Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2023

Ferrari emerge as Red Bull’s closest rival but new tyre rule clouds the picture

2023 Hungarian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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When the so-called ‘Alternative Tyre Allocation’ format was first announced well over a year ago, it was emphasised again and again that environmental sustainability was the driving force behind it – not any attempt to shake up ‘the show’.

And yet, while there’s no reason to doubt this was the intention, it seems that fans have the ATA to thank for leaving them more in the dark about how the 10 teams are positioned at the end of the first day of running than they are for a typical race weekend.

Usually, each driver has the luxury of 13 sets of slick tyres available – eight of the designated soft compound, three of the mediums and just two of the hardest compound for that weekend. But in Hungary, they only have half the usual number of softs with extra sets of the two harder tyres to make up for it.

This weekend’s test of the ATA was slightly compromised by a sudden and heavy rain shower just minutes into the opening session of the day. While some drivers did benefit from getting laps in on intermediate tyres near the end of the session, first practice was, ultimately, largely meaningless. Except for Sergio Perez, who threw his Red Bull off the road and into the barriers on his first flying lap of the day, giving his mechanics a problem to solve before the second session and heaping more pressure on himself in the process.

Despite new rule, almost as many laps were covered as last year
Therefore, the second hour of practice was the only representative running teams had all day – and even that did not offer an image that was truly reflective of the field’s standing.

For a start, many big names were well outside the top ten at the chequered flag. Namely the two Red Bulls drivers – Max Verstappen and Perez – and the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. Of that formidable quartet, Verstappen only used softs and the Mercedes drivers confined their running to the medium compound.

Verstappen and Hamilton were quick to offer negative feedback about the ATA, with both champions bemoaning the limited running they had done in an effort to save their tyres. But while Hamilton suggested that the new format meant fans missed out on enjoying the same amount of running they otherwise would have seen, the numbers don’t quite seem to back that up. In 2022, the field combined for 557 total laps in Friday’s second practice session. This time, they logged a total of 531 laps – just under 5% less.

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Lando Norris, McLaren, Hungaroring, 2023
McLaren look in good shape again
But as McLaren’s Lando Norris pointed out, teams were likely making up for the lack of dry running from the opening session in the second hour of the day. “I think we were lucky it rained,” Norris said. “Otherwise pretty much no one would have done anything in P1.”

At the end of that hour, Charles Leclerc put Ferrari on the top of the times, just as they had been on Friday at the Hungaroring a year ago. But Leclerc was only a matter of milliseconds quicker than Norris’s McLaren after the pair both set their best laps of the day on the soft compound, with Leclerc admitting he expected Red Bull to be the “strongest team” heading into Saturday.

“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 allocation. Everybody’s trying different things, but it’s nice, because I think we will go into qualifying not really knowing where we are.”

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Hungaroring, 2023
Gallery: 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix practice in pictures
After McLaren’s major upgrades package thrust them into the fight for the win at Silverstone, the team’s drivers had been cautious about their prospects around a low-downforce circuit like the Hungaroring. But despite finishing the day down in 19th after suffering minor floor damage when running wide at turn 11, Oscar Piastri was left in an optimistic mood by how McLaren had performed in second practice.

“We looked pretty good,” Piastri said. “Our pace looked promising and I think the runs and the laps I actually did seemed very comparable. So I think we’re in a good place.”

But while McLaren were feeling positive, Hamilton was anything but. The Mercedes pair only used a single set of mediums during the day and Hamilton ended the second session down in 16th position, while team mate George Russell ranked at the very bottom.

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Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2023
Mercedes may not be as far off as Hamilton suggested
Hamilton claimed his W14 “wasn’t feeling good at all,” through the session and that his afternoon put him in mind of the frustrating weekends Mercedes endured throughout 2022, where they would often be down the order on Fridays only to be running in the top five on race days. However Hamilton’s comments echo those from the last Friday at Silverstone – a race weekend that saw him ultimately race to the final podium position in third.

Even with the caveat that many of the usual front-runners were being conservative with their tyres, the field was exceptionally close. Just over eight tenths of a second covered the fastest times of the quickest 15 drivers in the second session, with the likes of Yuki Tsunoda in the AlphaTauri going quicker than all of his team’s rivals towards the rear of the championship. Norris expects that level of parity to carry through into Saturday, which will only turn up the pressure even higher on drivers during qualifying.

“If we make one mistake, if a lap gets deleted, it can very easily go from looking good to looking extremely bad on a track which is not easy to overtake on,” Norris explained. “So tomorrow is going to be all about not making mistakes, putting laps together, not getting caught out or getting traffic and things like that.”

Report: Red Bull reveals RB19’s performance upgrades for Hungarian Grand Prix
With so many of the major players yet to show their hands when it comes to their ultimate pace, it’s even more difficult than normal to predict how qualifying could play out. For Perez, looking for his first Q3 appearance since the Miami Grand Prix back in early May, it will be a nervous afternoon where any error will likely be punished – with his shunt in first practice only adding more pressure onto him.

But while there’s little reason to suspect that Verstappen will not be the driver to beat in the battle for pole position, Ferrari will be hoping that fate will again select them to be Red Bull’s closest rivals on the grid as the honour of being the nearest adversaries to the world champions continues to change with every round. All Leclerc and team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr can do is hope things fall their way.

“I think the first two rows is where we target to be as a team,” said Sainz. “But at the same time, with McLaren there, with Aston and Mercedes – and obviously Red Bull normally occupying the front row – it’s going to be a tough ask. But I think if we put everything together, we should be capable.”

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Combined practice times

PositionNumberDriverTeamFP1 timeFP2 timeGapLaps
116Charles LeclercFerrari1’41.1421’17.68631
24Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’40.2771’17.7010.01543
310Pierre GaslyAlpine-RenaultNo time1’17.9180.23229
422Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’45.5751’17.9340.24838
531Esteban OconAlpine-RenaultNo time1’18.0450.35934
627Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’42.7061’18.0580.37241
777Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’41.0321’18.0850.39943
814Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’40.6871’18.1050.41940
924Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’41.3631’18.1080.42240
1055Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariNo time1’18.1820.49626
111Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPTNo time1’18.2790.59322
1218Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’40.0131’18.3190.63343
1323Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’47.4031’18.3770.69142
143Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTNo time1’18.3850.69937
1520Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’42.9061’18.5040.81841
1644Lewis HamiltonMercedesNo time1’18.7461.06031
172Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’41.4161’18.8361.15045
1811Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPTNo time1’18.9781.29216
1981Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’39.1541’19.1171.43132
2063George RussellMercedes1’38.7951’19.1751.48936

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Teams’ progress vs 2022

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2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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