Why Wolff believes Mercedes were second-quickest despite Hamilton’s fall to fourth

2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Were Mercedes quick enough to beat McLaren to second place in the Hungarian Grand Prix? Team principal Toto Wolff thought so but Lewis Hamilton wasn’t convinced.

Beating Max Verstappen, who won by over half a minute, was obviously never going to be an option. “The fight’s not with Max,” Hamilton said after the race. Mercedes were “hoping that we could fight the McLarens,” he added, “but the second McLaren was too quick for us also.”

However Wolff believes only the Red Bull was decisively quicker than the Mercedes around the Hungaroring. “I think we had the second quickest car today but the result doesn’t show it,” he said. “You can say in theory we had the second-quickest car, we didn’t monetise on it today.”

“We’ve got to find out how we could have done that better,” said Wolff, noting that George Russell raced from 18th to sixth. “We can see that George came back from a long way down, beating the Aston Martins, beating the Ferraris. So we just need to analyse that.”

2023 Hungarian Grand Prix lap chart

The positions of each driver on every lap. Click name to highlight, right-click to reset. Toggle drivers using controls below:

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2023
Hamilton dropped back after switching to hards
Hamilton’s race clearly went awry when he was beaten off the line by Verstappen, who passed the pole-winner on the run to turn one. But Wolff also suspects Mercedes were “too careful” in how they treated their tyres.

The combination of the steep rise in track temperatures on race day, plus the new Alternative Tyre Allocation which limited how much pre-race running the teams did, left question marks over exactly how well the rubber would perform. Mercedes realised they could have pushed harder on their tyres earlier in the stint.

“I think we were too careful in bringing the [tyres] in,” said Wolff. “I think after the stops we lost a lot of time and it paid off towards the end of the stint because we were miles quicker than everybody else. But it’s always a balance and I believe the balance was a little bit too much in terms of bringing them in.”

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2023 Hungarian Grand Prix lap times

All the lap times by the drivers (in seconds, very slow laps excluded). Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and toggle drivers using the control below:

The top four drivers on the grid all started on the medium tyre compound, switched to hards and returned to mediums. Hamilton was noticeably more cautious on his hard tyres at the beginning of the second stint than Norris ahead of him: The Mercedes driver did two laps in the 1’25s at the start of this stint while Norris lapped in the 1’23s. At this point in the race Hamilton got on the radio and expressed his surprise that the McLaren driver had suddenly drawn nine seconds ahead.

Norris had to pay a price for pushing that hard early on. His hard tyre stint was six laps shorter than Hamilton’s and the Mercedes driver was closing on him by the end of it. Mercedes learned their lesson and Hamilton pushed harder at the start of his last stint on the medium tyres, but it wasn’t enough to catch Norris.

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2023 Hungarian Grand Prix race chart

The gaps between each driver on every lap compared to the leader’s average lap time. Very large gaps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan and right-click to reset. Toggle drivers using controls below:

The Mercedes driver was able to regain a place from the other McLaren of Oscar Piastri, but fell short of catching Sergio Perez by one-and-a-half seconds. Wolff said the team would have been in a stronger position if they had pushed harder sooner.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Hungaroring, 2023
Perez beat Hamilton to the last podium place
“To strike that balance right is really difficult because you can see if you’re hammering them like Lando did or Oscar did or also Checo did then at the end you’re just falling off massively,” he said. “So bringing them in when you can is definitely advantageous but probably we have been too conservative how we brought them in and we lost too much time.”

Perez and Russell both started on the hard tyres and ran long opening stints – 28 laps in the case of the Mercedes driver. That meant they could push on the medium tyre compound until the end of the race.

Russell indicated afterwards that his suggestion to Mercedes they make a third pit stop was serious. However it proved unnecessary as he was easily quick enough to pass Carlos Sainz Jnr’s Ferrari and didn’t need to pass Charles Leclerc on-track as he had a penalty.

The Mercedes drivers started the race with 16 cars between them, but were separated only by Piastri’s McLaren in the final classification. Hamilton was only 5.4s off Norris in second place, so had the team told him to push his tyres harder at the start of his second stint, he might just have taken second place. A better start, of course, would have put him in a much better position.

