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Hamilton's Hungary pole proof of 'enigma' of F1 ground-effect cars

Mercedes says Lewis Hamilton’s surprise pole position for Formula 1’s Hungarian Grand Prix is proof of the “enigma” of the current generation of cars. 

Pole man Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG, in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Michael Potts / Motorsport Images

Hamilton beat world championship leader Max Verstappen to the top spot on the grid at the Hungaroring, ending the Dutchman’s five-race run of pole positions. 

And with Mercedes having struggled with car balance for much of the season, and having low hopes for this weekend's event, Hamilton’s shock effort has proved once again how difficult the 2023 ground-effect machines are to understand.

Speaking after qualifying, which included Alfa Romeo’s securing its best grid slots for several years, Wolff suggested that the Hungaroring result was the latest evidence that the set-up compromises required for the current cars makes things almost impossible to predict. 

“I think there's certainly a part of these ground-effect cars being an enigma,” said Wolff. 

“Performances seem to come and go for all the teams – and congratulations to Alfa: they are fifth and seventh on the grid. I don't think that they really much understand where that came from.  

“Red Bull seem the only one who have really unlocked it and understanding what happens, and maybe McLaren now.  

“But this is not something you can reverse engineer. This is something you just got to work at and come to the right conclusion.” 

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG, is interviewed on stage

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes-AMG, is interviewed on stage

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Wolff believed that critical to Hamilton pulling off his first pole position since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was that the W14 finally gave him some confidence. 

“The biggest weakness we have in the car is not a lack of downforce,” said Wolff. “It is that the car is unpredictable.  

“The drivers never have the confidence of really pushing it hard in qualifying, and I think the car they had today was something that gave confidence and allowed them actually to push without thinking that it could step out on the entry and exit of the corner.  

“This is I think the main area we need to work out, giving them a car balance that is just more predictable.” 

Russell mistake 

While Hamilton secured pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix, George Russell was left a disappointed 18th on the grid after failing to make it out of Q1. 

Wolff said that Mercedes had to take the blame for what happened, with Russell having been put in bad traffic ahead of his efforts to get out of the session. 

“I think Q1 was overall messy, not only for us, but for many others,” he said. 

“There were just so many cars on a single piece of track, and we just put him in the wrong position. The first run was already compromised.  

“Then obviously everybody bunching up in the last corner was far from ideal, we know that, and then there is no codex [agreement] anymore between the drivers, because he was overtaken by three cars between Turn 13 and Turn 14.  

“That obviously completely screws your last lap, but we need to take it on us that we haven't put him in a better position.”  

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