July 26th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - There were always going to be question marks over Mercedes' form for the Hungarian Grand Prix, after the team was barred from last week's Young Driver Test for carrying out an illegal test with Pirelli earlier in the season. And when the cars hit the track this morning, those questions were answered.
Yes, Mercedes has suffered from not taking part in last week's test. How much is not yet clear, as they are still adapting to the tyres in the limited practice time available before tomorrow's qualifying session. But considering that neither Mercedes driver managed to get within half a second of Sebastian Vettel's leading lap times today, there is certainly a significant gap to close before a Silver Arrow will be fighting at the front this weekend.
To make matters worse for Mercedes, the air temperature for Sunday is forecast to be a sweltering 40 degrees Celsius. Warmer temperatures disadvantage teams like Mercedes, who struggle to manage their rear tyre temperatures. On Sunday, Rosberg and Hamilton could be spending a lot of time in the pits, or alternatively a lot of time driving slowly and carefully. Either way, their Hungarian Grand Prix is not shaping up to be an enjoyable event from inside the car.
Mercedes' only real saving grace is their superb qualifying pace. If they can find enough speed to put a Silver Arrow on pole position, then the twisty nature of the Hungaroring might allow them to keep their rivals behind while looking after their tyres. Otherwise, it's going to be a long Sunday afternoon for the three-pointed star.
Ross Brawn, Mercedes Team Principal, was cautiously optimistic about the pace of the car in today's hot conditions. After practice, he said, "It was an interesting day as we were running the new tyres for the first time. It took us a while to find a good balance with the car but our long runs looked respectable this afternoon. Both drivers enjoyed trouble free running in the very hot conditions here in Budapest and we have lots of information and data to work with tonight."