Ricciardo makes his return at the Hungarian GP where Alonso won his first race

Daniel Ricciardo celebrates an unexpected return to F1 at the Hungarian Grand Prix, where fellow veteran Fernando Alonso won his first race 20 years ago.

Winning is a daily routine for runaway championship leader Max Verstappen, the dominant favorite for Sunday’s race. The 25-year-old Red Bull driver is aiming for a seventh straight win this season and ninth overall. He already has 43 career wins, three more than Alonso, 41, and Ricciardo, 34, have combined.

Verstappen was just five when Alonso won his first of 32 races. That happened at the Hungaroring in 2003 when Alonso drove for Renault, a day so long ago that Alonso raced Verstappen’s father.

“You remember your first victory,” said Alonso, who won two F1 titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006. “You have a special relationship with that race, with that city, and Budapest is one of my favorite cities.”

The Spanish driver produced a master class in defensive driving at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix, successfully blocking multiple attacks from Mercedes star Lewis Hamilton and helping then-Alpine team-mate Esteban Ocon win the race.

Alonso is one of the best drivers of his generation and perhaps the most widely liked driver among fans. However, he had one drawback.

“Since 20 years there has been no privacy in my life,” Alonso said. “But I’m not going to change anything because it’s still your own choice and you’re trying to follow your dreams.”

Alonso has had a strong season so far for the Spanish driver and is targeting his first victory since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.

By transferring from Alpine to Aston Martin, he achieved an unexpectedly high result of 6 podiums. This puts him in a realistic race to finish second in the rankings.

Verstappen looks untouchable with a 99-point lead over team-mate Sergio Perez, but Alonso is just 19 points behind second-placed Perez.

“It’s going to be a tough fight to the end,” said Alonso, who is 16 points behind Hamilton in fourth. “We have strong competitors behind us.”

Hamilton has seven world titles, an F1 record tied with Michael Schumacher, and a record 103 race wins. However, he has not won since the penultimate race of the 2021 season. Then he challenged Verstappen in a thrilling title fight to the final lap of the season.

There was no such drama last year, when Verstappen took a record 15 wins on his way to a second title, but this season has been a one-way street for a car with a commanding dominance.

Red Bull won every race, with Perez winning the remaining two races, tying McLaren’s 1988 winning streak with 11 straight victories, including the final race in 2022.

Verstappen could help Red Bull beat it on Sunday.

“I don’t really think about it,” Verstappen said. “If we win, it means breaking that record, but winning[the race]is more important.”

Perez under pressure

Perez’s woes continued when he crashed just three minutes into Friday’s first practice session.

Perez ran onto the grass coming out of Turn 5, lost control of his car and slammed into the crash barrier, bringing out a red flag. It was a terrible mistake from Perez, who has failed to finish in the top ten in the last five races.

“Unbelievable,” Perez said.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, who publicly backed Perez last week, expressed concern.

Perez is under contract until next year, but rumors are already circulating that he could lose his seat to Ricciardo if he makes a surprise return to F1 at AlphaTauri.

Ricciardo was sacked by McLaren last year, but the Australian was handed over his F1 seat by AlphaTauri (Red Bull’s junior team) after Nick de Vries was sacked last week.

Ricciardo won seven of his eight career F1 wins with Red Bull between 2014 and 2018, including a career-best three victories over four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel in 2014.

McLaren improvements

McLaren’s 30 points scored at the British Grand Prix two weeks ago was one more point than it has scored in its previous great races.

At Silverstone, British driver Lando Norris finished second while Australian rookie Oscar Piastri finished a career-best fourth.

“I think Silverstone suited us very well with its high speed corners. It’s obviously a slower circuit so we’ll see how it goes,” said Piastri. “I think we will try to stay optimistic that we can keep up higher, but I’m not sure if we can fight for the podium again.”

practice session

In the rain-soaked first free practice session of the Hungarian Grand Prix, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. ran across the track into a barrier near the end, causing a second red flag to be shown.

Mercedes’ George Russell led the session ahead of Piastri and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.

As the track dried out for the second practice session, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took the lead over Norris and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly. Verstappen finished 11th, Ricciardo 14th and Perez 18th.

Verstappen will take his sixth consecutive pole position on Saturday.

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