Lewis Hamilton set an early dominant marker at the Hungaroring with a time sheet-topping FP1 performance at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Hamilton was only 0.086s quicker than teammate Valtteri Bottas in second, but the Briton set his quickest lap on the hard-compound tire while Bottas made use of a set of mediums.
More foreboding still was that Sergio Perez, third fastest and 0.527s off the pace, used the fastest soft-compound rubber for his best lap in his Racing Point car. Teammate Lance Stroll followed a further 0.4s behind.
At last season’s Hungarian Grand Prix, to which Pirelli brought the same compounds, there was a 0.7s pace disparity between soft and medium and a 0.5 gap between medium and hard.
Mercedes’s nominal closest challenger, Red Bull Racing, was nowhere to be seen near the top of the timing board after a difficult start to the weekend.
The best the team could manage was eighth, with Max Verstappen vociferously unhappy in his RB16. The team brought a new high-downforce rear wing to the circuit, but the Dutchman refused to stay on track for long in the first half of the session, telling his engineer the car was too far from the sweet spot to bother gathering data.
He later rejoined the track with a modified car for an attempt at a hot lap on the soft tire, but after having manhandled the car around a visually difficult lap he was 1.4s behind Hamilton.
Teammate Alex Albon fared worse, a further 0.3s behind Verstappen in 13th place after having several of his laps deleted for exceeding track limits.
Christian Horner confirmed his team was experimenting with setup, but even he conceded Mercedes looked a step ahead.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was fifth quickest. The Australian again spent the first portion of FP1 with aero rake fixed behind his front tires to gather data, the Hungaroring the first high-downforce circuit on the revised calendar.
Ferrari ended the morning session higher on the time sheet than it has been in two weeks, with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc sixth and seventh.
Both drivers used the medium tire for their best times while collecting more data about the upgrade package that failed to complete a race distance last Sunday after their first-lap friendly fire crash in the Styrian Grand Prix.
Lando Norris ended the day ninth and 1.5s off the pace for McLaren, 0.1s ahead of Renault’s Esteban Ocon, who completed the top 10.
At the back of the order Robert Kubica conducted another FP1 session for Alfa Romeo, his car equipped with aero rakes as the Swiss team attempts to find the pace it lost over the off-season. He ended the day 19th.
Pierre Gasly failed to set a time thanks to a power unit issue. Honda identified an “anomaly in the data” in his motor that required a physical inspection, leaving his car up on jacks for the entire session.