McLaren-Mercedes pairing Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen will be bidding to 'do a Nürburging' in charging their way to the front of the field at the first corner of the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday, after achieving the Woking-based outfit's best double qualifying result of the 2009 F1 World Championship campaign to-date.
After pacing two of the three practice sessions and never lapping outside of the top three places throughout, Hamilton headed into the qualifying hour around the tight and twisty Hungaroring – a track whose layout suits the greatly improved MP4-24 to near-perfection – as a hot tip to grab his first pole position since last year.
Second position to respectively former karting sparring partner and close friend Nico Rosberg for Williams in Q1 and German Grand Prix winner Mark Webber in the in-form Red Bull Racing both Q2 showed that the reigning F1 World Champion was very much still in the groove, but a change in weather conditions and a gusty wind rendered the track surface slippery and tricky to drive, and left the 24-year-old in fourth spot at the close, just under three tenths of a second adrift of pole-sitting former team-mate Fernando Alonso.
“It was so hard out there this afternoon,” the Stevenage-born ace confessed. “Maybe we could have been closer to the front because my final lap wasn't a great one, but fourth is a good position from which to start tomorrow's race. We're still not quick enough and need to keep pushing but, nonetheless, it feels great to be back up there competing for the first few rows on the grid.
“I have a few cars to try and [KERS] boost past, so I hope there's some good grip on my side of the grid – it would be fantastic to get the lead into the first corner. Finally, I want to send my best wishes to Felipe [Massa]. It looked quite a big crash so I just hope he's okay.”
Kovalainen, for his part, is benefitting from the full upgrade package brought to McLaren's challenger for the first time this weekend, but the defending Hungarian Grand Prix winner – what remains the Finn's only victory at the highest level to-date – struggled for grip in both Q1 and Q2. Enduring some grassy moments as he only just made it through Q1 by the skin of his teeth in 15th spot – less than a tenth inside the cut – he appeared in some danger in Q2 as well, before hauling himself to safety in seventh when it counted. The 27-year-old will line up directly behind Hamilton on the grid in sixth, just over two tenths further in arrears.
“It was harder to find grip on the track this afternoon, and the car was sliding around quite a bit,” Kovalainen acknowledged. “It was better on heavier tanks, but it was still difficult to get enough heat into the tyres. At one point, I over-cooked them – it was tricky to get the right balance, so sixth was the best I could do today.
“The most encouraging thing about today is that we're much closer to the front. With the same upgrades as Lewis, we've made great progress, and it shows the incredible efforts of everybody in the team. I don't know if any other team in the paddock could have made such a big step. We should all be encouraged by that – but the work starts again to get us back to the very front. I really hope that Felipe is okay. I really hope he isn't injured, as it reminds me of my accident in Barcelona last year.”
The outcome corroborated the improvement demonstrated in Germany a fortnight ago, and suggests that after a couple of false dawns earlier in the season, this time the multiple world championship-winning outfit really is
on the comeback trail.