Rosberg fastest, Hamilton crashes at Hungary GP practice

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Posted: Jul 22, 2016 12:07 PM
Rosberg fastest, Hamilton crashes at Hungary GP practice

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Nico Rosberg of Mercedes posted by far the fastest lap during the second practice session for the Hungarian Grand Prix on Friday.

Teammate Lewis Hamilton was unhurt after crashing sideways into a barrier of rubber tires, Mercedes said. Hamilton was able to drive the car back to the pit lane and later returned to the team garage after a medical checkup.

Mercedes said Hamilton's car would be fully stripped to be checked out, but jokingly noted it "appears to bounce rather well."

Hamilton, who set the pace in the morning practice, also had the fastest time before crashing at turn 11, about 13 minutes into the afternoon session. Rosberg quickly bettered Hamilton's mark with a time of 1 minute, 20.435 seconds, the only driver below 1:21.

"It was an impressive day for us, performance-wise," Rosberg said. "That doesn't necessarily mean we'll be in such a strong position tomorrow but it's very positive. The car is very quick, so a good start to the weekend."

Rosberg's time was already 1.585 seconds faster than last year's top qualifying time, achieved by Hamilton.

Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was second, 0.595 behind the championship leader, with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, the 2015 Hungaroring winner, finishing third.

"We are more or less where we expected to be," Ricciardo said. "We knew it would be close with Ferrari, so if we can keep our nose in front that would be nice."

Max Verstappen of Red Bull was fourth and Hamilton, despite completing only four laps before his accident, was fifth.

"Lewis was caught out by one of the new, unpainted kerbs ... resulting in quite a heavy impact with the barriers," said Paddy Lowe, the technical executive director for Mercedes. "The most important thing is that Lewis was unharmed despite the impact. There has been some damage to suspension and a few bodywork elements — but this will be easily fixed overnight."

The Hungaroring is sporting a repaved track and pit lane while several kerbs have been added or upgraded, with track length remaining at 4.38 kilometers (2.72 miles).

Veteran drivers like Hamilton and Vettel did not appear keen on the changes before the practice sessions. By late Friday, however, most concerns seemed to have dissipated, Hamilton's mishap notwithstanding.

"The new track surface isn't massively different," said Ricciardo, who won here in 2014. "I was a little bit worried it would lose some of its character, but I think it's still much the same."

Team officials were also taking the changes in stride and even attributed the faster times to the new setup.

"We were pleasantly surprised. The track is quite smooth, the kerbs are quite good," said Pat Symonds, chief technical officer with Williams. "We're pretty happy with the work that's been done."

Symonds added that while there had been talk of blistering in the tires during a European F3 race on the Hungaroring in April on the changed track, "even the super-soft tires held up very well today."

Ferrari senior engineer Jock Clear said his team had enjoyed "reasonably comfortable" practice sessions with the tires.

"We had some fears and they've not really been founded today," Clear said. "The kerbs are smoother ... certainly the kerbs are making a difference on lap time."

At the same time, teams did complain about the longest-ever season of 21 races, including a globe-hopping stretch of six races in eight weeks at the end.

Williams' Symonds said 20 races had been considered the "tipping point" just a few years back and that employees were starting to prefer staying at team headquarters because of the race schedule's toll on family life.

"I think we're way past the tipping point," Symonds said. "We cannot ask our personnel to maintain the level of activity. Therefore, we're going to look at rotation."

Clear agreed with Symonds, saying that "people are just very tired" and the sport did not have the "luxury" of using substitutes.

Rosberg has 168 points halfway through the season, one point ahead of two-time defending world champion Hamilton. Mercedes has won nine of the first 10 races this season and 41 of the last 48.

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Karel Janicek contributed to this report.