Hamilton sails to pole in Budapest
Lewis Hamilton will line up alongside teammate Valtteri Bottas in an unlikely Mercedes front-row lockout after a chaotic qualifying session at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The entire qualifying hour took place in variable conditions, with rain intensifying and calming, keeping drivers and strategists on their toes as to when the track would be quickest and on which tyre.
Q3 took place on a saturated track, with the full wet tyre the rubber of choice, and Hamilton set provisional pole with his first lap.
However, as the frontrunners continued to circulate on the long-life full wet tyres on the drying track, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen pulled a half-second margin over the Briton to seize top spot.
Cars returned to the pits for new sets of full wet tyres in a final attempt to squeeze out extra lap time. The frontrunners traded best sectors, and Bottas the first man to displace Raikkonen, who couldn’t strike back against his compatriot.
Hamilton beat them all, however, storming home with the final flying lap to record a 0.260-second margin over his teammate.
An all-Mercedes front row was unthinkable before the rain arrived, with practice pace suggesting Ferrari and even Red Bull Racing held a margin over the Silver Arrows, but Hamilton and Bottas came alive in the wet conditions to conquer all.
“It’s great for the team to have a one two,” Hamilton said. “We couldn’t have expected this.
“It’s so tricky out there. At the beginning it was dry for part of the lap then towards the end it was getting more and more wet. That’s massively challenging.
“When it got extreme you’re just looking for a clean line and tiptoeing around the corners.
“The Ferraris have been quickest all weekend and we were just doing our best to be as close as possible — then the heavens open and it was fair game!
Bottas, who was denied victory last weekend in Germany after his team ordered him to hold position behind the slower Hamilton at the end of the race, lamented his track position on his final lap offering him less grip.
“We only had one go with the new set of tyres and [Hamilton] was quicker on that lap,” he admitted, but added, “He was later as well, and the track was all the time drying up.”
Raikkonen wound up third, half a second slower than Hamilton but just 0.034 seconds ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel.
The Finn said he too could have been on pole had he not found himself on the track at the wrong time.
“Obviously it’s not ideal, but I think the weather’s the most important [factor],” he said. “The car was driveable and enjoyable in the wet today.
“I think I was a bit unlucky … we got behind a Haas, and in the spray it’s impossible to see and improve — but there was definitely chance in these conditions today to be comfortable on pole.”
Behind fourth-placed Vettel qualified Renault’s Carlos Sainz and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, both midfielders comfortably ahead of Max Verstappen.
Verstappen was 2.374 seconds slower than Hamilton’s benchmark, completing a difficult afternoon for Red Bull Racing, which lost Daniel Ricciardo in 12th to yellow flags in the worsening weather in Q2.
Brendon Hartley was just a tenth of a second slower than Verstappen in eighth, and Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean qualified ninth and 10th.
Rain drizzled onto the circuit before Q2, but only Sebastian Vettel picked the track to be wet enough for intermediate tyres, with all the rest of the field taking to the circuit on slicks.
It quickly became apparent that the rain was getting harder, and as all bar Vettel returned to the pits for new rubber, the German set a time in the worsening conditions.
The track quickly repopulated, but the circuit was drenched and treacherous by the time the other drivers could set a lap, and no-one was able to match Vettel’s time.
Lance Stroll spun off at turn nine, sliding into the inside barrier and snapping off his front wing. He continued back to the pits but took no further part in the session.
The ensuing yellow flags stung Daniel Ricciardo, who was among the last drivers to return to the track with the appropriate tyres. He was unable to set a competitive time, and with track conditions deteriorating, he couldn’t improve with his next attempt nor with the full wet tyre.
Ricciardo was eliminated in 12th, ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Lance Stroll’s damaged Williams, which didn’t set a time.
McLaren’s Fernando Alonso qualified ahead of the Red Bull Racing car in 11th.
Rain showered the circuit before qualifying, putting the circuit in a difficult half-wet, half-dry condition for Q1, and the forecast for more rain made choosing tyres difficult.
Everyone started with the intermediate weather compound, but with the rain staying away all bar Daniel Ricciardo switched to the dry-weather ultrasoft compound, with the Australian opting for the soft compound, which was more durable but offered less grip.
It was a risk for the Red Bull Racing driver, who spent most of the session on the cusp of the elimination zone as rivals around him found more and more time on the drying circuit.
A last-gasp lap saved the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix winner, but the final moments of the session were a lottery. Pipped by just a tenth of a second was McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, fastest of the eliminated drivers, in P16.
Sauber’s Charles Leclerc qualified 17th, beaten by teammate Marcus Ericsson, who progressed into Q2.
However, the biggest shock was the elimination of teammates Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez in 18th and 19th, compounding a difficult weekend for the team, which was placed into administration this week after Mercedes, major sponsor BWT and a company linked to Perez petitioned the UK’s High Court to wind up the business due to unpaid bills.
Sergey Sirotkin qualified last for Williams.