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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Di Resta's return and hope for McLaren: Hungarian GP qualifying talking points

Graham Caygill offers his thoughts on some of the big stories to have emerged from qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Paul Di Resta in action for Williams during qualifying for Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix. Peter Kohalmi / AFP
Paul Di Resta in action for Williams during qualifying for Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix. Peter Kohalmi / AFP

Ahead of Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix, which will see Ferrari's championship leader Sebastian Vettel start on pole position, here are some of the other talking points from Saturday’s qualifying session.

Di Resta’s fine return

Considering he has not driven competitively in a Formula 1 car since November 2013, and he found out with less than two hours before qualifying that he would be standing in for the unwell Felipe Massa at Williams, for Paul Di Resta to qualify 19th, and only 0.7 seconds off his teammate Lance Stroll, was a terrific effort. The Briton has been unable to force his way back into F1 since being dropped by Force India, but he would not have done his stock any harm, given he had been at the Hungaroring expecting to be a TV pundit, rather than racing. Sunday’s race will be about staying out of trouble and trying simply to finish. The track does not suit Williams so barring incidents and unreliability ahead, scoring points will be a tall order, but Di Resta has already won, in some ways, by reminding everyone of how capable he is, especially in less than ideal circumstances.

Reality check for Ricciardo

Practice on Friday had hinted that Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull Racing were on for an upset in Hungary as they topped the times in both sessions. But come Saturday it was the familiar story of Ferrari and Mercedes-GP finding more speed and the Austrian team having no response. Ricciardo had technical problems that limited his time on track in final practice, and not only did he fall behind the Ferrari and Mercedes cars in qualifying he was also beaten by teammate Max Verstappen, who starts one place ahead of him in fifth spot, after edging out the Australian by 0.021 seconds. Barring a strong getaway, the chances of Ricciardo, who won the race in 2014, achieving a fourth podium in as many years at the track is looking like a tall order that will require a lot of luck.

Better for McLaren

Whisper it quietly, but the McLaren team are improving. Yes, the Honda engine continues to be a burden for the team, but the Hungaroring, which has just the start-finish straight to contend with, has highlighted that on pure mechanical grip, the MCL32 car is actually fairly competitive. Eighth and ninth for Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne respectively in qualifying is not really anything to be getting too excited about for a team with 182 race wins to their name, but it is a step in the right direction. The team already have two points from Azerbaijan when Alonso was ninth, but that was a race of high attrition that the Spaniard benefitted from. On Sunday they have a real chance to score some good points on merit.

Palmer’s missed chance

Renault have been quick in Hungary, the lack of long straights hiding the limited horsepower from their engine. Given he is under pressure with no points this season, and a number of drivers ranging from Carlos Sainz Jr and Robert Kubica linked with his race seat, what Jolyon Palmer needed was a strong weekend. Instead he crashed in practice on Friday, and in qualifying underlined again that he is not on the level of teammate Nico Hulkenberg. While Hulkenberg was consistently in the top eight throughout the weekend, Palmer was close to a second off the German's pace in qualifying and though he did qualify eleventh, he was 0.8 seconds slower than the man he shares the French team’s garage with. Palmer needs points on Sunday and a strong race, especially with Kubica testing for the team next week.