Mercedes looked to be in for a tough weekend after ending Friday almost a second off the pace in eighth place, while they also struggled in wet conditions during final practice on Saturday morning. 

But come Saturday afternoon, George Russell had produced the shock of the season so far by claiming his maiden pole position to mark the first time that Mercedes have topped a qualifying session this year. 

A spectacular final lap in Q3 saw the Briton secure pole by just 0.044s from the Ferrari duo led by Carlos Sainz.

“Over the moon, absolutely buzzing,” said Russell after landing his first F1 pole. 

“Yesterday was probably our worst Friday of the season and everybody last night was working so hard. We didn’t really know what direction to go in. 

“And then that last lap, I had a mega Turn 1, went round Turn 2, Turn 2 was mega. And the lap time just kept on coming and kept on coming.

“I came across the line, looked at the screen and saw we went P1 - and that was an incredible feeling.”

Where did Russell’s lap come from?

Russell’s lap was made all the more impressive because it came completely out of the blue. It was a huge shock given where Mercedes found themselves after the opening day of running in Hungary.

“Yesterday was probably our toughest Friday of the whole season,” Russell explained. "We were all here until 11pm last night scratching our heads, morale was pretty down and we felt pretty lost. 

“To come back and grab pole position 24 hours later, it’s just such a feeling because I know what we went through last night. Getting this result for all of us, is pretty huge.”

Mercedes’ head of trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin had put the team’s competitive struggles in FP2 down to car experiments that went wrong, and hinted at significant changes overnight.

Russell said Mercedes had “turned the car upside down” in response to what he described as being a “disastrous day”. 

“I think today we just got it in the perfect window on that last lap,” he added. “I went around Turn 1 and I was a tenth and a half up. I went around Turn 2 and I was three tenths up and everything was just perfectly in the window. 

“When you are on one of those laps and you are in the groove and the rhythm, it just keeps on coming, keeps on coming. I think everybody struggled with the tyres. 

“Everybody struggled in the wet with the tyres and we’ve been going all over the place to try and get our heads around it, but fortunately we sort of nailed it on that last run.” 

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff joked the team would “need to write down everything we did this morning, including the food and drinks we drank in order to replicate it.” 

Asked if Mercedes are now back, Russell replied: “I don’t know to be honest. We need to look into it and understand where that came from today. There’s a few ideas we have. 

“At the end of the day there’s no points for qualifying. We generally have good race pace, but the Ferraris looked very good on Friday. But we’ll be absolutely going for it. 

“Either way, that was a pretty special day no doubt.”

Where does it rank among his best laps? 

Since making his F1 debut in 2019, Russell has gained a reputation for regularly pulling off special laps in qualifying, including several outstanding performances in an uncompetitive Williams. 

There was his brilliant lap at Silverstone in 2021 for eighth - his best qualifying result at the time - while a gamble to switch onto slick tyres in changing conditions led to a mega third on the grid at Sochi later that year. 

But in the same season, Russell produced one of F1’s all-time great qualifying displays with an incredible lap to secure second on the grid in treacherous conditions at Spa. 

Asked how good he considered his lap to be, the 24-year-old Briton replied: “Dare I say better than the Spa one? I don’t know. 

“I don’t think the feeling of this pole and the feeling of that Spa lap, I don’t think I’ll ever have qualifying that will ever come close to these two feelings. 

“Obviously this was my first and as a team we struggled so much at Williams. We were so far behind and to get that second was massive. 

“This is what racing is about. This is why I wake up every day and I want to be world champion, because feelings like this, is something you can’t really dream of.” 

Can Russell hold on for the win? 

Russell’s focus will now switch to trying to convert his breakthrough pole into a maiden win.

Despite the Hungaroring’s tight and twisty nature making overtaking far from easy, Russell still faces a huge challenge ahead of him if he is to pull off Mercedes’ first win of 2022. 

He will face opposition from a two-pronged attack from Sainz and Charles Leclerc in a very competitive Ferrari car, while a Verstappen fightback from 10th on the grid cannot be ruled out after the Red Bull driver was hit by engine problems in qualifying. 

Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, who could only qualify seventh after seeing his final run of Q3 ruined by a DRS failure, has pledged to do everything he can to help Russell’s victory bid. 

Russell downplayed the significance of potentially becoming the first Mercedes driver to notch up a race win this season. 

“That stat, being the first one to get the first victory for the team, is meaningless,” he stressed. 

“We’re both here wanting to fight for world championships and to do that you need pole positions, you need race victories and you need to work together. 

“Today was a great day but something like that I’m not focused on. I just want to do the best job possible, simple as that.” 

And Russell admitted Mercedes’ race prospects are a “total unknown” given the varying conditions over the weekend and the fluctuating competitiveness of the W13. 

“Conditions are changing, it’s going to be much cooler tomorrow,” said Russell. “Our high fuel pace was probably the worst it’s ever been yesterday and Ferrari looked pretty exceptional. 

“We’re behind the curve at the moment but we’ll be absolutely going for it and victory is what we’re going for.”