Before the cars could even get out on track at the Hungaroring, there was already a barrage of unanswered questions heading into the weekend. Will Ricciardo beat Tsunoda? Can anyone stop Red Bull? Can Checo end his bad qualifying run? Could this new qualifying format shake up the grid?
A new qualifying format
The biggest change heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix was the new qualifying format that was set to originally be trialled in Imola, this new configuration would see all drivers use the hard tyres in Q1, the medium tyres in Q2, and the soft tyres in Q3. This was introduced in a bid to increase the sustainability of the sport by cutting down the number of tyres hauled around the world over the course of a season. In all honesty, I didn’t place much value on this format having a significant impact on the qualifying results, but as we saw on Saturday this helped to create one of the most exciting qualifying sessions of the year so far.
Although this new format was enjoyable for those watching, a majority of the drivers have echoed that this idea is “not really a great format” as it limits the “tyres that you can use”, resulting in limited running over the course of the practice sessions. Whilst no confirmation has been issued over whether this format will remain, it did give us a qualifying session that was out of the ordinary to say the least. We witnessed a Mercedes out in Q1, a Ferrari out in Q2, both Alfa Romeo’s making it into Q3, and the biggest surprise of all, Hamilton claiming his 104th pole position.
The qualifying session on Saturday set the world of F1 abuzz as it entertained the prospect of someone other than Verstappen being in legitimate contention for a race win however, Hamilton’s pole was caveated with a dose of realism. Despite the surprise pole, no one was under the illusion that the field had now suddenly closed up.
Red Bull’s record-breaking run
By the time Sunday rolled around, Red Bull’s pace had very much returned and they went on to break the record of the most consecutive wins, succeeding McLaren’s long-standing 1988 record of 11 consecutive wins. After the race, Toto Wolff was quick to remark that the Red Bulls looked like an F1 car amongst a “bunch of F2 cars”, this may have been an exaggerated expression following a somewhat disappointing race for Mercedes, considering Hamilton started on pole, but it does emphasise the extreme advantage that Red Bull has on any given track.
Is Ricciardo back?
Perhaps the biggest story heading into Hungary was the return of Daniel Ricciardo. The abrupt announcement lead to many questions surrounding the form that the Australian driver would be in, given that he’s been out of a seat for 7 months and his previous F1 stint didn’t go exactly to plan. Many expected that he would take a few races to get up to speed and begin to challenge Tsunoda, who is now in his third year at Alpha Tauri. But to everyone’s surprise, Ricciardo was on the pace immediately and managed to outqualify his teammate and finish ahead of him in the race, despite the Alpine/Alfa Romeo melee on lap 1 that saw him initially drop to plumb last.
Ricciardo’s potential return to a Red Bull seat was a main point of discussion across the weekend, with Tsunoda even acknowledging that “the slower guy won’t make it to Red Bull”. It’s too early to confirm if any permanent changes will be made to Red Bull’s lineup before Checo’s contract runs out at the end of 2024, but if he continues to outperform his teammate, one thing’s for certain, the speculation will continue to grow.
Mixed up midfield
As previously mentioned, the new qualifying format allowed for a relatively randomised grid on Sunday, amongst some of the biggest top ten shocks were both Alfa Romeo’s making it into Q3 to score a P5 and P7 grid start. We also saw Perez finally make it into Q3, albeit in P9, barely outqualifying the Haas of Niko Hulkenberg. McLaren’s impressive upgrade looks to have translated beyond the previous high-speed circuits that suited their car, as they’ve remained at the sharp end of the grid across such varied tracks that it’s looking more and more plausible that McLaren is officially back.
In what looks to be a remarkable role reversal Aston Martin have dramatically dropped down the grid from their successful start to the season that saw them achieve podiums galore. Despite hopes that the Hungaroring would “suit the AMR23”, the drivers could only climb to P9 and P10 respectively, seemingly being knocked out of the top 3 teams in place of McLaren who have obtained back to back podiums.
That pretty much sums up the Hungarian Grand Prix, the race definitely did not live up to the potential of the qualifying results as once the lights went out, Verstappen took the lead at turn 1, the Alpine’s had another disastrous double DNF, and Russell and Checo both made a comeback drives to secure P6 and P3.
We now look to Spa as the final race before the summer break, could Spa save the season and provide the best race so far? Will the sprint qualifying hold any surprises in store?
Who knows, we’ll just have to wait and see.