By Vlad Roman,
General Manager, Smart Games

We are returning to the Hungaroring, the circuit where it is easiest for us to be live spectators and we are not the only Romanians here, our compatriots have come in large numbers for the 13th stage of the 2023 championship.

With us Daniel Ricciardo returns to Formula 1 after Scuderia AlphaTauri sacked Nyck De Vries due to poor results in the first 12 rounds. Ricciardo is Red Bull’s reserve driver and has officially been loaned to the group’s second team until the end of the year. Immediately there were rumors of a chance for the Red Bull cockpit next to Max Verstappen, where Sergio Perez, who is still under contract until the end of 2024, is currently floundering. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner does not deny that this too place is at stake – “Of course Max and Checo will be our pilots next year. But it’s always good to have backup pilots. I think Daniel wants to run for the 2025 seat at Red Bull.”

However, Christian Horner was keen to point out in the official Formula 1 podcast “F1 Nation” that Sergio Perez should get more support from the team, “He is still second in the Championship, he has won two races, he started the season in such good form. We just want to help him find that form.”

Daniel’s problem is the single-seater Alpha Tauri which “is what it is”… a fancy way of saying that it is the last team in the championship with only 2 points collected so far.

Friday was the first practice that showed a strong McLaren through both drivers and a hope for Alfa Romeo who managed the 6th and 8th times. In practice 2 Ferrari got the first time followed by the same McLaren. Red Bull didn’t get too excited, but let’s not be under any illusions because they were only overtaken by Lewis Hamilton in P3 on Saturday.

Qualifying started in summer heat – 45 degrees on the track, very different conditions to Friday. A track that quickly improved after the overnight rain dominated the first qualifying segment. For the first time, the new tire rule was tested in qualifying: Q1 only hard, Q2 only medium, Q3 only soft, which made the decisive laps the ones with the second set of tires in the last minutes.

Ricciardo managed to advance in Q2 unlike his teammate Tsunoda, the Williams drivers, Haas’ Magnussen and, surprise, George Russel.

The second qualifying segment belonged to McLaren, especially Lando Norris. This was the only driver to have to go out just once and kept an average set for the race. Bottas and Zhou managed to get Alfa Romeo into Q3 for the first time this year, while Checo also broke his bad luck in qualifying.

Q3 set the starting grid order, Max was beaten by Hamilton by just 0.03 seconds followed by McLaren drivers Zhou, Leclerc, Bottas, Alonso, Perez and Hulkenberg.

At the race on Sunday, the summer heat reached its peak in Hungary in the early afternoon, with 28 degrees in the air and 50 degrees on the track, completely clear skies with no chance of rain. The majority opted for medium tires at the start, Perez and Russell went on hards, and Sainz, Stroll, Gasly and Tsunoda “shoeed” soft tires.

Verstappen was hardly seen, after overtaking Hamilton at the start he controlled the race until the end, he finished with a lead of 33.7 seconds to get 25 points plus 1 point for the fastest lap.

The real battle was for the following places, Norris with Perez for second, Hamilton with Piastri for 4th and Russell, who started from P18, delayed his first tire change until lap 29 and thus had tires from increasingly fresh in the last two stints. Thus, in the middle of the race he was already chasing Alonso for eighth place and started to catch up with the Ferraris. He overtook Sainz unopposed on lap 65 and took sixth from Leclerc thanks to his penalty. For Ferrari, only seventh and eighth places remained, Leclerc ahead of Sainz.

For Aston Martin, the last two points classifications remained, Alonso followed by Stroll.

Max Verstappen’s lead grows and grows, now 281 to 171 between him and second place – Sergio Perez. Fernando Alonso’s third place heats up, with Hamilton now just six points behind him. Lando Norris closes the gap to Ferrari again, now just 20 points behind Leclerc.

In the teams, Red Bull is widening the gap to Mercedes, while Ferrari is shyly approaching Aston Martin, and McLaren is distancing itself from Alpine, although it still does not reach the 100-point threshold that separates the leading teams from the rest of the peloton.

We’ve got one race left before the summer break, it’s Max’s home circuit, it’ll be the third grand prix with qualifying on Friday, sprint qualifying and sprint race on Saturday and Sunday – the grand prix but regardless of the capricious weather at Spa -Francorchamps, I think Verstappen has no chance to lose but we’ll see!

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