Leclerc fastest in Hungarian GP second practice

Charles Leclerc
Charles Leclerc is seventh in the drivers’ championship, nine points behind Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc set the pace in a Friday practice at the Hungarian Grand Prix which offered few clues as to the true competitive picture.

Leclerc was 0.015 seconds quicker than McLaren’s Lando Norris but world champion Max Verstappen was only 11th fastest and Mercedes close to the back.

The Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were third and fifth fastest, sandwiching Yuki Tsunoda’s Alpha Tauri.

Daniel Ricciardo, returning to Formula 1 with Alpha Tauri, was 14th.

The Australian was 0.451secs slower than team-mate Tsunoda.

  • Chequered Flag podcast: Hungarian Grand Prix preview

A new approach to tyre allocation for the weekend seems to have changed the way teams approached practice.

The number of sets of tyres available to each driver has been reduced, and they are required to use different compounds for all three parts of qualifying – hards in the first session, medium in the second and softs in the final top 10 shootout.

The usual pattern of set-up runs, followed by qualifying simulation and then race simulation was not followed by all teams.

Red Bull and Mercedes, for example, seemed not to do qualifying simulation runs, at least not representative ones.

As well as Verstappen in 11th, his team-mate Sergio Perez, whose weekend got off to a bad start with a crash on his first lap in first practice, was down in 18th, and Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell 16th and 20th.

There were some race-simulation runs later in the session, though.

Mercedes, Aston Martin and McLaren chose the medium tyres, and Norris appeared to be the fastest, followed by Alonso – who was eighth fastest overall on a single lap – Russell and Hamilton.

Red Bull and Ferrari chose the soft tyres for their race runs, and although Leclerc started strongly, Verstappen was comfortably quicker over a series of laps.

The big focus of the day was on Ricciardo’s 2023 debut, after he was drafted in following the sacking of Dutchman Nyck de Vries last week.

Ricciardo drove a steady session as he set about learning his new car, starting well over a second behind Tsunoda and edging closer. He had more or less matched the Japanese driver’s time by the end of his running on his first set of tyres but Tsunoda moved clear on their qualifying runs on the soft tyre.

With Ricciardo returning, the last thing Perez needed was a difficult day, but that’s what he had after he dropped his outside wheels on to the grass on his entry to Turn Five as rain began to fall at the start of first practice and crashed into the wall.

Sergio Perez's Red Bull crashes into the barrier in first practice
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez has failed to qualify in the top 10 for five races in a row

Perez’s remarks over the radio immediately after the crash – “I can’t believe this” – made it clear that he understood the potential seriousness of the error.

Team principal Christian Horner said: “He just misjudged it. It was just a mistake. You could hear the frustration in his voice.”

Perez’s early-season ambition of challenging team-mate Verstappen for the championship has collapsed as his season has imploded following a series of errors.

Ricciardo has said his dream is to go well enough in the Alpha Tauri to again earn a seat at Red Bull.

Perez, who has a Red Bull contract for 2024, said on Thursday that Ricciardo’s return “doesn’t change anything” for him, insisting that his future was “in my hands”.

Horner has said that he believed Perez’s problem was that he had been putting too much pressure on himself, and added after the British Grand Prix that Perez “just needs a clean weekend”.

That hope is already forlorn in Hungary, although he was somewhat fortunate that the rain in the first session meant he did not miss out on the learning other drivers would otherwise have had.

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