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.
Sébastien 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.