Lewis Hamilton surprised both himself and his Mercedes team as he took pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix with a sensational lap to beat pre-qualifying favourite Sebastian Vettel.
It is Hamilton’s third consecutive pole position – the first time he has managed that – and the 30th of his career.
Having stated that missing out on last week’s Young Driver Test at Silverstone, where their rivals tested the new Pirelli tyres, had hampered their chances of a strong result this weekend, Hamilton and team-mate Nico Rosberg showed themselves as pole contenders from the outset of qualifying. The German was fastest in both Q1 and Q2. Rosberg had not been outqualified by a team mate here since his debut season 2006, but Hamilton put clear daylight between himself and Rosberg when the talking stopped at the end of Q3.
After the first runs of the top ten shoot-out Vettel seemed to have one hand on pole as he lapped 3/10ths faster than we had seen so far this weekend, and set a challenge to the Mercedes pair and the Lotus of Romain Grosjean.
And Hamilton duly obliged – setting a stunning first sector – as he took 3/10ths off Vettel’s time and waited for the German to complete his final lap.
Vettel improved upon his personal best but ended the session 4/100ths away from Hamilton’s pace.
After topping the final Free Practice session this morning Grosjean emerged as Lotus’ best chance for pole position and was on the pace throughout. Growing from his strong showing in Germany in the previous race, the young Frenchman claimed third position, putting himself in with a very good chance of at least a podium tomorrow. However his car failed a floor deflection test and he was sent to the stewards, but they let him off as Lotus was able to prove that the floor had been damaged.
The sister Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen did not have such joy as the Finn struggled to hustle his car through the lap in the way that his team-mate had. Grosjean set the fastest time in the long second sector, where as Raikkonen was 4/10ths off in that section alone.
Nevertheless, Raikkonen still starts the race in sixth position and his cars kindness to its tyres along with his supreme consistency should see him move up the field.
Between the Lotus pair is Rosberg and the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso. Rosberg had been in touch with Hamilton in the opening stages of qualifying but could not pull the most out of the car when it mattered.
Keeping Alonso and Raikkonen at bay is key for his team’s Constructors’ Championship as Ferrari and Lotus sit close behind Mercedes, who are second.
Alonso continued his run of putting the Ferrari in its strongest possible position as they continue to lack the single lap pace of the Mercedes and Red Bull. His team-mate, Felipe Massa, will start seventh after a good showing.
The final three place in the top ten are filled by a trio who will have differing levels of satisfaction.
Daniel Ricciardo made it four consecutive races in which he has qualified in the top ten, once again beating his team-mate and improving his chances of a Red Bull seat in 2014.
And the man who’s seat he desires had a less successful afternoon. Mark Webber suffered an electrical issue in Q1, losing KERS in the process and opting to sit out of Q3 to give himself a free tyre choice for tomorrow.
That pair sandwich Sergio Perez in a repaired McLaren. The Mexican crashed in the final moments of FP3 and did not enter qualifying until the closing minutes of Q1. However, he out-qualified Jenson Button and rewarded his mechanics for their work.
Vettel’s long runs on both tyres have been very strong all weekend, however there is a question over the rear brakes overheating; all cars will be right on the edge for cooling tomorrow and we could well see a number struggling.
HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX, Budapest, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m19.388s
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m19.426s +0.038s
3. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m19.595s +0.207s
4. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m19.720s +0.332s
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m19.791s +0.403s
6. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m19.851s +0.463s
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m19.929s +0.541s
8. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m20.641s +1.253s
9. Sergio Perez McLaren 1m22.398s +3.010s
10. Mark Webber Red Bull no time set
11. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m20.569s +0.791s
12. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1m20.580s +0.802s
13. Jenson Button McLaren 1m20.777s +0.999s
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m21.029s +1.251s
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m21.133s +1.355s
16. Valtteri Bottas Williams- 1m21.219s +1.441s
17. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m21.724s +1.374s
18. Paul di Resta Force India 1m22.043s +1.693s
19. Charles Pic Caterham 1m23.007s +2.657s
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1m23.333s +2.983s
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m23.787s +3.437s
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m23.997s +3.647s