Sebastian Vettel took pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix by four tenths of a second over team mate Mark Webber, one of the larger margins we have seen between them this season.
Red Bull Team principal Christian Horner hailed the team’s 11th pole in 12 races as “our most dominant qualifying of the year” and it’s easy to see why; the margin back to Fernando Alonso in third place was 1.2 seconds, with 7/10ths of that coming in the middle sector alone. This is all about downforce and balance and the Red Bull is more or less perfect, something you cannot often say about a racing car.
Vettel needs a good start tomorrow, after some difficult getaways recently. Budapest has the third longest run down to Turn 1 of all the circuits on the calendar, so there will be some concerns for him and it represents probably the only chance for his competitors.
Alonso, who outqualified Felipe Massa by 4/10ths of a second, said that “the start, the first corner, the first lap will be 60% of the race” given how difficult it is to overtake. But he promised to try to “make life more difficult for the Red Bulls” than he has been able to do so far this weekend.
Russia’s Vitaly Petrov did an outstanding job in the Renault to outqualify Robert Kubica for the first time this season. But Lewis Hamilton defied predictions that he would be behind the Renaults, hoisting his car to fifth place.
“Red Bull is impossible to beat,” said Hamilton. “I pulled every inch out of the car and I’m happy with the job I did. ”
Team principal Martin Whitmarsh has been making references this weekend to his car being “the fastest of the fixed wing cars”, but Horner has invited him to formally protest the Red Bull if he felt he wanted to make his point
In the first part of qualifying Kamui Kobayashi was eliminated along with the new teams, after losing time behind one of the Hispania cars. He aborted the lap and on his way into the pits missed a compulsory weight check. He was punished with a five place grid drop.
But it was noticeable that Virgin was able to carry through on its promise from practice, where the team was ahead of Lotus.
In qualifying Timo Glock was 1/10th ahead of of Heikki Kovalainen. Virgin brought a significant upgrade in Silverstone and two smaller ones since then, including a rear wing update this weekend.
In Q2 there were some big names eliminated and some outstanding performances from others. Rosberg did a fantastic job to get the Mercedes up to 5th, while team mate Michael Schumacher was down in 14th place. It was a very graphic illustration of the problems he is having on his comeback. But Rosberg’s performance argues against the car being the problem.
Renault’s Vitaly Petrov was fourth in Q2, ahead of Robert Kubica, while Nico Hulkenberg made the top ten, outqualifying his team mate Rubens Barrichello. Jenson Button missed the cut in 11th place, unable to find the grip. Sauber’s Pedro de la Rosa again pulled out a strong lap to get into the top ten.
” I couldn’t find a balance on the car,” said Button. “I was happy with the car this morning, but this afternoon I couldn’t find the grip. Not a great session, but I’m on the clean side and I have a new set of tyres, so hopefully I can fight from there.”
Q3 was a relatively straight forward affair; as in Germany, Vettel had the edge and Webber couldn’t get it together to challenge him, In the first runs in Q3, Vettel was four tenths ahead of Webber, with Alonso 1.2 seconds adrift.
Webber’s second lap was 3/10ths slower than his first lap and although Vettel didn’t improve either, both of his Q3 laps were easily good enough to take pole position.
“It was a very good day for us, ” said Vettel. “Mark and myself were pushing hard to finish 1st and 2nd. I said to the mechanics ‘This is your moment, you built this wonderful car,’ because it really is a pleasure to drive. Traditionally this is a difficult circuit the cars are nervous, but the track suits our car.”
Renault’s drivers did only one run in Q3, Kubica made a mistake on his first lap and didn’t recover, allowing Petrov through to outqualify him.
Although Vettel cannot take the championship lead tomorrow, he can take a big bite out of Hamilton’s lead. If Vettel wins and Hamilton finishes best of the rest behind the Red Bulls and Ferraris, then the lead will be down to single figures, with Red Bull clearly well ahead on performance of McLaren as the summer shut down starts.
With eight races to go, what it will take now is for one of the Red Bull drivers to put a run together if they are to win the championship. After coming through the dramas of Istanbul and Silverstone, Vettel now looks the most likely to do this and a win tomorrow could prove to be the start of a championship charge. But if Webber gets him off the start line again, as he did in Silverstone….
HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING, Hungaroring
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:20.417 1:19.573 1:18.773
2. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:21.132 1:19.531 1:19.184
3. Alonso Ferrari 1:21.278 1:20.237 1:19.987
4. Massa Ferrari 1:21.299 1:20.857 1:20.331
5. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:21.455 1:20.877 1:20.499
6. Rosberg Mercedes 1:21.212 1:20.811 1:21.082
7. Petrov Renault 1:21.558 1:20.797 1:21.229
8. Kubica Renault 1:21.159 1:20.867 1:21.328
9. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:21.891 1:21.273 1:21.411
10. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:21.598 1:21.275 1:21.710
11. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:21.422 1:21.292
12. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:21.478 1:21.331
13. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:22.080 1:21.517
14. Schumacher Mercedes 1:21.840 1:21.630
15. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:21.982 1:21.897
16. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:21.789 1:21.927
17. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:21.978 1:21.998
18. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:22.222
19. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:24.050
20. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 1:24.120
21. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:24.199
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 1:25.118
23. Senna HRT-Cosworth 1:26.391
24. Yamamoto HRT-Cosworth 1:26.453