2023 F1 Midfield Tales from Hungary – Impressive Return by ‘The Honey Badger’, Daniel Ricciardo

Daniel Ricciardo was most-consistent among the F1 midfield in Hungary, writes Ashwin Issac in his F1 Midfield Tales.

2023 Hungarian Grand Prix

Budding Formula 1 tech-journalist Ashwin Issac pens his ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ from Hungary. ‘F1 Midfield Tales’ will be a combination of data and analysis that will aim to dissect the uber-competitive F1 midfield race-after-race.

Preface for the F1 midfield in Hungary

We were just outside Budapest in Mogyoród, Pest County at the popular Hungaroring for the Formula 1 Qatar Airways Hungarian Grand Prix 2023.

This racetrack is relentless for the drivers as they are attacked by curves and corners one after the other and the short straights add to the agony of the tyres. This layout is short in terms of distance and drivers go around it 70 times for a whole race distance. Thus, the track layout encourages the teams to add all the downforce they can muster. Here’s the track layout for reference:

The rule makers wanted a new mandate to be tested out this weekend where the tyre allocation was reduced by 2 sets and a particular tyre compound was assigned to each session of the qualifying event. Hards for Q1, Mediums for Q2, and Softs for Q3.

There were a lot of track-specific updates brought to the grid but among the midfield, Alpha Tauri had the most changes to the car and also more significantly to their personnel.

Nyck De Vries was shown the door after a lacklustre start to the season in a typical Red Bull management fashion. To replace him they turned to their experienced reserve driver in the Aussie, Daniel Ricciardo, giving him a second chance in the cutthroat world of Formula 1.

There were no changes made to the track layout and Pirelli offered the softest range in their new reconstructed tyres.

With the stage set let’s analyse what happened throughout the weekend.

Observations from the F1 midfield in Hungary

For the comparisons, data with similar variables are selected for a viable analysis. For instance, the fastest sectors by a team and not individual drivers are considered for the qualifying examination. Lap times are collected for the same tyre compound at comparable race periods.

In what seems to be a norm this season, the local weather disturbed the weekend. This time Practice 1 was proven redundant as the rain came down 12 minutes into the session, disrupting the preparation for the teams.

The other remaining sessions and events were dry with track temperature rising incrementally and subsequently with a high of over 50°C on Sunday.

Qualifying battle between the F1 midfield in Hungary

Since different tyre compounds were assigned, it will be equitable to compare the times of all the midfield drivers on the same compound of tyre, all the drivers had to be on the hard tyres for Q1 and times set in this round will be analysed.

The track temperature was on the higher side at around 46°C, which helped in switching the hard tyres on but one-lap performance on this compound was still a new challenge for the teams and drivers.

Below is a column chart representing the times set and the difference to the lead driver from Q1 of the qualifying event:

  • The lap times were mixed but very close in the back half of the grid.
  • Zhou in his Alfa Romeo seemed to have the bit between his teeth as he put on a storming lap at the end of the session, his lap put him on P1 at the end of Q1.
  • The pace of the Alfa Romeo continued till the end of the event and both their cars featured in Q3, with Zhou even beating both the Ferraris and Aston Martins.
  • The Haas drivers were split with Hulkenberg presenting his car as the second fastest in the midfield and on the contrary Magnussen made it look like the second slowest.
  • Alpine was on the back foot throughout the session.
  • Alpha Tauri with its upgrades was on par with Williams but on a track that the Williams car despised.
  • Daniel Ricciardo out-qualified Tsunoda, it was the first Tsunoda was beaten by his teammate this season. A loud and clear statement was made by the ‘Honey Badger’.

The Race for the the F1 midfield in Hungary

On scorching track temperatures, speculations were made that the race on Sunday, at a minimum, would be a 2-stopper and would push a few to a 3-stop strategy.

Every driver and team eventually opted for a 2-stop strategy. The popular choice of tyre for most of the grid was the medium tyres except for Gasly and Tsunoda, who opted to start on the soft tyres in the hope to make up some positions at the start.

