Analysis | Pressure increasing on Perez, long-run pace strong for Mercedes

30-07-2021 17:40
F1 News
Analysis | Pressure increasing on Perez, long-run pace strong for Mercedes

The next instalment of the gripping 2021 World Championship fight between Mercedes and Red Bull Racing is underway. Ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Mercedes seem to have the upper hand on this weekend but Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing will be making adjustments overnight. 

Remarkably, Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen could go into the summer break on equal points in the World Championship. Should Hamilton win, secure the fastest lap and the Dutchman finishes second, both drivers will have 203 points to their name. With the summer break just around the corner, both drivers will be keen to take a psychological edge going into the short break. Anything less than a win for Verstappen could mean he'll be behind which would be somewhat of a surprise given his dominance over the most recent tripleheader. Verstappen's zero points tally last time out is felt strongly. 

Where is Verstappen losing time on single-lap pace?

The temperatures during the second free practice were eye-opening. The air temperature sat at around 32c and the constant sunshine on the circuit lifted the track temperature to the 60c mark. One of the hottest set of conditions the teams and drivers have experienced in 2021. 

As many drivers have reported, the heat made the balance tricky to find. The Pirelli tyres were also having a difficult time. These temperatures aren't expected to be replicated over the next two days, with thunderstorms and rain forecast for both Saturday and Sunday. A wet track will make a major difference. But for now, Mercedes have a clear lead over Red Bull Racing. 

Both Mercedes drivers were equally matched at the top of the leaderboard. Just 0.027 seconds separated Bottas and Hamilton. Verstappen found himself three-tenths behind. Despite this, the Dutchman matched Hamilton through the final sector, and he even went quicker than Bottas. The second sector is also evenly matched, with Verstappen's quickest S2 at 27.352 seconds compared to Hamilton's 27.470 seconds and Bottas' 27.231. 

Verstappen is losing the majority of his lap time in sector one. Here alone he is around three-tenths down on his rivals. Sector one and sector three at the Hungaroring are almost mirror images. Turn one is marginally tighter than the final turn on the circuit. The only real difference is the long straight. In Silverstone, Mercedes had the upper hand on straight-line speed as well. 

As always, engine modes and fuel loads are unknown at this point of the weekend. And it could be that Honda have turned down the engines slightly. Verstappen was running with his crashed engine to test it. Time could've been lost through some unidentified damage. 

Pressure is increasing on Sergio Perez

One of the reasons why Red Bull Racing decided to drop Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon was because they weren't close enough to Verstappen. More often than not, Verstappen was left alone with both Hamilton and Bottas breathing down his neck. This limited any strategic moves that Red Bull Racing could pull on their rivals. 

Perez has improved on this, though a crucial mistake in sprint qualifying at the British Grand Prix meant that he started the race from the pit lane. The Mexican failed to move through the field quick enough, and he didn't score any points. Though he did take away Hamilton's fastest lap point. 

In Hungary, Perez is in a different ballpark to Verstappen. In FP2, he finished half-a-second down compared to Verstappen's time. In FP1, he was 0.911 behind his teammate. Meanwhile, Hamilton and Bottas are pretty equally matched in both sessions. We've seen at this venue before how crucial it is to have both drivers at the front to support. 

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Long-run pace

However, the long-run pace makes for better reading if you're a Perez fan. Perez is known as a strong tyre management driver and on the medium compounds, he had a quicker average lap time compared to Verstappen. Both Red Bull drivers are behind both Mercedes drivers, with Hamilton producing a very impressive average lap time. 

In terms of the midfield, Aston Martin look like strong contenders for points in the Hungarian Grand Prix. Both Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel impressed on Friday beating both McLaren and Alpine. 

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