Lewis Hamilton claimed his first pole position since the Malaysian Grand Prix with an imperious performance at the Hungaroring as Mark Webber failed to make the top 10 and Michael Schumacher slumped to 17th.
Quickest in the Friday practice sessions, Hamilton was briefly eclipsed in the final free practice session on Saturday morning by Webber but come qualifying it was the McLaren man in the driving seat once more as he went quickest in all three segments to claim the 22nd pole position of his career. Indeed, in the final top-10 shoot-out, Hamilton took provisional pole with an impressive lap that left Sebastian Vettel trailing by two tenths. And when the Red Bull Racing driver bowed out after a single run because of heavy tyre usage early on, Hamilton upped the ante even further, going almost three tenths quicker with his final run.
“I’m really happy with the work the guys have done,” said Hamilton afterwards. “Obviously Jenson showed the pace of the car in the last race but to be able to put that to work through qualifying here feels fantastic. This is a good boost to the team. Still we have a very long race tomorrow. Lots can happen and we just need to keep our cool.”
Vettel should have claimed the other side of the front row, but as he was climbing out of his car in Parc Fermé, Lotus’ Romain Grosjean was powering through the second sector of the Hungaroring. He crossed the line five hundredths of a second clear to push Vettel back to row two.
Afterwards, Vettel admitted that he has been struggling to find the perfect set-up so far.
“For us it’s difficult getting everything to work properly. I think the speed is there but it seems extremely difficult once you lose the balance a little bit,” he said. “So I think we were struggling a little bit with that in qualifying. Throughout qualifying I think it got better.
“However, we shot through all the tyres, more or less. I knew I only had one set in Q3. I’m not entirely happy with the lap I had. I think Romain was in reach but Lewis was probably a bit too far away today. But I think with the progress we made this morning and through qualifying we should be in a good position tomorrow for the race.”
Grosjean was understandably delighted with the first front-row start of his F1 career. “It's good to be back at the front,” he said. “We had a difficult German Grand Prix and a difficult start here in Hungary. But the guys did a fantastic job trying to help me set up the car, trying to find out what was wrong and [we’re] back to the top and it’s good.”
Webber, meanwhile, was sitting in the garage watching the drama unfold. Both he and Vettel had sailed close to the wind in Q1, ending that session in 16th and 17th places respectively, and in Q2 the Australian was sitting at the wrong end of the top 10 with moments to go. Race engineer Ciaron Pilbeam advised another run to secure passage to Q3 and that should have been the signal for Webber to head out and jump up the order. But as both Nico Hulkenberg and Bruno Senna improved, to leave Webber 11th, the Red Bull driver couldn’t find the pace and later laid the blame on his final set of new soft tyres.
“I was happy this morning, I was quick in Q1 in relation to what we could do but in the end I didn’t feel happy on the new set of soft tyres I had and I struggled to even go against my scrubbed time, which was a bit bizarre,” he said. “You need to get everything right when you’re on the bubble and we got bumped and that’s it. It’s disappointing to qualify there, but we look forward to the race tomorrow.”
With Vettel third, fourth on the grid went to Jenson Button, the second McLaren driver proving that the team’s improved pace in Germany was no flash in the pan. Row three will be occupied by the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, while Williams enjoyed a positive outing, with Pastor Maldonado eighth and Bruno Senna ninth. It’s the first time since the Brazilian GP of 2010 that the team has had two cars in the top 10. Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10.
Further back, Mercedes, and Michael Schumacher in particular, had a torrid afternoon, with both Nico Rosberg (13th) and Schumacher, who ended up 17th, mystified by the poor performance of their cars.
“It was quite a tough and difficult day for us,” said Schumacher. “We have to clearly see that we did not have the pace to be in the front. I could have done a faster lap probably, without the dust having been brought to the track by Maldonado, but then I still do not think it would have brought me into Q3. I don't think we could have done much more.
“This morning we practised for long runs as yesterday we could not do that due to the rain but I don't think it compromised our performance,” he added. “You have to accept the gap is quite big. We know the combination of track layout and temperature does not suit us too much, and we will try to make the best out of it tomorrow.”