Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc set the pace in Friday practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix that offered few clues to the true competitive picture.
Leclerc was 0.015s quicker than McLaren’s Lando Norris, but world champion Max Verstappen was only 11th fastest and Mercedes close behind.
The Alpins of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were third and fifth fastest, beating Yuki Tsunoda’s Alpha Tauri.
Daniel Ricciardo, returning to Formula 1 with Alpha Tauri, was 14th.
The Australian was 0.451 seconds slower than his teammate Tsunoda.
A new approach to tire allocation for the weekend appears to have changed the way teams approach practice.
The number of sets of tires available to each driver has been reduced and they must use different compounds for the three parts of qualifying: hard in the first session, medium in the second and soft in the final round of the top 10.
All teams did not follow the usual pattern of assemblies, followed by qualifying simulation and then race simulation.
Red Bull and Mercedes, for example, didn’t seem to do qualifying simulations, at least not representative ones.
As well as Verstappen in 11th, team-mate Sergio Perez, whose weekend got off to a bad start with a first-lap crash in early practice, was 18th, with Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell 16th and 20th.
However, there were some race simulations later in the session.
Mercedes, Aston Martin and McLaren chose the medium tyres, with Norris appearing to be fastest, followed by Alonso, who was eighth fastest in a single lap, Russell and Hamilton.
Red Bull and Ferrari chose the soft tires for their races, and although Leclerc started strongly, Verstappen was comfortably faster for a number of laps.
The big focus of the day was on Ricciardo’s 2023 debut, after he was selected following the sacking of Dutchman Nyck de Vries last week.
Ricciardo drove a consistent session as he set about learning his new car, starting more than a second behind Tsunoda and closing in. He had more or less matched the Japanese rider’s time at the end of his run on his first set of tyres, but Tsunoda has made clear progress in his qualifying tests on the soft tyre.
With Ricciardo back, the last thing Perez needed was a difficult day, but that’s what he got after dropping his outside wheels to the grass on his entry into the Fifth Fifth when the rain started to fall at the start of the first practice and he crashed into the wall.
Perez’s statements on the radio immediately after the accident – “I can’t believe it” – made it clear that he understood the possible seriousness of the mistake.
Team manager 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 to challenge team-mate Verstappen for the championship has crumbled as his season has imploded following a string of mistakes.
Ricciardo has said his dream is to do well enough at Alpha Tauri to earn a Red Bull seat again.
Perez, who is under contract with Red Bull until 2024, said on Thursday that Ricciardo’s return “changes nothing” for him, insisting his future was “in my hands”.
Horner has said he believed Perez’s problem was that he had put too much pressure on himself, adding after the British Grand Prix that Perez “just needs a clean weekend”.
That hope is now abandoned in Hungary, although he was a little lucky that the rain in the first session meant that the learning that the other drivers would otherwise have had was not lost.