F1 2023, Daniel Ricciardo, Hungarian Grand Prix, qualifying, analysis, reaction, grid, Oscar Piastri, McLaren: Talking points

You could never have guessed when Lewis Hamilton won the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from first on the grid to level the champion with Max Verstappen that he’d just enjoyed his last pole and victory for almost 20 months.

At the time he seemed sure to bounce back with a new determination to take what he felt was owed to him.

Instead he’s been wallowing just off the pace.

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It must have grated too, at least a little bit, to see new teammate George Russell take the team’s only other pole and win since 2021 — in Hungary and Brazil last year — after Hamilton had put in the hard development yards earlier in the season.

But finally it’s his turn to reap the rewards, and he may have chosen the perfect race to maximise his chances.

Not only is the Hungaroring a Hamilton fortress, but Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing appear to have made a critical set-up mistake this weekend.

The combination of a car upgrade, reduced practice time due to rain and tyre allocations, and changeable weather tripped up the runaway title leader in the qualifying battle by the slimmest of margins — just 0.003 seconds.

What we don’t know yet is whether that same combination will prevent Verstappen from running away with victory on Sunday — or perhaps even from contending at all.

With both McLaren drivers directly behind him — and Lando Norris was so close to demoting the Dutchman to third — and a very unusual grid further back, even Verstappen himself isn’t expecting a straightforward Sunday.

Ricciardo all smiles after stellar qualy | 02:33


Hamilton’s 104th pole was 596 days in the making, dating back to his top qualifying performance at the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

His last front-row start came at the following round in Abu Dhabi, where he lost the title to Max Verstappen.

You could hear the weight of that burden being lifted on his cool-down radio and his post-session interview.

“It’s an extraordinary feeling after you’ve been here for such a long time and you’ve had the success before,” he said. “Even though it’s 104 it feels like the first. It’s hard to explain how special it feels.”

If it was going to happen anywhere, it was going to happen in Budapest.

Hamilton loves this track, and he has the stats to prove it.

This was his ninth pole position at the Hungaroring, the most of any driver at one circuit.

He previously jointly held the record with Ayrton Senna’s eight poles in Imola and Michael Schumacher’s eight in Suzuka. Hamilton also had eight poles at Albert Park.

Converting on Sunday will generate a little more history.

Hamilton is the joint record-holder for most wins at a single track, having won eight times at both the Hungaroring and Silverstone to match Schumacher’s eight at Magny-Cours.

A ninth win in Hungary would be unprecedented.

Hamilton is unlikely to get another chance to win a race as good as this in 2023, at least from our view at the halfway mark of the season.

If he’s going to do it, he may as well collect some records along the way.

Lewis Hamilton’s 104th pole was 596 days in the making.
Lewis Hamilton’s 104th pole was 596 days in the making.Source: Getty Images


Lando Norris’s glass-half-empty approach strikes again.

The Briton has been explicit for the last two weeks that the upgraded MCL60 would be shown up as a midfielder at heart by the comparatively slower Hungaroring circuit and the warm weather that his car typically rejects..

Instead he almost pinched pole on his way to third on the grid, with teammate Oscar Piastri alongside him in fourth.

It’s another enormous tick for the new package — and the upgrade isn’t even complete, with the Budapest phase of the new parts delayed until after the midseason break.

If the performance is repeatable in tomorrow’s race — and Friday’s admittedly patchy data suggests it will be — then it’s difficult to imagine an argument that McLaren isn’t now a genuine member of the frontrunning pack.

Once we consider some caveats of course.

The tiny gap to the front is flattering for Verstappen and Red Bull Racing’s clear problems. There’s no reason to think the RB19’s advantage over the field has diminished this significantly.

That doesn’t mean McLaren isn’t competing to be best of the rest, though.

Further, as Norris has been keen to point out, the Hungaroring isn’t actually that slow a circuit. Its high-grip surface and these high-downforce cars make it more of a medium-speed track, which is less punishing of the McLaren.

