10 things we learned from the 2023 F1 Hungarian Grand Prix
Max Verstappen scored his seventh win in succession in Hungary while taking Red Bull to a record-breaking 12th on the spin. It was another reminder that the opposition has work to do, even after Lewis Hamilton ended its run of pole positions with his first since 2021. As McLaren again proved to be Red Bull's closest challengers and Daniel Ricciardo returned, here's what we learned
For the first time since 2016 and not counting the pandemic-disrupted 2020 season, Budapest is not Formula 1’s last venue before the summer break, with the upcoming trip to Spa set to do that shortly this year.
But there were familiar feelings elsewhere, as the narrow, lower-speed Hungarian track produced another dull race, with Max Verstappen dominating for Red Bull up front. That combo did at least provide a small but very noteworthy subplot for the season, as well as another chapter in the Dutchman’s battle with Lewis Hamilton. Plus, there was Sergio Perez needing yet another race recovery charge, yet more misery at Ferrari and Alpine, and further joy for McLaren.
Here we present the pick of what we learned from F1's 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix.
1. Red Bull now occupies a unique place in F1 history, with another coming up fast
Red Bull is the first constructor to win 12 consecutive races, breaking McLaren's record that had stood since 1988
Photo by: Red Bull Racing
Verstappen’s Hungaroring victory might’ve lacked the grand slam clean sweeps he secured in Austria and Silverstone thanks to Hamilton’s Q3 magic and the Dutchman’s own slight underperformance there, but it nevertheless propelled him to a swelled 110-point lead over Sergio Perez.
That alone is hardly surprising given how crushingly dominant the Dutchman has been this year – with only F1’s expanded modern calendar meaning he could not win the world title in a season’s 11th race as Michael Schumacher did 21 years ago. F1 is searching for additional narratives to keep things interesting, but Red Bull is actually helping do that in its own small way around its much bigger position as the championship’s leading squad.
This is because it keeps racking up milestones and in Hungary broke McLaren’s 35-year-old record of most consecutive wins – Red Bull is now on 12 straight when adding Verstappen’s 2022 Abu Dhabi triumph to its 11 2023 wins. Without George Russell’s Brazil victory last year, the team would be on 22… It can take the single-season consecutive wins record from McLaren with a 12th straight 2023 victory at Spa this weekend.
2. The Hungarian GP trophy costs $45,000
Norris broke Verstappen's trophy when spraying champagne on the podium
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Red Bull is going to have to get the superglue out at its Milton Keynes factory today, with an unexpected repair required. The surgery needs to be done on Verstappen’s first-place trophy, which had its top and base snap off after falling from the top step of the podium.
It fell after second-place finisher Norris smashed his champagne bottle onto the podium next to the trophy as part of the celebration signature he has employed since his junior racing days. The impact sent his bubbles soaring but also knocked off Verstappen’s handmade Herendi Porcelanmanufaktura Zrt trophy, which costs $45,000 and takes six months to finish.
“Max just placed it too close to the edge,” Norris cheekily said afterwards. “It fell over, I guess. Not my problem. It’s his!”
Cue lots of delightful social media clips and little outrage from Red Bull, which also had Perez’s third-place trophy in Austria lightly damaged when it was knocked over as the team gathered to take its post-race victory photo. Autosport spied new Red Bull marketer-in-chief Oliver Mintzlaff helping to gather the loose piece of trophy from the paddock floor.
3. McLaren still isn’t getting carried away despite two excellent races on different track types
Norris has finished P2 in the last two races, but McLaren is not getting ahead of itself
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
McLaren had stunned the teams typically scrapping behind Red Bull in 2023 – Ferrari, Aston Martin and Mercedes – with its big recent development package turning into Silverstone silverware, but it was predicted to fall back in Hungary. This was thanks to this track’s lower average speed, which isn’t Monaco slow, but still features several long low-speed corners and little chance to accelerate through the many twists of Budapest’s second sector.
But the team compounded expectations with third and fourth in qualifying and then ran second and third after Norris and team-mate Oscar Piastri swamped Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap. The Briton eventually beat Piastri after a stunning first-stop out-lap meant he undercut ahead.
F1 now heads to Spa, which features more of the high-speed stuff the MCL60 prefers, but McLaren team principal Andrea Stella isn’t getting away about its chances of taking a third straight positive result there, following its early 2023 struggles.
“Even if Spa is normally mentioned as one of the high-speed tracks, in reality, the highest-speed corner, which is corner 10 [Pouhon] is [only] flat in qualifying,” Stella explained after the Hungary race.
