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Hungarian Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo’s comeback, Oscar Piastri, McLaren, Hungaroring, practice analysis

Beware the law of unintended consequences.

Friday practice at the Hungarian Grand Prix had an odd vibe to it. Despite the sudden downpour that washed out first practice, the follow-up session later in the day was unusually sedate when you might otherwise have expected teams to try to make up for lost running.

The reason is a tiny tweak to Pirelli’s tyre allocations that have had a massive unintended knock-on effect to the shape of the weekend.

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In an effort to reduce tyre wastage and generate some strategic variability, Pirelli has reduced the number of tyre sets for each car from 13 to 11.

More importantly, however, the number of soft tyres in that breakdown has halved, from eight down to four.

Further, every driver must hold back a set of hards, mediums and softs for qualifying and reserve another set of hards and mediums for the race.

The result is not too many tyres left to practice with.

Which means several teams and drivers chose not to do much practice at all.

Session leader Charles Leclerc and Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz completed just 20 laps on what is one of the calendar’s shorter circuits.

“In FP2 we were saving tyres for tomorrow, which I’m not a big fan of, because we cannot really run as much as we do on other Fridays, so for the fans maybe we don’t get too much running on Friday,” Sainz said.

Max Verstappen, down in 18th with only 18 laps completed, thought along similar lines.

“With this new format you’re just super limited with the tyres that you can use, and I didn’t want to use them today to at least have a bit more of a better preparation tomorrow,” he explained.

“It’s a bit of a shame. There are so many people around and you basically don’t really run a lot. We’ll have to see what we can do to improve that, because we’re literally just saving tyres, which I think is not the correct thing.”

Lewis Hamilton, who was anchored in 16th after being given just one set of used medium tyres to use for the entire FP2 hour, said Pirelli should come up with other ways to improve its environmental footprint without affecting the fans.

“It’s not really a great format, this change they made for this weekend,” he said. “It just means we get less running, so not ideal.

“There are a lot of wet tyres I think they throw away after every weekend — a lot. Maybe they should look at something like that rather than taking time on track away from the fans.”

Some teams attempted to complete more traditional FP2 run plans, but with so much variation in approaches, it was difficult to draw comparisons between them.

Clearly it’s irritated some drivers, and fans in Budapest might’ve felt let down.

But given Pirelli is trialling the rule also to spice up the strategic outlook, you could argue it’s well on track to achieve that aim.

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FERRARI FASTEST OVER ONE LAP, BUT MCLAREN IS LURKING

Leclerc topping practice isn’t itself unusual, but just nosing ahead of Lando Norris’s McLaren by 0.015 seconds is certainly stranger, particularly given Pierre Gasly was then next in line in third for Alpine.

AlphaTauri, Haas and Alfa Romeo — twice — were all represented in the top 10.

Both Red Bull Racing and both Mercedes drivers were in the bottom half of the time sheet.

The track was fully dry by FP2. Safe to say it wasn’t your usual practice day.

“It’s very difficult to read into today’s free practice,” Leclerc said. “I think it’s something we expected being the first weekend on this format with this tyre allocation, everyone’s trying different things.

“But it’s nice because I think we’ll go into qualifying not really knowing where we are, and I’m sure that’s exciting. But the feeling was pretty good, so this is positive.”

Not that he was expected a Red Bull Racing overhaul.

“They only used one set [of tyres] I think in FP2, so we still expect them to be the strongest team.”

Estimated race-pace gap to Red Bull Racing

McLaren: +0.130

Mercedes: +0.130

Ferrari: +0.140

Aston Martin: +0.300

Alpine: +0.360

Haas: +0.0620

Williams: +0.730

Alfa Romeo: +0.760

AlphaTauri: +0.920

The above numbers, compiled by F1, are a huge boost of confidence for McLaren, which has been careful to keep expectations in check this weekend given the Hungaroring’s slower corners aren’t expected to suit its car.

“We looked pretty good,” Oscar Piastri said. “I was pretty happy with the first run, the long run at the end … the pace looked promising.

“Today’s been very encouraging and probably a bit more encouraging than we first thought.”

