the maximum out of his Ferrari in FP3, but Alonso was on top of his car as ever. He set the second fastest time in FP3, just 0.168 seconds behind Grosjean, and will be looking to carry that speed into this afternoon’s qualifying session.
The big question mark for qualifying is over Mercedes. Both drivers struggled in Friday practice, but Lewis Hamilton seemed to have rediscovered his confidence this morning after some overnight setup changes. He set the quickest time in FP3 on medium tyres, but could not hold onto the top spot when the soft tyres went on. Could Mercedes have been hiding more pace in Hamilton’s car? He went just 8 tenths quicker on the soft tyres, while those around him improved by over a second in many cases. It could be that Mercedes know they have found some speed in Hamilton’s car, but they are choosing to hide it until it counts in this afternoon’s qualifying session.
A pole-sitter from any team other than Red Bull, Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes would be a massive surprise. The top four teams are sufficiently far ahead of the rest to be quite sure of front-row dominance. But it is close at the front. Any one of the 8 drivers from the top four teams could be on pole in Hungary.