“There's a lot of lap time in [La Source] which is [50mph], in [Les Combes] which is [60mph] and in the last chicane, which is [55mph]. So, I don't want to repeat myself, but I go with some care because in these three corners, at the moment, we see that we lose time. So, I think that's where we are.
“It will be also a sprint event. So, in addition to the outright performance, it will be important how rapidly you adapt your car to the demand of the track.”
4. Verstappen and Hamilton can keep it clean after all
Verstappen and Hamilton were close into Turn 1 but there was no contact
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
After Hamilton had taken a shock pole for Mercedes, expectations were raised of another bruising chapter in his ongoing late career battle with Verstappen. They might not have been fighting for a title this time, but their coming together in Brazil last year showed the ferocity had dimmed little even with Verstappen having won his second championship in Japan three races earlier.
There the Dutchman forced the issue and came off worse, but in Hungary, there were no fireworks. Hamilton was effectively snookered when second start phase wheelspin meant Verstappen got quickly alongside and he braked later than the Briton at Turn 1 to get his wheels ahead by the apex.
Verstappen then didn’t force Hamilton wide as he might’ve done, with the Mercedes driver remembering his team had told him “I would be at least five-tenths slower [per lap] than the Red Bull, so the fight was not with Max” and so he didn’t squeeze back as strongly as he too might’ve done.
It was pleasing to see two F1 greats go cleanly wheel-to-wheel – there was no contact as some suggested – and a reminder of the battle they may still have if Mercedes can one day close the gap to Red Bull. That’s assuming Hamilton sticks around, as another race came and went with no mention of his expected new contract being signed…
5. Perez’s latest charge was exciting, but still underwhelming overall
Perez may have featured on the podium but his performance was still underwhelming
Photo by: Red Bull Racing
Perez snapped his ‘normal’ Q3 miss streak in Hungary, but still only qualified ninth after he’d struggled in progressing through the compounds under the Alternative Tyre Allocation experiment and messed up in sector one on his final flier. In the race, he battled his way nicely back to the podium and received the ‘driver of the day’ vote on F1’s official channels.
But his result still represented an underperformance – in that the RB19 shouldn’t be qualifying anywhere but the top positions and that Norris’s second place was there for the taking with better race execution.
In pure race time, it was costly for Perez in shipping eight seconds to Norris by taking six laps to pass Alonso after jumping Bottas and Hulkenberg at the start, then he was further delayed failing to pass the slower Hamilton just past half distance. That led to his short stint two, with his tyres fading late on, and a final gap to Norris of 3.9s.
6. Ferrari’s strategy shambles remain, made worse by radio issues
Leclerc and Sainz appeared to be calling the strategy from the cockpit at times in Hungary
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
The 2022 Hungarian GP is remembered for best encapsulating Ferrari’s regular strategy shambles last year. This time around, the red team again employed some baffling calls – such as having Carlos Sainz run behind Charles Leclerc early on when he might’ve been able to use his starting softs to attack Hamilton ahead.
Later, after a wheelgun issue led to a near-10-second Leclerc stop and ruined his race, he was given undercut priority to Sainz ahead for the final stops and would’ve finished in front of the Spaniard and Russell were it not for his 5s time addition for speeding 0.4mph over the pit lane limit.
Just before this, Leclerc had had a clipped and highly-charged exchange with engineer Xavier Marcos Padros broadcast. Explaining this afterwards, the Monegasque driver revealed Ferrari had also been suffering a radio problem in Hungary, which has apparently featured at several races so far in 2023.
“The problem is that we have also lots of problems with the radio," Leclerc said. "And one out of four words is not understood by my engineer, because there's just problems with our radios in three, four races.
”We need to fix that. And obviously, my tone of voice is quite high because I need to make myself heard. But I just wanted to make sure that they didn't understand me wrong, and that I want you to go aggressive early, and not aggressive late. So it was just about clarifying because of our radio issues.”
7. Ricciardo’s return is off to a strong start
Ricciardo outqualified and outraced Tsunoda on his F1 return debut
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
It all looked like Daniel Ricciardo’s much-anticipated F1 return in place of Nyck de Vries would end in a low-key lap one retirement – the Australian innocently caught up in the Turn 1 crash triggered by Zhou Guanyu braking too late in his Alfa Romeo and sending Ricciardo into Esteban Ocon.
But Ricciardo railed. Initially, his efforts from well adrift at the back with an apparently undamaged car meant he got trapped in traffic, but when AlphaTauri opted to shorten his middle stint on the hards he was able to press on in free air and complete a remarkable 41-laps on the mediums.
