July 23, 2023 at 11:22
Max Verstappen has to tolerate another driver in front of him at the start of a Grand Prix for the first time in six races. His old rival Lewis Hamilton took pole in Hungary. Whether the Briton can do anything against the World Cup leader depends mainly on the start.
If Verstappen takes the lead at the start or somewhere in the first few laps, then the Dutchman is normally no longer available for anyone. The race pace that the Red Bull can put on the asphalt is impossible for Hamilton to keep up with in normal conditions, which also applies to the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.
Whether those normal relationships are in force in Budapest is the question. Formula 1 uses a different tire format this weekend, so that the drivers have two sets less at their disposal. The action on track in the free practice sessions was therefore limited, despite the rain in the first practice.
There is normally a pretty good picture of what the teams can do in the race, but on Sunday the drivers are going into the unknown. In addition, the track has become faster and warmer throughout the weekend.
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Norris can lend a hand to Hamilton
Hamilton himself therefore does not know whether he can stay ahead of Verstappen, should the seven-time champion keep the lead at the start. Norris only managed it for a few laps at Silverstone, and no one would be surprised if his compatriot at the Hungaroring suffers the same fate. Norris can help Hamilton (and himself) by also crawling in between. The Red Bull starts haven’t been that good lately, and it’s quite a distance to the first corner.
Behind the quartet starting at the front there are more question marks. The Alfa Romeos are remarkably far up front, with Guanyu Zhou in fifth and Valtteri Bottas starting seventh. The speed has been there all weekend with the Swiss team, also in the training sessions. The question is whether that is really enough to fight with Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari and Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin.
Alonso should be able to work his way forward from eighth, although his Aston Martin seems to be falling behind in the development battle. Leclerc’s fickle Ferrari is once again troubled by wind, excessive temperatures and a further repertoire of causes that thwart its potential. Teammate Carlos Sainz didn’t even make the top ten and starts eleventh. As it gets even hotter in Budapest on Sunday, not too much should be expected from the Scuderia.
Two stopper with medium and hard tyres
Pirelli expects a two-stopper with a start on medium, the second stint on hard and the third on medium or hard. Last year this race was also a two stop, with the same tyres. Pirelli has brought the softest spectrum this year, so last year’s medium is now the hard tyre, and the 2022 soft is the medium.
Back then a two-stopper was doable, so it is normally possible this year as well. Although the temperature is considerably higher. A three-stop with a last short stint on the soft tires is therefore also a small possibility, should the sun really turn the Hungarian asphalt into a baking sheet.
The Hungarian Grand Prix starts at 3 p.m.