Lewis Hamilton has confirmed his status as the man most likely to triumph in this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix - by scorching to pole position ahead of McLaren-Mercedes team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, as chief world championship rivals Ferrari got hot under the collar in Budapest.

Hamilton prevailed at the Hungaroring this time last year, and is bidding this weekend to become the first driver since Michael Schumacher back in 2006 to make it a hat-trick of successive grand prix victories on Sunday. He has put himself in the perfect spot from which to achieve that goal.

Sebastian Vettel was the first man to set a representative lap time in Q1 - the Scuderia Toro Rosso ace no doubt keen to get a lap in early following his Friday practice woes - and he was followed out by the man he will replace at Red Bull Racing in 2009, David Coulthard.

The Scot was two tenths slower than his young German rival at the end of the pair's first runs, before Timo Glock went faster than either of them, the Toyota ace living up to his morning FP3 form that had seen him sitting a hyper-competitive third on the timesheets.

S?bastien Bourdais slotted the other STR3 into a strong second place ahead of Vettel, before the big-hitters came out to play, with Kovalainen's opening salvo a tenth quicker than Hamilton had done to pace morning practice, leaving the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen trailing back in third and fourth places respectively, behind not only Kovalainen but more surprisingly also Glock.

Hamilton, though, soon blew everyone out of the water with a time some seven tenths clear of any other driver, whilst Jarno Trulli popped up into third position in front of team-mate Glock and the Ferraris traded places in fifth and sixth, ahead of Mark Webber, with RBR playing a conservative game in Q1 and pessimistic about their chances of making it through into the top ten shoot-out.

Both Fernando Alonso and Adrian Sutil ran dangerously wide coming out of the final corner - the latter very nearly swiping the concrete barriers for good measure - whilst Williams were off the pace once more, with Kazuki Nakajima just 15th and Nico Rosberg in the danger zone two spots further back still.

With five minutes to go, an understeer-afflicted Robert Kubica was similarly on the bubble for BMW-Sauber, but there was even greater misery for team-mate Nick Heidfeld, who happened across traffic on his final run and was unable to better 14th place.

As the Ferraris went out again with three minutes left to run - a distinctly scrappy Massa hauling himself up into second place while Raikkonen made no gain - last-gasp improvements from Rosberg (13th) and Nelsinho Piquet (eleventh) pushed Heidfeld into the drop zone, where the angry German would stay to the end of the session to mark his worst starting position since Hockenheim two years ago...and at practically the worst possible circuit.

The 31-year-old will be joined there on Sunday by Nakajima, Rubens Barrichello and the Force India pairing of Giancarlo Fisichella and Sutil.

The top ten at the end of Q1 was composed of Hamilton, Massa, Kovalainen, the impressive Glock, Trulli, Raikkonen, Kubica, Webber, Vettel and Alonso.

Glock was the first man out in Q2, and the 26-year-old would set a time that not even defending F1 World Champion Raikkonen could equal, as the Finn went four tenths of a second slower, with Trulli and Alonso respectively third and fourth.

Hamilton's first effort was also not a match for that of Glock - the world championship leader lapping two tenths adrift - before Massa upset the Toyota applecart by storming to the top spot. Kubica popped up into seventh with four minutes remaining, whilst both Raikkonen and Kovalainen - two tenths off the pace of team-mate Hamilton - took to the track again towards the end of the session, the latter successfully hoisting himself up into fourth position, and with it safety.

With one-and-a-half minutes left to run, Coulthard, Piquet, Jenson Button, Bourdais and Rosberg were all in the drop zone, with Vettel on the bubble in tenth, before the latter shifted the goalposts by improving to ninth place, and pushing Webber down to tenth.

Bourdais bumped Button down a spot by moving into 13th, as Piquet vaulted up into ninth, only to be just as rapidly displaced by Webber doing the same thing to save his own Q3 bacon. A superb lap from Button found eight tenths of a second, but was unfortunately still not enough to earn the plucky Briton - who secured his first, and thus far only, F1 victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest two years ago - a top ten slot, even if it did leapfrog the Honda star past Coulthard into twelfth.

Almost unnoticed amidst the frantic dash to escape the plunge, meanwhile, Trulli improved to fifth, leaving Massa, Glock, Hamilton, Kovalainen, Trulli, Raikkonen, Kubica, Alonso, Webber and Piquet to progress to the Q3 shoot-out and Vettel, Button, Coulthard, Bourdais and Rosberg to go away and consult with their engineers about how to improve on race day.

Glock was again the first man out in Q3, followed by Toyota team-mate Trulli, while up front it looked like being advantage McLaren, the Silver Arrows - in contrast to chief rivals Ferrari - having saved an extra set of the favoured harder tyres for the crucial phase of qualifying by running on Bridgestone's super-soft rubber in Q2.

Glock led Trulli by some six tenths early on in the session, with Kubica and Alonso slotting in behind the pair in third and fourth, before Massa, Raikkonen and Webber arrived en masse to split the two Japanese machines.

Hamilton then gave firm signal of his intent by going four tenths of a second faster than anyone else, whilst McLaren team-mate Kovalainen was languishing down in ninth, in front of only Piquet, with barely two minutes left on the clock - and Glock was still sitting second.

Kubica was the first man to show his hand on the final run, shooting up into second place, whilst Glock - next to cross the line - was unable to go any quicker. Alonso went fifth as Kovalainen made McLaren's day by joining Hamilton on the front row in second, just over two tenths in arrears and assuring the team of its first front row lock-out since Monza almost twelve months ago.

Massa improving to third pushed a distinctly off-form Raikkonen down to sixth - where the 28-year-old had sat at the end of both Q1 and Q2 as well, suggesting the pace just isn't there for the Finn this weekend - whilst Hamilton went even faster still on his final effort, improving the pole position time by a whisker to send out a very clear signal to Ferrari: catch us if you can!

Behind the all-silver front row, Massa and Kubica will share the second row of the grid for the race, with the impressive Glock and subdued Raikkonen on row three and Alonso, Webber, Trulli and Piquet rounding out the top ten.

To see the qualifying times in full, click here


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