Telemetry backs up the argument, showing the MCL60 losing all of its time to Hamilton at the first corner, the turn 6-7 chicane and in the very slow final three corners.

That deficit is almost — almost — made up for at the comparatively faster turns 2, 3 and 4.

It’s unclear what the competitive order will be on Sunday, but if you were Norris and Piastri, surely you’d be looking at Hamilton and Verstappen sharing the front row of the grid and getting flashback to 2021.

Piastri missed out on what would have been a meritorious podium two weeks ago in Silverstone. He must be thinking that his second chance is up for grabs on Sunday.

McLaren is on the charge.Source: Getty Images


At his first time of asking, Daniel Ricciardo scored AlphaTauri’s best qualifying result since the Monaco Grand Prix, some five races ago.

In fact 13th is the equal fifth-best qualifying result either AlphaTauri car has had all year. It bettered all but one of predecessor Nyck de Vries’s qualifying attempts, with the Dutchman’s best Saturday amounting to 12th in Monte Carlo.

If the Australian was drafted into the team in part to give it a morale boost, the strategy certainly seems to be working.

Of course 13th and almost 0.7 seconds off the pace of the fastest driver in Q2 isn’t the grid slot dreams are made of. But then neither is the AlphaTauri car.

Ricciardo can only make do with the tools at his disposal, and so far he’s been doing an excellent job.

Horner reveals why Ricciardo is back | 01:13

His approach has been methodical and workmanlike. He used Friday to identify his biggest weaknesses with this car, and on Saturday he ticked them off one by one until he was matching teammate Tsunoda’s pace by the end of final practice.

Another step was in the works for qualifying.

The margin between the teammates was a slender 0.013 seconds in Q1, but that was enough to get Ricciardo through to Q2 and four places further up the grid.

This isn’t the weekend to start drawing conclusions. Not only is it the first round the teammates have been paired together, but the running order of the Hungarian Grand Prix has been compromised by weather and Pirelli’s tyre allocation experiment, curtailing track time and altering rhythms.

For what it’s worth, Tsunoda also wasn’t using part of AlphaTauri’s latest upgrade package, having broken the sole example of his new front wing on Friday. It’s always difficult to quantify the time value of a single part, but 0.013 seconds seems well within the realm of possibility.

All we can say for certain is that Ricciardo has got off to the ideal start by being approximately on the pace of his teammate and feeling at home in the car he’ll be driving for the rest of the year.

So far so good for Daniel Ricciardo.Source: Getty Images


There’s no doubt Formula 1 got a thrilling qualifying hour in Hungry, but how much of that was down to Pirelli’s rule tweak mandating certain tyre compounds at certain parts of the session is up for debate.

This weekend the control tyre manufacturer is trialling a regulation that forced drivers to use hards in Q1, mediums in Q2 and softs in Q3. The rule goes hand in hand with a reduced quantity of tyres for the weekend from 13 down to 11, for sustainability reasons.

There were certainly some positive impacts to the rules. For one, it meant a backmarker couldn’t use all its soft tyres just to get out of Q1 and then not run in Q2 because of a lack of fresh rubber. In that sense it balanced the playing field.

But it’s hard to say that really caused any upsets that weren’t already on the cards.

George Russell’s shock Q1 knockout perhaps was influenced in a small way by needing to use the hard tyres given his Mercedes struggled to warm them up over one lap, but really it was all to do with traffic management on his preparation lap.

The Briton was caught in a gaggle of cars all looking for space and lost out in the last corner. His final lap was over before it really started.

Carlos Sainz, meanwhile was a victim of a super-close midfield battle to get into Q3.

Nico Hülkenberg has been rapid in qualifying all year and took up one of the top-10 places. Alfa Romeo was enjoying an unusually competitive weekend — and on all tyre compounds and got both cars into Q3.

Anything less than perfect from Sainz and Ferrari was never going to cut it.

Really what this qualifying hour proved was what we already knew: that disrupted practice — read: less practice — gives teams less time to perfect their cars, leading to less predictable results.

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