Three-time winner at Hungary Lewis Hamilton came good once again at just the right moment on Saturday, securing his third pole position in as many races and the 30th of his F1 Grand Prix career by pipping what had appeared to be a dominating lap by championship leader Sebastian Vettel.

Mercedes had clearly been biding their time in the run up to qualifying at the Hungaroring, not looking particularly strong in the free practice sessions. But the minute that Hamilton and his team mate Nico Rosberg were called into action in qualifying they were able to immediately get up to speed and show they were well up to the challenge of Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel and Lotus F1's Romain Grosjean who would have been forgiven for expecting to slug it out for pole coming into the session.

At the start of Q1 it was no surprise that Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez was the first man out of pit lane for a much-needed shakedown. having suffered from engine problems in the morning that had left him unable to run in Free Practice 3. He took advantage of the clear track to post a time of 1:23.998s, and once he was done the rest of the field started to emerge led by Force India's Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta along with Williams duo Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado.

The front runers were all trying to stay cool in their garages, and it wasn't until the second half of the 20 minute Q1 session that the pace started to hot up to match the skyrocketing track temperatures which topped 50C, with all the drivers streaming out on the soft compound tyres for effectively their one and only qualifying lap in the first round.

Lotus F1's Romain Grosjean picked up in qualifying where he'd left off in FP3 by going straight to the top of the timesheets with a lap of 1:20.447s, two tenths faster than Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes held out until the last minute before making their appearances out on track, putting them at rick of getting catastrophically caught out should there be an incident bringing out local waved yellows. Fortunately non materialised, although Mark Webber had a drama of his own with yet another KERS and gearbox problem on his RB9 that left him off the pace and at risk of failing to make the cut-off point for Q2.

No such problems for Mercedes, who finally showed their true form at the Hungaroring with Nico Rosberg immediately going top with a lap of 1:20.350s, a slender 0.013s faster than his team mate Lewis Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel settled for fourth place, splitting Grosjean and Alonso in the process and looking safely through to the next round.

Meanwhile his team mate's blushes were spared when the final laps of the session failed to deliver the necessary improvements, Paul di Resta in particular having an ugly time of it on the soft compounds and failing to improve on 18th place - another dreadful time of it in qualifying for the Scot, who was spluttering in disbelief over the team radio when told that he'd been eliminated along with Guti?rrez and the usual crowd of Caterhams and Marussias who all cleared the mandatory 107 per cent time of 1:25.974s by a good two seconds.

The preliminaries over and done with, now things got serious in Q2 with everyone on the soft compounds straight away. The two Lotus cars initially went fastest, Grosjean once again blasting away his team mate Kimi Raikkonen's time with a lap of 1:20.442s proving to be half a second faster than the Finn. Lewis Hamilton haves a little off that time, but it was Sebastian Vettel who delivered the game changer with a stunning time of 1m19.992s, the first driver to dip under the 80s mark so far this weekend. Both Lotus cars upped their games to slot into second and third place, even though their positions in Q3 were already looking reasonably secure.

With less than five minutes remaining and with cloud cover temporarily dipping the track temperatures, the drivers at risk were the two McLarens of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez who were clinging on to ninth and tenth positions before the final onslaught of flying laps. Sure enough, both were deposed by improved laps from the two Williams, while at the top Nico Rosberg showed that the battle for pole was well and truly primed by stealing the top spot with a time of 1:19.778s which Hamilton came within a tenth of matching.

Button went on to improve his time in the dying seconds, only to get dumped out again by cars finishing behind him' Perez also managed to claw his way back into the top ten, and his time of 1:20.545s was just good enough to get him through to Q3, just two hundredths faster than Force India's Adrian Sutil who would be joining Sauber's Nico H?lkenberg, Jenson Button and both Williams watching the rest of qualifying from the sidelines - as would Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne who ended up in 14th place on the grid while his team mate Daniel Ricciardo finished Q2 in ninth and made it through.

Mark Webber also made it through despite continuing to be affected by his KERS and gearbox issues, meaning that the pole shootout consisted of both Red Bulls, both Mercedes, both Lotus and both Ferrari cars together with Ricciardo and Perez proving to be the sole flagbearers for their teams.

With the exception of the reigning world champion, all the cars were quick to head out on track for the final ten minute speed trial, although Perez was notably on medium compound tyres simply to put in an lap to show willing with a relatively sedate 1:24.852s rather than waste his final set of new soft tyres attempting a competitive time. Mark Webber similarly soon realised that without KERS he was unlikely to achieve any lap of note, so he called time early and climbed out of the car with several minutes still to go.

The rest of the drivers were starting on used soft compounds which saw Hamilton faster than Rosberg with a time of 1:20.314s. That was blown away by a showboating Sebastian Vettel, who when he finally joined the party did so on new soft tyres and promptly slammed in a time of 1:19.506s designed to discourage the opposition.

With the gauntlet laid down by Vettel, it was up to the rest of the field to try to respond. One by one they tried - Raikkonen, Rosberg, Grosjean - but all of them fell short. Finally only Lewis Hamilton was left to stake his claim, and on his last chance lap he nailed it, punching in a lap of 1:19.388s that was even good enough to see off Vettel's immediate encore response by 0.038s to clinch the pole position from under the Red Bull driver's nose.

"Is that pole?" asked Hamilton over the team radio when told the result, clearly not believing his ears and hardly daring to believe that he'd made it a hat-trick of pole positions from the last three races. The outcome puts Vettel on the dirty side of the grid for the start of Sunday's race, and such a thing matters more than usual here at the notoriously dusty Hungaroing. However the Red Bull has proved consistently faster than the Mercedes in race trim and in a straight line, which could make for a very interesting and exciting start to the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon.

Behind them, Grosjean and Rosberg will take up the second row of the grid while Alonso and Raikkonen will be side-by-side on row 3. Felipe Massa was able to hold off Daniel Ricciardo for seventh place, while as planned Sergio Perez and Mark Webber take up the remaining spots in the top ten on the grid.

See full qualifying times from Hungary.

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment