“Max‘s race pace yesterday was, quite extraordinary, I think they were quite a bit quicker than us.”
Those were Lewis Hamilton‘s words after he took a historic pole position for Mercedes at the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix, edging Max Verstappen into second by just 0.003s and giving the team their best chance at a race win all season.
Hamilton acknowledged the team had dramatically improved car setup from Friday to Saturday but even so, the Brit isn’t overly optimistic of beating his rival to a first win in nearly 600 days.
However, Hamilton promised to give it everything he’s got at a track he knows better than anyone in Formula 1 – victory would mean he moves clear with the most wins of any driver at one circuit with nine. If anyone can upset the odds and beat Verstappen at the Hungaroring, it’s Hamilton.
So can he do it? And if so, how?
2023 Hungarian GP pit stop strategy
Ignore the soft tyre completely for Hungarian GP strategy, the race will likely be exclusively on hard and medium tyres bar late runs for the fastest lap.
Temperatures are expected to soar above 30 degrees Celsius for the 15:00 local time race start, the hottest afternoon of the weekend, meaning tyre wear will be high and the softs should be useless.
Though the hards were also useless at the 2022 Hungarian GP – as Ferrari found out the hard way – it’s expected to be the opposite this time around and Pirelli are predicting a medium-hard-hard two-stop strategy to be quickest.
They acknowledge a hard-medium one-stop could also be possible, but describe it as “very much on the limit in terms of performance drop-off and tread life”, so go there at your peril strategists.
However, Hamilton is the top tyre-whisperer in F1 and that combined with his intimate knowledge of how to succeed at the Hungaroring means he remains the best-placed driver to stop Verstappen.
Track position all-important in Hungary
Overtaking is notoriously tough at the Hungaroring, as Verstappen himself proved in 2019.
In markedly different yet also remarkably similar times when Hamilton often went just 6 days between his F1 triumphs rather 600, the pair served up a classic with Verstappen in front and Hamilton unable to pass despite possessing much quicker machinery.
Verstappen held the lead for 66 laps repelling attack after attack from Hamilton before a tactical masterstroke from Mercedes enabled him to finally take the Dutchman on fresh tyres with just a handful of laps remaining.
If Hamilton can hold the lead at turn one then he has a decent shot at holding the lead throughout the first stint of the race. If he can’t, and Verstappen gets into first, then ignore the rest of this article.
The Hungaroring only has one real overtaking opportunity, at turn one, but even then the main straight often isn’t long enough to make a move against a driver defending competently.
Even better if his old friends at McLaren can lend him a hand – Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri were both lightning-quick off the line at the 2023 British GP and line up on the second row in Hungary.
Whereas Norris depressingly (but sensibly) didn’t defend Verstappen for the lead of his home grand prix, the McLarens have a much better chance at keeping the Dutchman behind on Sunday and Hamilton will hope that inspires them to some stiffer resistance.
Hamilton should start on the hards and if there’s any scope for Mercedes to nail the one-stop, then they need to take it.
It will be tough and could leave Hamilton a sitting duck late on, but retaining track position is his best chance of winning the Hungarian GP.
If not – or if Verstappen also goes for the one-stop – they need to defend against the undercut with their lives.
Hamilton‘s right to be worried about Red Bull‘s race pace but Mercedes have been stronger on Sundays all season, and with the improvements made to the car following the first day of free practice they should enter the race with more than a glimmer of hope.
The most frustrating thing will be George Russell‘s miss as he also could’ve mixed it at the front in qualifying and set Mercedes up with twice the cards to play come raceday, but Sergio Perez‘s absence from the front is a blessing.
With that cunning plan in place, all that’s left is for Hamilton to lock up into turn one, handing the lead to Verstappen and rendering this whole piece useless… please don’t Lewis.