Max Verstappen scorched to a 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix victory that will have he and Red Bull still on a high by the end of the summer break, let alone next week in Spa.
The record-breaking 12th consecutive win for Red Bull, a feat Mercedes never managed, underlined Formula 1‘s nature that what goes up must come down.
And the Hungarian GP was the microcosm of that, Lewis Hamilton lost out at the start to enable Verstappen to make history while Lando Norris landed a surprise second place. But then his McLaren teammate dropped from second off the podium, it really was a race of winners and losers.
One driver who won’t feature in either category is Sergio Perez, despite his Driver of the Day-winning rise from P9. For a driver out of form it certainly was a welcome boost but given Red Bull‘s pace at the Hungaroring Perez should’ve been expected second place a minimum ahead of the weekend.
Described as a ‘statement drive’ by Martin Brundle, Perez was nearly half a second behind Verstappen in qualifying and made up his six positions in an RB19 that was the class of the field.
Perez’s charge made the afternoon marginally more entertaining, but as Total-Motorsport.com‘s Brandon Sutton said: “It’s a huge statement if you overtake cars that are a whole second a lap slower on harder tyres”. Verstappen won the 2022 Hungarian GP from tenth on the grid nad the 2023 Miami GP from an identical reversed position, lest we forget.
Winner: Red Bull
However… Red Bull are fully deserving of an inclusion overall. Their success can get tiring – Verstappen‘s currently on leave from this column otherwise he’d be a winner every week and how boring is that – but it’s hard to overstate their latest achievement.
It’s a well-worn trope that Formula 1 cycles between eras of dominance, but that just makes Red Bull‘s record even more impressive.
Mercedes got close on four occasions and Schumacher‘s Ferrari were in the ballpark twice but neither could even draw level with McLaren‘s record, which was set through the best driver lineup in history: Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
And Verstappen broke the record in memorable style too. He was denied a grand slam thanks to Hamilton‘s pole by the smallest of margins, but took that Saturday pain in order to have the fastest possible race car, which certainly paid off.
The result looked a foregone conclusion from turn one and Verstappen himself, who’s had plenty of fantastic days in an F1 car, admitted this was one of the most special.
Loser: Lewis Hamilton
Speaking of which, Hamilton was the embodiment of the idiom it’s not how you start that’s important, it’s how you finish.
This isn’t to take anything away from his qualifying performance. Regardless of his disappointing grand prix, it was yet another remarkble record-breaking moment from Hamilton that will go down as part of the legend of Lewis.
There’s been so many times this season and last – look no further than the British GP – where Verstappen‘s snuffed out a challenger with a final flying lap so for Hamilton to beat that fate should be cause for celebration for fans of the other 18 drivers on the grid.
However, to finish fourth from there is crushingly disappointing. Hamilton could’ve never held back Verstappen on raceday, but a podium was definitely within range (Toto Wolff said as much post-race) and he never even looked close to achieving silverware.
After a dismal start he was dropped by the McLarens and only caught a hint of competitive race pace well into his final stint which was much too little, much too late.
Winner: Alternative tyre allocation qualifying
Qualifying was great. It was entertaining, with plenty of intrigue, big name victims in all three sessions, underdogs making it all the way to Q3 and the script flipping right at the last second.
None of that’s particularly unusual for 2023, which has served up some stonking Saturdays, but that’s precisely the point.
It didn’t provide any significant impact that could force teams to shy away from expanding its usage. The biggest criticism Christian Horner could find was it reduced strategy options, but it also increased uncertainty for fans ahead of the session so the gripe feels like six of one or half a dozen of the other.
Qualifying ain’t broke, but F1‘s still able to improve it and based on evidence at the Hungaroring, alternative tyre allocation looks like it’s doing precisely that.
Loser: Zhou Guanyu
How to lose an F1 race in 15 seconds by Zhou Guanyu. He went from 5th to 15th before even reaching the pit exit line, then rammed Daniel Ricciardo into the two Alpines ending their race.
It’s as if Zhou got altitude sickness starting so high up the grid, he forgot how to start his Alfa Romeo and then forgot how to stop it seconds later. And from there, Alfa Romeo‘s pace evaporated.
It’s a shame because they’d done so well in qualifying and need just three points to leapfrog Haas and Williams in the constructors’ championship while Zhou could’ve also overhauled his teammate in the drivers’ standings, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Winner: George Russell
This is slightly at odds with the Perez omission earlier, but 18th to 6th in a Mercedes at the Hungaroring is a significantly more impressive feat than the Red Bull driver’s podium from ninth – and it was never Russell‘s fault that he was starting that low in the first place.
Mercedes‘ mistake cost them and Russell dearly, he should’ve been right up at the top of proceedings in qualifying and in podium contention on raceday.
However, after picking up a few freebies at the start thanks to the Zhou-induced bumper cars, Russell pulled the longest first stint of the race allowing him to attack the rest of the race on the mediums.
Alongside Perez, his charge through the field animated the race and he wasn’t far off the luckless Oscar Piastri at the end of proceedings either.
Inexplicably they missed out on the losers at Silverstone, but the universe corrected that with a second consecutive double-retirement for Alpine – this time by making Zhou unable how to operate an F1 car.
Unless Alpine can score points in Spa, which looks like a tall order given McLaren‘s resurgence, they’ll return from the summer break at the end of August having scored just seven points since early June.
Winner: Daniel Ricciardo
Stepped in the AlphaTauri for the first time in anger on Friday, outqualified his teammate on Saturday, then lost it all through no fault of his own on Sunday before battling to win it all back and finish ahead of Yuki Tsunoda anyway.
It was some weekend for Ricciardo who’s already almost equalled Nyck de Vries‘ best finish of the season, the Australian has already vindicated Red Bull‘s decision to put him in the seat.
The way he worked back up the grid following the first-lap incident was reminiscent of the old Ricciardo and he spent the whole weekend wearing his trademark smile too, which is great to see.
Tsunoda was perhaps a bit lucky to not feature in the losers but he gets a reprieve this time around. In a wider sense, Ricciardo‘s promotion is a chance for Tsunoda to prove his mettle at AlphaTauri once and for all.
This is also the first winners and losers column since De Vries’ sacking too, so would the Dutchman be eligible?
Loser: Aston Martin
Their success at the start of the season already feels a long time ago, as McLaren have already superceded Aston Martin as the feelgood midfield jumpers.
The British GP was disappointing but softened by the knowledge that Silverstone was a track that was never going to suit the AMR23 – but it was alright because they’d bounce back in Hungary.
Unfortunately, Aston didn’t. Stroll once again missed Q3 and Fernando Alonso was largely anonymous in the race, they’ve got the look of a team holding on at the moment until after the summer break.
A four-way battle behind Red Bull would be fantastic so hopefully they can be back to their early-season best in the second part of 2023, but based on the Hungarian GP that’s still a little way off.
McLaren confirmed to the world they’re back in the big time in F1 – even if their media gallery doesn’t know it, as there’s no podium photos of Lando Norris available in the early hours of Monday morning.
And those gripes are really the only negatives from the weekend. To be really picky, Piastri lost out twice in the pit lane but also just struggled a bit for pace on his latter two stints compared to Norris.
But you suspect the team would’ve bitten your hand off for a 28-point haul at a weekend McLaren didn’t expect to produce a repeat their Silverstone form.
In reality it was almost a carbon copy, getting ahead early in the race and looking comfortably the second-best team behind Verstappen while grabbing a podium from it.
Mercedes will bounce back, there’s no doubt about that, but McLaren are making hay while the sun shines and long may it continue.