Ricciardo 13th on F1 qualifying return, but braced for difficult Hungarian GP

BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Daniel Ricciardo impressed on his Formula One return as he out-qualified new teammate Yuki Tsunoda to line up 13th for Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix.

Having sensationally replaced Nyck de Vries until the end of the season Ricciardo's comeback has been a huge focus of media interest this week.

AlphaTauri's car is one of the least competitive on the grid and Ricciardo's first task if he is to convince Red Bull he can replace Sergio Perez in future will be to regularly beat the only driver in identical machinery.

He did that at the first attempt on Saturday as Tsunoda failed to make it past the Q1 session.

"I had no idea where to expect to be on the grid," Ricciardo said after the session.

"The 13th place in a way feels somewhat irrelevant.

"Of course, my reference is Yuki for now. Watching from the outside, he's a good reference, because not only this year, but already the second half of last year, I could see with Pierre [Gasly], he was starting to be a lot more competitive.

"Whether I'm ahead or behind, I think just to be there is positive for me."

Ricciardo initially took a year off after two difficult seasons with McLaren, where he struggled to get to grips with the car.

The Australian struggled to adjust his driving style to McLaren cars with a pronounced sensitivity to corner entry, which led to a downward spiral in confidence and results bar his shock win at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix.

Ricciardo said he felt comfortable with AlphaTauri's car from the first moment he drove out of the pits on Friday.

"I think the positive was, actually before the rain came in FP1, I did pretty much one lap. I got the red flag just before the line. Already in one lap of driving the car, I was filled with a bit of confidence.

"I wasn't at the limit yet, but I felt like it was responding the way I was anticipating. In general, I think it's something I can feel comfortable with."

The eight-time race winner felt he could immediately push the AlphaTauri car with more confidence.

"I knew there would be a bit of a hill to climb," Ricciardo said. "I was trying not to get caught up on how I go this weekend. But of course, I'm a race car driver. So I'm always going to expect something out of myself.

"Jumping in the car in qualifying, I felt really relaxed, and not to take it lightly, but just happy to be back and happy to be able to push a car on the limit again.

"This is something that I didn't always have the last year or two, and that's why I think the time off was needed for me."

Ricciardo has not completed a race distance since the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and has not been able to do a long consecutive stint of laps in his new car, something he is bound to feel the impact of on Sunday.

On his expectations, he said: "It's really hard. I've done probably only maybe an eight-lap run or something at the moment.

"Even for me, I think tomorrow there's going to be a lot of things for me to learn in terms of tyre management, but also the car, with fuel, as the tyres go off, I think I'll start to probably discover about the car, those conditions, the weaknesses.

"I think there'll probably be laps where I'm maybe not doing too great. But then there'll be laps where I'm doing better because I'm learning as I go, in a way.

"I don't want to say that negatively, but inevitably, there is still going to be a handful of things to pick up on, and hopefully I can be a fast learner. If we find our way in the points, then that would be huge.

"I think for now, as a team, we need to get points, but it's really just making sure that I'm on top of the car, at one with the car. That's the first box I need to tick."