Winners and losers from the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying

Oliver Harden
Lewis Hamilton raises his fists in celebration after setting pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2023.

Lewis Hamilton raises his fists in celebration after setting pole position for the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton claimed his record-extending 104th F1 pole position – and his first since December 2021 – in Saturday’s Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying session. 

The Mercedes driver’s lap of 1:16.609 was just 0.003s faster than Max Verstappen’s in the Red Bull, with the title rivals of two years ago set to be reunited at the front of the grid in Budapest on Sunday.

Here’s our pick of the main winners and losers from qualifying…


Lewis Hamilton/Mercedes

With a revised qualifying protocol in place for Hungary, this session was always likely to get better for Mercedes the longer it lasted.

Both Hamilton and team-mate George Russell felt the W14 car had been totally transformed just by switching to soft tyres in practice. But with the softs off limits for everyone until Q3 this weekend, could they stick around long enough to see them? And exactly how far could the red tyres take them?

The clue was there in FP3, Hamilton fastest of all having – as has become his tradition over the last year – got his complaints about the car  out of the way on Friday night.

With Verstappen and Red Bull evidently less formidable than usual here, the door was left ajar for a potential surprise – and Hamilton, who has always shone at this circuit, gladly walked through it.


With a best race result since Singapore 2022, Austria was good for McLaren.

With a first podium since Imola 2022, Silverstone was even better.

But how much of it was McLaren’s upgrades and how much of it was simply getting the tyres in the right window? The Hungaroring – a circuit at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of both layout and tyre demands – held the answer.

As at Silverstone, Lando Norris, who headed Q2, was the closest driver behind Verstappen – not much he could do about Hamilton being in front of both of them on this occasion – with Oscar Piastri never far behind.

Third and fourth on the grid, it feels quite safe to say it now: McLaren really are back in business.

Alfa Romeo

The tweaked qualifying protocol brought with it a strange sight in FP3 as both Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu conducted qualifying simulations on the hard compound.

Far from a sign of a team not fancying their chances of making it out of Q1, was this an indication of Alfa Romeo doing their homework in a more diligent, studious manner than other teams? If so, it paid off.

Any thought in Q1 that Bottas’s pace on the hard tyres was a throwback to his days as the low-grip FP1 king at Mercedes soon dissipated when Zhou proved capable of matching his times and going even quicker.

Top in Q2, Zhou was the understated star of qualifying in securing fifth – ahead of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari and within a tenth of Piastri’s McLaren.

Williams and Haas, both just two points ahead of ninth-placed Alfa in the Constructors’ Championship currently, will be worried.

Daniel Ricciardo

Haven’t you heard? Daniel’s back.

And maybe – just maybe – as good as he always was.

For all the talk that Ricciardo would require some time to get fully up to speed in the AlphaTauri, if he is truly serious about reclaiming his old Red Bull seat he simply had to beat Yuki Tsunoda from the off.

Not only did he post a quicker time than his team-mate in Q1 – not by much, but just enough – he then proceeded to outqualify Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin and Pierre Gasly’s Alpine to line up 13th.

His comeback couldn’t have got off to a better start.


Max Verstappen/Red Bull

What’s going on here, then?

Having won all 10 races in 2023 to date, Verstappen has failed to top a session in Hungary so far this weekend.

And that’s despite Red Bull bringing a new sidepod/floor design, said to be worth at least two tenths, to this race.

Starting second, Verstappen remains the overwhelming favourite to win at a circuit where he triumphed from 10th on the grid 12 months ago, but this has been a strangely subdued weekend and comes after Max was kept honest by a humble McLaren at Silverstone two weeks ago.

Verstappen, you trust, will be the first to be demanding answers.

Sergio Perez

The good news?

Sergio Perez was back in Q3 for the first time since he set pole position for the Miami GP on May 6.

The bad news?

His first lap on soft tyres in Q3 was only marginally faster than Norris’s McLaren had managed – on mediums – in Q2. recommends

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If there is a temptation to praise Perez for returning to the top 10 in Hungary, it is only because his performances in recent months have been so utterly dreadful that the bar has been artificially lowered out of sympathy.

He finally – surely – hit rock bottom on Friday in Hungary, crashing out on his first flying lap of practice, and from that point the only way is up.

But let’s not pretend that ninth on the grid – slower than both McLarens and Alfa Romeos, and the out-of-sorts Ferrari and Aston Martin of Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso respectively – is even the bare minimum in what is already among the most dominant cars in F1 history.

George Russell/Mercedes

One foot in the winners’ column and another in the losers’ for Mercedes after a session of two halves.

How it must hurt Russell to have been denied another shot at pole position after his exploits here last year.

His latest early qualifying exit comes amid a troubling run of races since the Mercedes sprouted sidepods in Monaco, Hamilton clearly more comfortable and confident in the six rounds since the heavily revised W14 arrived.

Russell pinned the blame for his Q1 elimination on the team’s strategy and he had a point, for this is not the first time in 2023 – remember Hamilton’s traffic problems in Miami, remember the oh-so avoidable collision between the black cars in Barcelona – that Mercedes have made a mess of qualifying.

The drop in standards by a team once renowned for their diligence is as big a worry as the inconsistent car.

Carlos Sainz/Ferrari

As their closest competitors go from strength to strength, Ferrari have done what shall be known henceforth as a Reverse McLaren.

Having emerged as Verstappen’s closest competitors in Austria, the Scuderia have slipped back alarmingly over the last two races and after a mostly anonymous showing throughout practice – Leclerc’s table-topping FP2 lap fooled nobody – the sight of a Ferrari falling in Q2 was not quite the shock it ought to have been.

Carlos Sainz was the one to suffer an early exit, while Leclerc being sandwiched between the Alfa Romeos in sixth is not exactly the mark of a team on the up.

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