Christian Horner has said that Mercedes could be competitive in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, showing strong times in adjusted circumstances.
The Red Bull team principal said that the Brackley-based outfit was strong on fuel-adjusted times, raising the question of whether Red Bull could be challenged this weekend.
Mercedes topped FP3, the final session ahead of qualifying, as Lewis Hamilton delivered a 1:17.811 to go the fastest by a fairly comfortable margin to the Red Bulls – who also set their best times in the final runs of the session.
Only one team has managed to compete with the runaway championship leaders this season, after Ferrari snatched pole in Azerbaijan, but could another challenger emerge in the form of the Silver Arrows?
“Yesterday was pretty varied,” Horner said to Sky Sports F1. “Our analysis showed that Mercedes, fuel-corrected, target corrected, be pretty competitive.
“And you might get a curveball like an Alfa [Romeo] in there as well but McLaren continue to show good form too.”
A multi-car fight?
If not Mercedes, then who else?
The answer looks likely to be McLaren. Following their upgrades at the British GP, the team is enjoying a good period of form – even if they do not anticipate being particularly competitive around the Hungaroring.
Lando Norris posted a 1:18.082 that was just 0.271 slower than Hamilton‘s benchmark time, but he did that on the medium tyre whilst everyone in the top 14 set their best times on softs.
This would indicate that once McLaren switches to the grippier soft tyre they should take a considerable leap forwards and could be competing for pole position – a feat that they were not that far away from in Silverstone.
Struggles for Verstappen
The reigning World Champion has enjoyed a relatively stress-free championship in 2023. He leads by 99pts after 10 rounds and is currently on a six-race winning streak.
However, in FP3 he was somewhat at odds with his RB19. At the exit of turn two, Verstappen had to catch a snap of oversteer a few times and in qualifying that would be very damaging to his laps.
Gianpiero Lambiase, Verstappen‘s race engineer, recommended shifting brake balance forwards to give the car more stability on the corner entry and Horner played down suggestion that he was struggling with anything more than the windy conditions.
“It’s primarily in turn two [struggles with the car],” Horner added to Sky Sports F1. “I think there’s a big gust of wind that caught him out.
“He’s aware of that and GP [Lambiase] recommended changes to try and help the guys through that but there’s gusts of wind that are just catching the guys out and it’s completely different to yesterday direction wise.
“You’ve got to be careful that you don’t end up tuning the car just for one corner.”