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2023 Hungarian Grand Prix tyre strategies

The tyre strategies for each driver:

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2023 Hungarian Grand Prix fastest laps

Each driver’s fastest lap:

RankNo.DriverCarLap timeGapAverage speed (kph)Lap no.
11Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’20.504195.9153
244Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’21.6011.097193.2854
363George RussellMercedes1’22.1581.654191.9748
44Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’22.1781.674191.9250
511Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’22.2951.791191.6553
616Charles LeclercFerrari1’22.4691.965191.2450
755Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’22.5842.080190.9854
881Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’22.7362.232190.6345
914Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’22.7452.241190.651
1022Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’23.2692.765189.4168
1118Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’23.4252.921189.0554
122Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’23.4962.992188.8936
1327Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’23.5733.069188.7242
1477Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’23.6513.147188.5442
1524Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’23.7433.239188.3312
1620Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’23.8643.360188.0654
173Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’23.9343.430187.967
1823Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’24.0513.547187.6454
1931Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’41.18120.677155.882
2010Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault2’04.98144.477126.191

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2023 Hungarian Grand Prix pit stop times

How long each driver’s pit stops took:

RankNo.DriverTeamComplete stop time (s)Gap to best (s)Stop no.Lap no.
111Sergio PerezRed Bull20.88242
281Oscar PiastriMcLaren21.1710.291118
322Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri21.1810.301244
455Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari21.4020.522115
51Max VerstappenRed Bull21.4070.527123
64Lando NorrisMcLaren21.430.55244
716Charles LeclercFerrari21.4520.572243
84Lando NorrisMcLaren21.5410.661117
963George RussellMercedes21.6750.795246
101Max VerstappenRed Bull21.680.8251
1144Lewis HamiltonMercedes21.7280.848249
1223Alexander AlbonWilliams21.7620.882231
1311Sergio PerezRed Bull21.8620.982124
1463George RussellMercedes21.8861.006128
1518Lance StrollAston Martin21.911.0319
1627Nico HulkenbergHaas21.9551.075238
173Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri21.9581.078118
1844Lewis HamiltonMercedes21.9741.094116
1981Oscar PiastriMcLaren22.031.15242
2055Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari22.0511.171244
2123Alexander AlbonWilliams22.0761.19618
2277Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo22.1141.23419
2320Kevin MagnussenHaas22.1521.272241
242Logan SargeantWilliams22.1971.317234
253Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri22.2031.323229
2618Lance StrollAston Martin22.4031.523234
2720Kevin MagnussenHaas22.7531.873114
2824Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo22.8531.973238
2914Fernando AlonsoAston Martin22.9162.036120
3027Nico HulkenbergHaas22.9222.042116
3177Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo23.2422.362240
322Logan SargeantWilliams24.0013.121113
3314Fernando AlonsoAston Martin24.1523.272243
3422Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri26.175.2919
3516Charles LeclercFerrari28.4047.524117
3624Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo29.2118.331110

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2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Author information

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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7 comments on “Why Wolff believes Mercedes were second-quickest despite Hamilton’s fall to fourth”

  1. Agree with Wolff, the Mercedes was quicker than the McLaren although was any time lost due to managing the car overheating?

  2. I think it was pretty close between the 2, a matter of managing less at start but you’d also not gain as much in the end.

    What’s worrying is the over half minute gap between norris and verstappen.

    1. Imagine the slaughter in Spa you everyone from RB.

  3. Toto seems to imply that George was faster but Lewis was not.
    “We’ve got to find out how we could have done that better,” said Wolff, noting that George Russell raced from 18th to sixth. “We can see that George came back from a long way down, beating the Aston Martins, beating the Ferraris. So we just need to analyse that.”

  4. The important part is that the Mercedes team analyses this and is able to learn from it (and often be rather open about it). That is what has made them a frontrunner for so long and can enable them to get back to fighting for the trophies.

    1. @bascb I wonder how much is thanks to the H-M-M strategy which might have been the best for the race. Given Lewis start, he might have well have started on the hards and playing the long game but that’s never a strategy before the race. Fully loaded cars chewed through the medium pretty fast until it was time to pit while the hard hold a little better and allowed to be on better tires for the rest of the race. Worked well for Per and Rus at least.

      Recognizing their mistakes is a strength teams need to learn and move up, be it public or not.

    2. What about the “turning the engine down” thing? Wasn’t it supposed to be illegal?

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