Two-time champion Fernando Alonso was sixth for Alpine on his 41st birthday ahead of retirement-bound four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin, his friend and long-time rival.
George Russell was a frustrated eighth for Mercedes, after struggling for balance, ahead of Sergio Perez whose frustrations with his Red Bull continued and Valtteri Bottas, 10th for Alfa Romeo.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton also had a difficult day and wound up 11th in the second Mercedes, grumbling about his car’s continuing instability.
Last year’s surprise winner Esteban Ocon was 13th in the second Alpine, but might be encouraged by the likelihood of very different conditions on Saturday and Sunday.
He took advantage of the conditions last year to claim his maiden victory and was optimistic on arrival in Budapest that a repeat was in prospect.
“A million emotions came flooding back as soon as I landed in Budapest,” he said.
“One year ago, we achieved something amazing and a dream came true for me. But I want more. We want more. Last push before the summer break.”
On a hot and dry afternoon at the Hungaroring, where heavy rain has been forecast and may deliver a stormy qualifying session on Saturday, it was Leclerc who took the early initiative.
Sainz soon made it a Ferrari one-two at the top before Norris, on softs, took over despite running wide and across the grass and dust at the final corner, endorsing the view that McLaren may find the circuit to their liking.
‘A bit tricky’
Leclerc regained top spot, but Verstappen and Red Bull appeared to be struggling to match the Ferrari pace and the champion was down in fourth with team-mate Perez ninth with 23 minutes remaining.
“As expected, it was a bit tricky today,” said Verstappen.
“We were trying to find the right balance from high to low speed, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t – there’s a bit of work to do.”
The 24-year-old Dutchman has won eight out of 12 races this season and leads Leclerc by 63 points in the title race but he remains wary of his main rival.
“I think the Ferraris will be ahead of us this weekend and it will be hard to beat them,” he said.
“We’ll work hard overnight and try to close that gap as much as we can.
“The weather looks like it will have an impact. In the dry, we might struggle to compete but it could be a different story in the rain – but, who knows? We’ll see tomorrow.”
Mercedes were struggling and with seven minutes to go, Hamilton caught a big snap of oversteer at Turn Four, taking to the run-off area.
“The car is unstable,” he reported on team radio.
On an unspectacular day of few incidents, Hamilton was not the only driver to struggle for performance as air temperatures soared to 35 degrees.
Aston Martin, having introduced a new ‘armchair’ rear wing, appeared to be taking their time to understand its potential with both Vettel and Lance Stroll assuming middle order positions.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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