Qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix was a thrilling affair as Lando Norris threatened to go one better than last time out at Silverstone and take pole position, before Lewis Hamilton stormed through to grab his first pole of the year ahead of Max Verstappen. But now it’s all eyes on race day – so here’s what to look out for when the lights go out at the Hungaroring…
1. Hamilton vs Verstappen into Turn 1
The 2021 season saw a brutal, no-holds-barred fight for the championship between Hamilton and Verstappen, with neither willing to give an inch in their battle for the crown.
Ultimately Verstappen came out on top – just – but then Mercedes got their car concept wrong, and in 2022 Hamilton simply didn’t have the machinery to mount a serious challenge to his young rival.
Indeed – Hamilton hasn’t tasted victory since that 2021 season, and he hadn’t taken pole either, until he stunned the field to knock Verstappen off top spot and claim P1 at the Hungaroring on Saturday.
It remains to be seen whether his W14 will have the pace to keep Verstappen’s Red Bull at bay in race conditions, but one thing we know about these two from their previous clashes is that neither will give an inch when it comes to racing each other for position.
Even if Hamilton doesn’t have the speed to fend off his Dutch rival for the entire race distance, you can’t imagine him being anything other than clinically uncompromising into the first corner – and the same can be expected from Verstappen. The run down to Turn 1 is going to be unmissable…
2023 Hungarian GP Qualifying: Lewis Hamilton crosses the line to seal a sensational pole position at the Hungaroring
2. Resurgent McLaren lurking on Row 2
So it’s Hamilton and Verstappen in P1 and P2, but just behind them McLaren have locked out the second row with Lando Norris two tenths quicker than his rookie team mate Oscar Piastri.
It’s a superb effort for a team that were nowhere at the start of the season – and who embarked on a major redesign of their car once it became clear they’d got their concept wrong.
The upgrades they brought to Austria and Silverstone gave them a major boost up the order, and though they didn’t expect to be as competitive this weekend in Hungary, qualifying proved Norris’ podium last time out at Silverstone was no fluke – and they will be aiming for another trip to the rostrum on Sunday.
And with old rivals Verstappen and Hamilton starting side-by-side ahead of them, Norris and Piastri will be ready to pick up the pieces should the battle between the two front-row starters boil over once again.
3. Can Alfa keep up the pace?
But while McLaren’s performance may have been a surprise to plenty in the paddock, Alfa Romeo’s qualifying results were surely the shock of the day at the Hungaroring.
After 10 races in 2023 they sit second bottom in the standings with just nine points, and a much-anticipated upgrade package brought to the last race at Silverstone failed to deliver at that race, as Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu again finished outside the top 10.
But even in Q1 in Budapest there were hints that the upgraded C43 might be better suited to the Hungaroring, with both Bottas and Zhou pumping in quick laps early on.
They eventually both made it through to Q3 with Bottas in P7 and Zhou – who hadn’t made Q3 at all this year – up in a career best qualifying position of P5.
The question is: can they convert their lofty grid slots into points on Sunday?
4. What can Russell do from the back?
While one half of the Mercedes garage was cheering on Saturday afternoon as Hamilton grabbed a shock pole position, the other half we’re left with glum faces as George Russell was knocked out in Q1.
The British driver was incensed after traffic hampered his final flying lap, leaving him P18 on the grid – and team boss Toto Wolff thumping his desk in frustration.
It’s a galling comedown for Russell who was himself on pole at this race last year – especially because he said afterwards he knew there was pace in the W14 to fight for a repeat of his P1 from last season.
The Mercedes has tended to be better on race day than in qualifying this year so he will be hopeful of fighting his way up the order when the lights go out – but the Hungaroring is no Silverstone, and the tight and twisty nature of the track means Russell will have his work cut out pulling off the overtakes he needs to score big this weekend.
2023 Hungarian GP Qualifying: Wolff furious as Russell is knocked out in Q1
5. Ricciardo’s return
Keep an eye out pre-race for Daniel Ricciardo’s smile on the Hungaroring grid.
The Aussie is of course predisposed to wearing a grin (even in the tough times) – but it might be a smidgen wider as he prepares for his first Grand Prix since last November on Sunday.
The Honey Badger won here back in 2014, and though it would be a minor miracle if he pulled off a repeat of that in his first race for AlphaTauri this weekend, his performance in qualifying won’t have gone unnoticed by the Red Bull chiefs as he not only made it through to Q2, but also out-qualified his new team mate Yuki Tsunoda at the first time of asking.
Points would be the icing on the cake for Ricciardo’s racing return – as would one or two of his old trademark ‘lick the stamp and send it’ overtaking moves. Just imagine how wide that smile would be then…