All the finishing teams except Alpha Tauri in the midfield went for a M-H-H strategy. Tsunoda, who started on the softs bolted on a set of hard tyres for his second stint and then finished the race on the medium tyres. Ricciardo went the same route after starting on the medium tyres but his stint on the hard tyres was very short citing traffic and extended his third stint on the mediums.

Alpine was dealt with the worst of fortunes as both their drivers were forced to retire due to heavy damage at the end of the first lap. Their misfortune was imposed on them by a mistake from a recovering Alfa of Zhou.

Zhou after qualifying at P5 had a terrible start and dropped back down and then out braked the cars around him to nudge Ricciardo ahead of him, who in turn sent Ocon flying into the right rear of his teammate.

The first stint was very short for the majority of the drivers, let’s analyse the second and third stints for the midfield teams on the hard tyres to gauge the race pace they possessed:

  • Alfa Romeo continued their great form from qualifying in the race on Sunday. They were clearly the fastest.
  • The other teams at this stage had relatively similar pace but it should be noted that Yuki had a longer stint than the rest with Hulkenberg managing a shorter stint.
  • The Williams of Albon and the Alfa of Bottas had similar paces because, after the second round of stops, Albon was ahead of Bottas, with this track being very difficult to overtake, Valtteri’s pace was dictated by Albon.
  • Haas had a minor update to their car, their floor edge was profiled differently, but that didn’t alleviate their tyre degradation problems. Their pace dropped significantly in the last ten laps of the Grand Prix.

Daniel Ricciardo was initially hampered by the contact made by Zhou as he lost a couple of places and was shifted to the back of the grid. That setback didn’t reduce his determination as he drove a race worthy of an 8-time Grand Prix winner after that incident.

Below is a scatter chart giving us a glimpse of his exceptional race management:

  • Daniel pulled off a stint of 40 laps on his used medium tyres.
  • He didn’t allow the lap times to vary a lot during the stint.
  • Impressively he was going green even at the very end of the race.
  • Comparatively, Tsunoda on his new mediums in clean air was not significantly faster than Daniel on his 15+ laps old tyres.
  • It must be noted that Tsunoda’s pace was later restricted when he arrived at the back of Logan and Hulkenberg.
  • Ricciardo with this long stint was able to make up places and finish at a respectable P13 after the collision in lap 1.

Conclusion from the F1 midfield in Hungary

McLaren has officially graduated out of the midfield to be among the top teams as their pace was on par with such teams even on a track that should have been an unfavourable one to them prior to their upgrades. A fascinating turn pace for them.

With the remaining teams of our defined midfield the story remains the same, the performance differential is almost negligible.

Alfa Romeo threatened to graduate after a stellar performance in the qualifying sessions. They managed to beat 2 of the teams in the new top 5 but on Sunday their race pace was not up to the mark. Nevertheless, they have a lot of positives to take from this GP as in the absence of the Alpine duo, they were arguably the fastest team in the midfield at the Hungarian GP.

Haas desperately needs a substantial upgrade to back their qualifying performance. Magnussen has not been in great form, he needs to make a strong case for himself as we approach the silly season.

Encouraging signs for Alpha Tauri, they did show slight improvements l. They were arguably the slowest team this season but with their upgrades, they seem to have cut down the deficit.

Daniel Ricciardo’s return was the headline for the weekend and his performance backed the hype that was created for him. This gives the team a boost they desperately needed and Yuki Tsunoda will have a new problem to overcome.

There were a few anomalies in the Hungarian weekend, to cast them as such or as conformity this season’s calendar gives us an opportunity the following week as we visit Spa, a track very different in its characteristics. The wait cannot be longer.

Hi, I am an automotive engineer, MS Automotive Systems Engineering, Loughborough University, UK. I have an undying enthusiasm towards automobiles, I am zealous about motor-sports as I consider it to be the pinnacle of automotive engineering. I believe my zeal attributed with my technical knowledge can be translated into content meaningful to individuals who share that same passion. I want to be a contributing member of the motor-sport community and I will use this medium to serve that clique.

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