Lewis Hamilton dominated qualifying in Hungary, setting the pace in all three sessions with two laps fast enough for pole position. His margin over second place was more than four tenths, while he had six tenths in hand over his team mate Button in 4th place.
It was Hamilton’s 22nd career pole and the 150th for McLaren. He is joined on the front row by Lotus’ Romain Grosjean in his highest ever starting position after an entertaining session. Sebastian Vettel had to use up sets of soft tyres just to make it into Q3 and his challenge was blunted as a result.
Hamilton was the man to beat on Friday and although he lost out to Mark Webber in FP3, it was largely because he didn’t get the most on new soft tyres. His pace on mediums has been blistering throughout.
“It has been a really positive weekend so far, finally we see the upgrades working this weekend, being able to put car in places I previously wasn’t able to,” said Hamilton.
“I am always striving for the perfect lap, and to get that is intense and exciting and if you get it right it is incredibly empowering. This weekend we have obviously had pace, we knew it was possible but it was just a case of doing it.
“Considering we have had pace all weekend, [missing pole] would have been disappointing, so I am happy I have done it.”
But he will need to be on his mettle tomorrow, particularly with the threat from Grosjean. The Lotus has had race pace to match any team lately but has just lacked qualifying speed. From this front row platform, with potentially better tyre wear, Grosjean could win the race.
Hamilton has scored just four points in the last three races (while Alonso has scored 68) and he has to get a win tomorrow, ideally with Alonso off the podium, to start closing the gap. The McLaren is clearly much improved, but there are threats everywhere.
Hamilton proved his speed early on with a time set on the medium compound tyre that could not be matched by any of those on the soft. He was able to save an extra set of the soft tyres for the final phase of qualifying.
This weekend saw the first fully dry qualifying session in the last three races where McLaren had hoped to put their raft of upgrades to good use. The track temperatures were erratic today; the session started at 46 degrees then fell to 39 then rose to 45 again.
Alongside Button on the second row is Sebastian Vettel, who scraped his way through Q1 in 17th position. Vettel looked like he might be on for pole position earlier in the shoot out until a mistake in the final sector cost him that chance and allowed Grosjean to steal second at the flag.
Red Bull has been under scrutiny again, this time over a ride height control question, with the FIA asking them to remove an item on the suspension which they found on the car in Montreal. For qualifying today an FIA inspector conspicuously put FIA stickers on the side of the Red Bull chassis, underlining how the team is under the microscope at the moment.
The third row is filled by two former World Champions with Kimi Raikkonen having the bragging rights over championship leader Fernando Alonso. Raikkonen completed another strong showing for Lotus who are gaining more consistency and pushing towards their first GP victory.
Alonso had a relatively understated session compared to recent races; the warm conditions proving that his comments this week regarding their lack of pace to other top teams are true.
Felipe Massa will be more satisfied than his Ferrari team mate, ending the session in 7th place and just 0.05 slower than Alonso.
The Williams pairing of Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna are joined by Nico Hulkenberg to complete the top 10. Senna has shown impressive pace all weekend and this is the first time in 2012 that he has made it to the top 10 shoot out.
As qualifying began, the majority of cars headed out on the medium compound tyre as the track became very busy with all 24 runners trying to set an early lap. Hamilton set the initial benchmark in Q1 as he set a 1:21.794; half a second faster than anyone else could manage on the prime tyre.
When the remainder of the field used a set of the option tyres Hamilton’s time remained unbeaten with the softer compound bringing less of an advantage than the half a second that was previously suggested. The top 17 drivers were covered by 1.2 seconds and Vettel was the man under pressure as he just made the cut in to Q2 after aborting his soft tyre run.
Q2 saw every car take the option tyres and Hamilton proved that the option tyre was, in-fact, substantially faster than the prime, at least on his car as he went 9/10ths faster than his medium tyre run and over half a second ahead of team mate Jenson Button when they both used the soft compound.
As many other cars took an early run on their Q1 rubber Hamilton needed just one lap to set a blistering pace of 1:21.0 and 4/10ths of a second faster than Vettel in second place. Mark Webber was unable to match the pace of his Red Bull team mate and found himself in 11th position and out of qualifying, although only 3/10ths off Vettel. Webber was joined in the drop-zone by the two Mercedes who continued with their tyre warming struggles to leave Rosberg and Schumacher in 13th and 17th places respectively.
HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX, Hungaroring, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m20.953s
2. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m21.366s + 0.413 secs
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m21.416s + 0.463
4. Jenson Button McLaren 1m21.583s + 0.630
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m21.730s + 0.777
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m21.844s + 0.891
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m21.900s + 0.947
8. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m21.939s + 0.986
9. Bruno Senna Williams 1m22.343s + 1.390
10. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m22.847s + 1.894
11. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m21.715s + 0.655
12. Paul di Resta Force India 1m21.813s + 0.753
13. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m21.895s + 0.835
14. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m21.895s + 0.835
15. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m22.300s + 1.240
16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m22.380s + 1.320
17. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m22.723s + 1.663
18. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m23.250s + 1.456
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m23.576s + 1.782
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m24.167s + 2.373
21. Charles Pic Marussia 1m25.244s + 3.450
22. Timo Glock Marussia 1m25.476s + 3.682
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m25.916s + 4.122
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m26.178s + 4.384