Piastri ended the day 19th thanks to some floor damage curtailing his session, but the Aussie thought the tweaked qualifying format — with hards mandated for Q1, mediums for Q2 and softs for Q3 — could play to McLaren’s advantage.

“There are a few more curveballs for everybody,” he said. “I think generally we’ve been quite good at getting things right when we’re in tricky situations, and I think there could be some tricky situations in qualifying.

“I think we can try and aim for a good result.”

A big result here — especially as good as a podium — would be an almost unimaginable tick of approval for McLaren’s recovery.

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DAN’S BANKABLE FIRST DAY

Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed a productive first day behind the wheel at AlphaTauri, even if the Australian admitted he still had some work to do to get the most from himself and the car from qualifying — though that’s hardly surprising given the circumstances.

Telemetry reveals a clear trend of Ricciardo working himself up towards teammate Yuki Tsunoda’s benchmark, the Japanese driver having burst rapidly from blocks in Hungary.

His disparity to Tsunoda on the soft tyre was 0.451 seconds, but there’s important detail behind the raw figure.

Let’s rewind to the start of the session, when both were on medium tyres.

Ricciardo had successfully built himself up to a competitive time on used mediums, getting to within just 0.049 seconds of Tsunoda.

Lap by lap he was getting more assertive with his inputs and, in particular, more aggressive with the brakes.

It was only when both drivers switched to softs that the gap ballooned, something Ricciardo acknowledged was down to not getting the best of the boost in grip.

“This afternoon I think [we were missing] just a little bit on the new tyre, but nothing really I’m concerned about,” he said.

“Right now I’m quite optimistic. It looked like Yuki as well had a pretty good day. I think if we put all these things together, maybe tomorrow we can do okay.”

There were three key areas Ricciardo failed to make the most of his softs.

The first was on the brakes into the first turn. Ricciardo dropped anchors 12 metres earlier than Tsunoda and suffered a snap of oversteer on exit, adding up to around 0.13 seconds lost.

The run through the second sector, in particular from turns 9 to 11, were also costly, with another little wobble lowering his minimum speed through this high-speed slalom.

He was early on the brakes again into turn 11 and the final corner, which made up the balance of his deficit.

You can happily enough write these off to Ricciardo’s experience deficit with the AlphaTauri car. They’re clear, particular mistakes he can work on ironing out ahead of qualifying.

Of course Tsunoda’s lap won’t have been perfect either, and the Japanese driver will find more time on Saturday too, but the signs are strong that the gap will get much smaller as the weekend continues.

It’s early days — or day, really — but things have started well for Dan.

How did Dan make his way back into F1? | 03:33

SERGIO PÉREZ’S VERY ORDINARY DAY

All eyes were on Ricciardo on Friday at the Hungarian Grand Prix — for about three minutes.

That’s how long it took for Sergio Pérez to remind everyone — the paddock, his team and probably himself — that he’s a driver under pressure.

The Mexican was only two laps into his run program when he spun into the wall at turn 5.

It was a rookie mistake. He’s drifted too far to the left when he hit the brakes for the right-hander, dipping his left wheels on the grass and instantly losing control.

“I cannot believe this,” Pérez said over team radio before admitting to his error.

The front-left corner of his car took the brunt of the impact, as did the floor.

The RB19 is equipped with new brake ducts and a new floor body this weekend. Not only did both require repairs, but the crane job to remove the car from the track exposed the super-sensitive floor to photographers just minutes after it made its track debut.

It’s the second time a Pérez crash has exhibited Red Bull Racing’s floor to the world, having done so after crashing out of Monaco qualifying too.

Given around 60 per cent of a car’s aerodynamic performance stems from the floor in the ground-effect era, that’s no small matter.

The silver lining to the incident for Pérez was that the ensuing red flag lasted long enough that the rain had arrived by the time pit lane reopened. It meant he lost no representative track time in first practice despite the smash.

But the problems continued in FP2, when he committed an enormous lockup on his sole qualifying simulation run.

It not only ruined the lap, but it destroyed the tyres too.

Experimental tyre rules this weekend mean each driver has only four sets of softs. Binning one set so early in the weekend could compromise the rest of his round.

It all amounted to a picture of pressure for Pérez, who’s desperate to reverse his sliding form before the looming mid-season break.

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