Daniel Ricciardo cemented his status as a real contender for the Hungarian Grand Prix after he completed a surprise practice double on Friday.
Ricciardo’s Red Bull team have a number of updates on their car at the Hungaroring for the final round of the championship before the sport’s now traditional four-week summer break.
And the early signs appeared promising for the former world champions after Ricciardo, a winner at last month’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, soared to the top of the time sheets in both sessions.
Ricciardo finished 0.183 seconds clear of championship leader Sebastian Vettel while Lewis Hamilton, who trails the German by a single point in this year’s title race, was only fifth.
Hamilton however, who is bidding to equal Michael Schumacher’s all-time pole record, failed to set a competitive time on the supersoft tyre – the fastest of the compounds available this weekend, and was only three-tenths shy of Ricciardo’s best effort.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was third in the order with Kimi Raikkonen fourth and Max Verstappen sixth. The top six cars, meanwhile, were separated by less than half-a-second to set up what could prove to be a nail-biting qualifying session on Saturday.
British driver Jolyon Palmer is in desperate need of a strong weekend after his so-far pointless opening half of the year.
But the under-fire Englishman had little cause to celebrate on Friday after damaging his Renault in opening practice, and then encountering further problems during the day’s second running.
Palmer first broke his front wing in the closing moments of the 90-minute session after he ran off the circuit and over the kerbs at Turn Four. He returned to the circuit in the afternoon, but lost control of his Renault on the exit of the final corner and thudded backwards into the barriers.
The red flags were deployed, and Palmer was left with a lonely walk back to the Renault garage to explain his latest error.
Palmer was not the only driver in the wars after Pascal Wehrlein crashed his Sauber at Turn 11. “I crashed, massive,” Wehrlein said.
The German walked away from the incident, but was taken to the medical centre for a precautionary check-up before he was given the all-clear.
Palmer’s team-mate Nico Hulkenberg was seventh in the order ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. Alonso has finished only two races this year, but the Hungaroring – a circuit which is not overly reliant on power – is expected to represent McLaren’s best opportunity of a strong points finish.
The British team are currently rooted to the foot of the constructors’ championship with just two points to their name this term.