‘I doubt they know where that came from’: Alfa Romeo stun with third-row start

Lap time watch: 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Alfa Romeo enjoyed by far their best qualifying performance of the season so far at the Hungaroring.

Zhou Guanyu, who hadn’t qualified inside the top 10 all year until this weekend, claimed fifth on the grid for today’s race. Valtteri Bottas will start just two places behind him, indicating the result was no fluke, as their lap times were separated by less than a tenth of a second.

As a result the highest Ferrari-powered car on the grid is not one of their works cars but Zhou – a former Ferrari Driver Academy member. He pipped Charles Leclerc by just two-hundredths of a second. Afterwards Leclerc admitted that when Ferrari showed him their estimate of Alfa Romeo’s pace following Friday practice he didn’t believe it.

Alfa Romeo is the latest team to surprise with their performance. At the last round at Silverstone it was McLaren, who claimed second and third on the grid and likely would have repeated the result in the race had Oscar Piastri not got unlucky with the timing of a Safety Car period.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes the volatility in the teams’ performances is a result of the current technical regulations and the difficulty of mastering the current generation of ground effect cars. “I think there’s certainly a part of these ground effect cars being an enigma,” he said.

George Russell, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2023
Gallery: 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying day in pictures
“Performances seem to come and go for all the teams. Congratulations to Alfa, they are fifth and seventh on the grid today, I don’t think they pretty much understand where that came from.”

Along with the dominant championship leaders, Wolff suspects only one other team have solved the mysteries of the latest generation of cars.

“Red Bull seem the only one who has really unlocked it and understanding what happens. Maybe McLaren now. But this is not something you can reverse-engineer, this is something you’ve just got to work out and come to the right conclusion.”

Wolff at least had a reason to be cheerful as one of his cars will start from pole position, as was the case last year. The team has found over three-quarters of a second at the Hungaroring in the meantime, but all bar two of their rivals have found more. And three teams – Alpine, AlphaTauri and Williams – would like have been able to show better pace had they been able to run on soft tyres in qualifying. The latter only used the hards, exaggerating their deficit to their rivals in the graphs below.

While Alfa Romeo might have been the surprise of qualifying, three of their rivals have improved their pace more at this circuit compared to last year. First among those are Aston Martin, despite Fernando Alonso’s suspicions that the new tyres introduced at the last race have blunted their competitiveness. Haas and AlphaTauri have also made greater gains.

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Teams’ performance

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Field performance

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2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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