Fernando Alonso has taken pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix - but only after appearing to scupper McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton's bid by delaying the Briton in the pit-lane.

While the Spaniard went on to record the fastest time of the third qualifying session, Hamilton missed the chequered flag by four seconds, preventing him from replying after topping both the opening phases of qualifying.

With body language speaking louder than words in the ensuing press conference, it remains to be seen whether Alonso had a genuine reason for not rejoining the session when the lollipop was raised, or whether he had one eye on the yellow helmet in his mirrors and the other on the session clock, deliberately attempting to give himself an advantage in the battle for pole.

The final phase of qualifying had started quietly, with Nick Heidfeld setting 'the pace' in the fuel-burning runs and Jarno Trulli upping the ante slightly when the real action began with around eight minutes left on the clock. Kimi Raikkonen - the only Ferrari in the final phase after Felipe Massa missed the Q2 cut - then lowered the benchmark to 1min 20.930, but appeared to have little to offer the two McLarens, especially when Heidfeld pushed the lead BMW Sauber ahead once again.

Alonso was the first of the McLaren drivers to set a representative time, but there was drama even at that stage, the Spaniard seeming to want to get on with things while the 'experts' on the pit-wall held him to ensure a clear run. Ironically, the tactic back-fired as a cord from the front right tyre warmer had to be disentangled from the suspension.... Clearly fired up, Alonso banged in a 1min 20.133secs effort to claim provisional pole, but Hamilton, on the road behind the world champion, made a mockery of the lap by stopping the clocks in 1min 19.781secs.

Raikkonen and Heidfeld again swapped P3 while the McLarens made their stop for a final set of tyres, and the remainder of the order began to take shape in their wake, but all eyes were on the silver section of pit-lane, where Alonso's car was fettled ready for his last shot at pole.

There was no urgency in the cockpit this time around and, even when the lollipop was raised, Alonso appeared in no rush to get on with things. Despite the exhortations from the 'prat perch', he waited and waited before finally slotting the MP4-22 into gear and pulling away. By the time Hamilton had been serviced, the clock was dangerously low, leaving the Briton to have to hammer around in an effort to beat the flag.

Alonso's lap was right on the money, running the harder Bridgestones to claim top spot in 1min 19.674secs, some three-tenths of Hamilton's best of the afternoon, but good enough to move ahead of the Briton for the time being. Looking back down the track, Hamilton could be seen cruising around, his bid to make the chequered deadline having failed by a matter of seconds. With no right of reply, round one had to be conceded to his team-mate, but, with the two Silver Arrows lining up on the front row, Sunday's run to the opening corner promises to be worth watching.

Away from the controversy, Heidfeld ultimately claimed third, possibly throwing a spoke in Ferrari's plan of fuelling Raikkonen for a longer run in the race, with Nico Rosberg heading row three from Ralf Schumacher on a good day for Germany.

Robert Kubica bounced back from only narrowly making it out of Q2 to claim seventh, ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella, Trulli and Mark Webber, although the Renault driver may yet face sanction for appearing to get in the way of Spyker debutant Sakon Yamamoto in the opening phase of qualifying.

While the Japanese returnee was unlikely to make the cut, Fisichella's slow R27 clearly put him off his stride as he came to complete his final lap, and the Italian may find himself docked positions when the grid lines up on Sunday. Yamamoto was, perhaps unsurprisingly, slowest of all on the afternoon, trailing Spyker team-mate Adrian Sutil by a full second as the two orange cars filled positions 21 and 22 on the final outing for the original spec F8-VII.

Joining them in the bottom six will be both Hondas, as neither Jenson Button or Rubens Barrichello proved able to haul the RA107 into Q2. Despite revisions, the car continued to be a handful, with too little downforce to give the tyres a chance to get to grips with the twisty Hungaroring. Button, who won the race twelve months ago, appeared to have escaped the drop - bumping his team-mate into the bottom six as a result - only for a later improvement from Tonio Liuzzi to condemn both 'world cars' to an early exit.

Liuzzi's last-gasp effort was enough to take one Toro Rosso into phase two, but new team-mate Sebastian Vettel was not so fortunate, wrestling his STR2 to a high of 20th. Takuma Sato joined the early leavers, having blown his last-ditch lap with a wild ride across the grass at the final corner.

If the Honda problems were disappointing, they provided none of the shock of Q2, where Felipe Massa headlined those who failed to beat the cut.

For the second time in three races, the Brazilian faces having to make up ground on his world championship rivals after a wayward Ferrari caused him to miss the cut - and half of the Hungaroring's apexes - as he attempted to make up for the big understeer moment that blighted his opening run. A scare when the car cut out in pit-lane as he attempted to rejoin for a second effort won't have helped Massa's nerves, and another leery lap left the morning pacesetter stranded in 14th spot.

Massa looked set to be joined on the sidelines by Kubica, the Pole having managed only twelfth place on his first run, but the BMW Sauber pilot managed to eke out just enough to see himself through into the final phase, claiming tenth as the session closed. Kubica's improvement pushed David Coulthard out of the final group, the Scot having to accept eleventh, ahead of Heikki Kovalainen, Alex Wurz, Massa, Anthony Davidson and Liuzzi, none of whom managed to improve their lot at the end.

 

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