Daniel Ricciardo’s return set the paddock abuzz as the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend began, then Lewis Hamilton’s shock pole position thrilled the crowd.
Encouraged by a dinner with some of the women of the paddock on Wednesday, I was excited to get the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend underway. With temperatures set to soar, I hoped the racing would be exciting as I arrived at one of my favourite circuits on the calendar.
The big news of the day was Daniel Ricciardo’s return to the grid after replacing Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri and that was my first trip of the day. Walking into the Red Bull motorhome early doors to get a good seat, journalists started filtering in waiting to ask a question to the man of the moment.
Squeezing himself through a gap to find his seat, Ricciardo placed himself down directly in front of me and looked around. “Wow, what will you guys do if I win a world championship?” he joked.
Sergio Perez was up next. I was surprised how few journalists had come to the session considering the obvious implications Ricciardo’s return has for his Red Bull future. Cagey as always, Perez looked calm and collected as he fielded our questions.
We finished the day at McLaren to speak to Lando Norris after his impressive weekend at Silverstone. Playing down his chances of another podium appearance, it’s clear the team is still insistent on manage expectations among the media despite their recent breakthrough. It feels like they have unlocked something but are still keen to keep their cards close to their chest.
After media day was over I walked back to the car park and jumped into the hire car to get back into the city. On my way I noticed a red Ferrari in my mirrors. Stopping at the traffic lights I realised it was Carlos Sainz Jnr driving his trainer Rupert back to their hotel.
Suddenly panicking about my driving, I spent 10 minutes being followed by the Ferrari driver before he eventually zoomed past me at Heroes’ Square and I was finally able to breathe. I felt like I was on my driving test again.
Packing my umbrella for the predicted rain I couldn’t wait to go trackside during first practice. Unfortunately, the rain proved so intense the cars hid in the garages for a prolonged period and I was left trackside in the pouring rain with nothing to contemplate besides the strange collection of dead animals close to turn two.
Second practice went better and I was able to walk all the way from turn 13 to turn six. Overlooking the chicane at turns five and six I was shocked at how close the cars get to the barrier. I could feel the wind from the car as they shot past me, spending a while analysing how Ricciardo was faring compared to the rest, as he took a much wider line on the kerbs than his former team mate (perhaps future team mate?) Max Verstappen.
After practice, we made a mad dash to the car getting drenched in the process before a meal put on by the United States Grand Prix promoter in the evening. Budapest is one of the most sociable races as we all stay in the city centre which makes dinners out with others incredibly easy.
The sun returned on Saturday morning and the countryside sparkled on my relatively short drive into the circuit. Like Austria a few weekends ago, Budapest promoters and organisers have nailed their traffic system. Walking through the turnstiles I made my way to McLaren for their brunch. Stopping briefly to say hello to Andrea Stella, I continued on my quest to find some food. After an encouraging third practice session I was excited to see what qualifying would hold for us later that day.Fernando Alonso who, unusually, was on his own. He flashed me a big smile and said hello before dashing out of the hospitality and into the garages. I will never get used to F1 drivers taking time out of their day to say hello.
As the first drivers were knocked out of qualifying I headed down to the new and improved media pen. F1 and the FIA have worked incredibly hard to find the written press shade during hot race weekends whilst also finding better solutions than the uncomfortable scrum at the end of sessions.
Whilst interviewing an unimpressed George Russell, who had been knocked out during Q1, a loud roar came from the crowd as Verstappen grabbed provisional pole position. Russell made his excuses and dashed off to watch the end of the session.
Moments later his team mate beat Verstappen by a mere three-thousandths of a second, ending Verstappen’s run of poles. Cheers erupted around the Hungaroring as the Red Bull stranglehold had been broken – in qualifying, at least.
Driving in early to hear from the team’s technical bosses before the race I was surprised at how many nationalities were around us. We saw cars from the Czech Republic, Bosnia, Poland, Germany, Ukraine, Slovakia and, of course, the Netherlands. It really hit home how popular this Grand Prix is and how widespread F1’s audience is.
We parked up and walked towards the circuit to Formula 3 cars already zipping around the track. We made our way past the allocated slots for the drivers’ cars noting no one had turned up yet before heading into the paddock. Temperatures were already soaring as track temperatures were already reaching 35 degrees as crowds began pouring in.
I stopped for lunch at Aston Martin before quickly popping into McLaren to wish the communication team good luck for the race. Lando Norris had qualified third for the race and was hoping for his second podium of the year.
As I walked in I immediately spotted him standing at the end of a long table. Stopping briefly I congratulated him for his performance and asked if he felt he could get past Verstappen into turn one. “I can get past Max,” he responded without a hint of irony. “No way I’m getting past Lewis.”
Making my way out to the paddock I rested my arms on the barriers taking in the buzz before I felt an arm on my back. Spinning round I saw Toto Wolff coming out of McLaren. “Chats, chats, chats,” came his response when asked what he’d been doing. “Wolff to McLaren. I’m writing it up as we speak,” I joked back.
For what promised to be an exciting race, it was basically all over when Verstappen squeezed past Hamilton at turn one. Norris – against his pre-race prediction – did the same at turn two. But from then on another Verstappen win never looked in doubt and it was very much business as usual.
Standing in the pen the drivers began filtering through with most grumbling about tyre wear or specific niggles they were finding on track. Ricciardo however had a massive smile on his face despite being hit from behind at the first corner and only finishing 13th. “I’m happy,” he stated as heading over to speak to the media.
Leaving Budapest Monday after lunch in the centre of town, I spotted the actor Eddie Redmayne walk past us. Joining Brad Pitt at APX, I wondered?
2023 Hungarian Grand Prix
- Was F1’s Alternative Tyre Allocation test successful? Drivers and teams have their say
- How far can McLaren climb with car rivals now say is the second-fastest in F1?
- Why Ricciardo says McLaren’s car “speaks Lando’s language” – but Norris disagrees
- Mercedes reveal cooling error behind loss of pace in Hungarian GP
- Perez answered critics in Hungary but needs to qualify better – Horner