It wasn’t just the time he spent on the softer rubber, it was his pace too, as he drove away from Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg to the flag. It didn’t result in points, but it was a positive start to life back in F1, which also meant beating new team-mate Yuki Tsunoda.
“I think if we stayed ahead, and let's say held position at the start, I believe we could have really fought for a points finish today,” Ricciardo concluded.
8. Alpine is swimming against a tide of misfortune
Both Gasly and Ocon were out of the Hungarian GP after one corner after Zhou triggered a chain reaction collision
Photo by: Alpine
For the third time in 2023, Alpine registered a double retirement with its latest misfortune coming at the first corner in Hungary. Yes, Pierre Gasly was officially classified in Silverstone but he was out late on after his clash with Lance Stroll, as was the case with he and Ocon ending up in the Melbourne wall back in April.
Lowly grid spots always leave drivers vulnerable to mid-pack incidents, but this was all set off by Zhou having a shocking start from ahead of the Alpine pair. Zhou reported his initial problem in the car as a clutch issue that Alfa later claimed was really a brake software one. Then he outbraked himself at Turn 1 having fallen far from his fifth-place starting spot and his Ricciardo tap sent Ocon climbing over Gasly – attacking nicely in the other Alpine on the outside.
Ocon’s crash back down to earth broke his seat into two pieces and, although he tried on for another lap, he retired with rear suspension damage. Gasly’s car was already back in pits – in Ocon’s side of the garage – as the Frenchman’s floor damage was too severe to keep going on lap one.
“Right now, it’s a bitter feeling for all of us,” said Alpine team boss Otmar Szafnauer, with Alpine now 40 points adrift of McLaren in the constructors’ championship. “A tough one to take, but we must keep our heads down and bounce back.”
9. F1’s qualifying tyre experiment paid off on Saturday, but questions remain elsewhere
Qualifying provided thrills on Saturday with Hamilton taking pole
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
F1’s Alternative Tyre Allocation experiment was a big discussion point over the weekend as it finally got going after the first Imola trial was canned along with the rest of that event in its cancellation back in the spring.
The rules requiring the drivers to run hards in Q1, mediums for Q2 and softs for Q3 did seem to have an impact in that it made it harder for the racers to negotiate the differing feel the various compound steps provide and deliver their best laps when required – with Sainz missing Q3 by 0.002s and Perez starting ninth. Even Verstappen struggled, although this was more down to Red Bull opting to give him a set-up that worked better in race conditions.
The impact in the race was hard to spot for the frontrunners, but four drivers with new softs available opted to take them for the start. For Sainz and Tsunoda in particular this seemed to pay off nicely as they made gains on the drag out of the first corner.
Yet the change earned the ire of many drivers, who felt they ran less in practice on Friday – although this issue was conflated with the wet FP1 session reducing laps and the ATA meaning they then spent less time getting used to how the rubber performed compared to usual elsewhere in practice. There was also a suggestion wet tyres are getting wasted when it doesn’t rain – highlighted given the ATA’s main aim is to reduce tyre freight needs. But Pirelli rebuffed this.
There is another ATA experiment to come at Monza to assess if it will be used more regularly or even become the norm in 2024, so expect a similar debate to come up again just after the summer break.
10. F1 might be heading back to engine equalisation status not seen since the late 2000s
Teams are set to discuss the possibility of equalising engine performance
Photo by: Erik Junius
The paddock is heading for an intriguing Belgian GP based on the news discovered at Budapest regarding a topic that has been added to the agenda for the upcoming F1 Commission meeting at Spa.
This is that the teams will discuss the possibility of equalising engine performance – a move stemming from Alpine’s concern that its Renault engine is thought to be 20-33hp down on its competitors and with no chance to catch up before 2026.
Engine development is frozen until then, with only changes allowed on reliability, safety or cost-saving grounds – around other small changes that make little meaningful performance difference. But the FIA is understood to now feel performance gaps have emerged between engine builders despite the freeze being in effect since 2022 considering those allowances. Therefore, a discussion will take place regarding the possibility of intervening to help Renault close up.
F1 has been here before – also when Renault’s power fell behind after the 2007 engine freeze as rivals found gains in a retuning process allowed by the rules and the FIA later conducted a 2009 investigation that ultimately went nowhere. Just after this, Renault made performance gains in the exhaust-blowing software it developed for Red Bull, which helped it close its overall power deficit.
But this could be a big 2023 and future competition topic given an equalisation move might hand another squad a big boost or handicap and rather goes against F1’s meritocracy ethos.
Any move to equalise engines is fraught with difficulties
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
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