Budapest: Lewis Hamilton laid down a strong statement of intent by going fastest ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg on the opening day of practice for Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix.
Hamilton set a scorching pace on a hot and sunny afternoon at the Hungaroring circuit, lapping the 4.3 kilometer track in one minute 24.482 seconds.
Rosberg’s best was a one minute 24.720 seconds but fell two-tenths of a second short of his team-mate’s benchmark.
Hamilton, who also topped the morning session ahead of his stablemate, currently trails the German by 14 points in the standings despite having won five races to Rosberg’s four. But given his track record around the Hungaroring, he heads into Sunday’s race as the favourite.
Hamilton has taken four wins at the circuit on the outskirts of Budapest, including a dominant first win for Mercedes last season. He is currently tied with retired world champion Michael Schumacher as the most successful driver around the track and, if he wins on Sunday, would become the first driver to win five races in Hungary.
Behind the two dominant Mercedes, Sebastian Vettel set the third fastest time in his Red Bull. The reigning world champion, who has never won in Hungary, was over six-tenths of a second adrift of Hamilton’s benchmark but had been fifth and over a second slower than Hamilton in the morning session. His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo ended the day seventh.
Red Bull are hoping the layout of the Hungaroring circuit, with only two notable straights, should level the playing field slightly more in their favour, allowing the Milton Keynes-based outfit to move closer to the front of the field this weekend.
Fernando Alonso was once again the lead Ferrari ending the day fourth fastest. He had trailed struggling team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in the morning session but the Finn dropped back to sixth in the afternoon.
Kevin Magnussen was fifth, the McLaren driver carrying the pace he displayed at the last race in Germany over to this weekend, and setting a time seven-tenths of a second faster than world champion team-mate Jenson Button.
Button appeared to be struggling with the car and could only manage the ninth fastest time.
Williams appeared to have slipped back down the order after having emerged as Mercedes closest challengers over the last few races. Valtteri Bottas, who arrives in Hungary having raced to three straight podiums, was only eighth quickest while Felipe Massa, targeting a big haul of points after two consecutive first-lap retirements, was tenth.
The team’s car isn’t suited to the tight twists and turns of the Hungaroring but the Grove-based outfit, chasing Red Bull for second in the constructors’ standings, were hoping an aerodynamic upgrade would help them stay in the mix.