There was a 2008 retro feel about the leaderboard today after first practice in Budapest as McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton topped the time sheets.
It was extremely close, with a second separating the top 19 cars over an 82 second lap.
Afterwards it was generally agreed that Red Bull and Brawn remain the teams to beat, albeit that they expect trouble at the start from the KERS cars of McLaren and Ferrari, which are likely to qualify right behind them and pass them at the start.
Interestingly it seems that Webber is again the stronger of the two Red Bull drivers. My paddock intelligence is that the gap of almost 2/10ths between them is not down to them doing different programmes, but rather to the fact that Webber is just faster. It will be interesting to see if its stays that way.
“The session went well with the exception of stopping with a hydraulic problem,” said Webber. “I’m pretty happy with the car, we are in the ballpark.”
All eyes were on 19 year old debutant Jaime Alguersuari, who did a pretty solid job in the Toro Rosso. He played himself in slowly on the slippery track in his opening laps. But he didn’t make any mistakes, covered more than a race distance, almost 90 laps in total and in the first session was within two tenths of a second of team mate Sebastien Buemi. He slipped a bit in the second session to end up 8/10ths adrift in last place.
I caught up with him after the session and he was sweating profusely, but looked otherwise pretty composed. He felt he had done a good job,
“I didn’t have any problem with the other drivers, I’m happy with my day and happy to be here,” he said. “The main thing was to do all the laps today. I feel proud, I’m quite happy and I’m looking forward to the race. I’m missing quite a lot of speed on the higher speed corners. I don’t care what other people say. I’m here because Red Bull asked me to be here, as with F3 or World Series or GP2, I don’t care. It’s my job.”
Having asked the readers here on the site for predictions of how many tenths off his team mate the rookie would qualify on Saturday, I asked him the same question, but he said that he had no particular target in mind. He’s more focussed on getting into the race and covering the distance. His learning curve is immense.
Alguersuari also spoke about his friendship with the Henry Surtees, who died last Sunday in an F2 race at Brands Hatch. They met last year when Alguersuari was racing in the UK and even spent at day together at Alton Towers. “He was a good friend and a very talented driver,” said the Spaniard. “I could never expect something like this to anybody so it also affects me.”
Many of the other drivers who criticised Toro Rosso’s hiring of the 19 year old admitted today that he had done a good job. Felipe Massa still feels the FIA should have a rookie test facility available outside the test ban,
“I feel that it’s not fair to bring a guy to the first race and the FIA should have a different solution, it would have been better for him to have a test last week. It’s a bit of a risk. But he did a very good job,” said Massa.
“He did a pretty good job today,” agreed Webber, “We will see, but it’s not my problem if he has a good or bad time.”