Charles Leclerc completed a “double top” for Ferrari when he outpaced McLaren’s Lando Norris in second practice for this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old Monegasque, showing he has recovered from the trauma of his crash while leading last weekend’s French Grand Prix, clocked a best lap in one minute and 18.445 seconds, two-tenths clear of Norris.
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Carlos Sainz, who was fastest in the opening session in his Ferrari, was third, 0.231 adrift, ahead of series leader and world champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull and Daniel Ricciardo, who surprised everyone by clocking the fifth-fastest time in the second McLaren .
Ricciardo has struggled massively for pace this season and endured more struggles with his car — a defining characteristic of his two seasons at McLaren so far. That’s why it was such a shock to see him break into the top five in Hungary — especially after finishing ninth in his last start at the French GP.
The Aussie was pleasantly surprised by his and Norris’ strong performances but isn’t getting ahead of himself about what the impressive practice times will mean come qualifying.
“I don’t know about the others, but I think we were actually competitive this morning as well,” Ricciardo said.
“Being competitive in both sessions hopefully says something, hopefully says we are competitive.
“I don’t think we’re competitive to fight for a pole, sorry to the fans. I’m not being pessimistic, just realistic.
“But I think if there is something, they will probably find a little bit more on Saturday come crunch time.
“I think it was a good day, we certainly hit the ground running. We’ll look into what happens tonight with the car and do a few bits and pieces for sure.
“I also have no reason to say we can’t fight for the front tomorrow, but it’s only been a week since Le Castellet, you can only change so much.
“Maybe the track does suit us more, but I’m sure we’ve made a step, but probably not that big a step.”
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso was sixth for Alpine on his 41st birthday ahead of retirement-bound four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin, his friend and long-time rival.
George Russell was a frustrated eighth for Mercedes, after struggling for balance, ahead of Sergio Perez whose frustrations with his Red Bull continued and Valtteri Bottas, 10th for Alfa Romeo.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton also had a difficult day and wound up 11th in the second Mercedes, grumbling about his car’s continuing instability.
Last year’s surprise winner Esteban Ocon was 13th in the second Alpine, but might be different conditions encouraged by the likelihood of very Saturday and Sunday.
He took advantage of the conditions last year to claim his maiden victory and was optimism on arrival in Budapest that a repeat was in prospect.
“A million emotions came flooding back as soon as I landed in Budapest,” he said.
“One year ago, we achieved something amazing and a dream came true for me. But I want more. We want more. Last push before the summer break.”
On a hot and dry afternoon at the Hungaroring, where heavy rain has been forecast and may deliver a stormy qualifying session on Saturday, it was Leclerc who took the early initiative.
Sainz soon made it a Ferrari one-two at the top before Norris, on softs, took over despite running wide and across the grass and dust at the final corner, endorsing the view that McLaren may find the circuit to their liking.
Leclerc regained top spot, but Verstappen and Red Bull appeared to be struggling to match the Ferrari pace and the champion was down in fourth with teammate Perez ninth with 23 minutes remaining.
“As expected, it was a bit tricky today,” said Verstappen.
“We were trying to find the right balance from high to low speed, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t – there’s a bit of work to do.”
The 24-year-old Dutchman has won eight out of 12 races this season and leads Leclerc by 63 points in the title race but he remains wary of his main rival.
“I think the Ferraris will be ahead of us this weekend and it will be hard to beat them,” he said.
“We’ll work hard overnight and try to close that gap as much as we can.
“The weather looks like it will have an impact. In the dry, we might struggle to compete but it could be a different story in the rain — but, who knows? We’ll see tomorrow.”
Mercedes were struggling and with seven minutes to go, Hamilton caught a big snap of oversteer at Turn Four, taking to the run-off area.
“The car is unstable,” he reported on team radio.
On an unspectacular day of a few incidents, Hamilton was not the only driver to struggle for performance as air temperatures soared to 35 degrees.
Aston Martin, having introduced a new “armchair” rear wing, appeared to be taking their time to understand its potential with both Vettel and Lance Stroll assuming middle order positions.