Bright sunshine accompanied a couple of quite simply blistering laps from Lewis Hamilton in Hungary as he put his team-mate Nico Rosberg quite firmly in the shade and left him wondering what he must do to match his rival’s single-lap pace. Hamilton’s pole here is his ninth of the season to Rosberg’s one and his fifth at the Hungaroring. It is a circuit where he has good reason to enjoy racing and at which he will go into the serious business tomorrow confident of turning a dominant performance in qualifying into a win.
“It was the best qualifying session of the year, which is great to see,” he said. “Improving my qualifying was the goal when I came into this year. I was thinking about how I could improve because when you are at the top of your game, it is hard to raise it again. It is not easy at all.”
But raise it he has. It was not just that the double world champion took the top spot, but the manner in which he did it that stood out. He had already run quickest in all three practice sessions, then went on to do the same in all three qualifying sessions and, on the laps that counted, was quickest in all three track sectors as well. He is, as yet, unbeaten across the entire weekend. His first quick lap in Q3 of 1min 22.408sec was enough to see off Rosberg’s quickest effort of 1:22.595 but Hamilton went on to better it with one of 1:22.020 – half a second clear of his rival.
It is a difference that represents a country mile between the two. In context, the average gap this season has been 0.262sec in Hamilton’s favour. In the previous race, through the high-speed corners of Silverstone, it was just over one-tenth of a second, but at Monaco, the circuit closest to Hungary in characteristics, it was again almost four-tenths. Hamilton clearly has the advantage but he is now putting his opponent to the sword through the tighter tracks.
In contrast, while Hamilton has improved, Rosberg appears to be somewhat floundering. He had the edge over the Briton last season in poles but here he was struggling with both grip and balance. Yet while Rosberg said he has been focusing on improving his race pace, this weekend at a track where it is difficult to overtake, his car had been fully set up for qualifying, and he admitted he has no answer to Hamilton’s pace. “It is not explainable to me,” he said. “I don’t understand why there is such a big difference to last year.”
Ferrari found some answers to their recent dip in form at a circuit that suits their car, with Sebastian Vettel finishing the day in third and Kimi Raikkonen in fifth, likewise the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat in fourth and seventh, respectively.
It was a different, but sadly familiar story, for McLaren however. Having travelled here entertaining hopes of making it to Q3 their optimism was dealt another blow in an already disastrous season. Jenson Button went out in Q1 due to an ERS failure and his team-mate, Fernando Alonso, made it into Q2 but was rewarded only with his car coming to a stop when his engine shut down at the entrance to the pit lane. The team were then treated to the ignominious sight of the double world champion and stewards pushing the car back to the garage in a futile bid to see if they could get it out again. The team’s racing director, Éric Boullier, put on what is now a familiar brave face but suggested that the situation could not continue indefinitely. “Everybody is here, everybody is working hard,” he said. “We have pain, these days, because it is not delivering performance. It is not where we want to be and where we should be. I don’t know how long it will be possible to keep everybody happy.”
The weekend has also been marked by a sombre mood after the death of Jules Bianchi, with the paddock remembering and reflecting on F1’s first driver fatality since Ayrton Senna in 1994. The drivers will run with stickers in his honour on their cars and helmets, while fans have also shown their sympathy in the form of T-shirts and banners. A one-minute silence will be held in his memory at 12.45pm, before the race tomorrow.
Hamilton still has work to do but a podium will be enough to equal Senna’s total of 80, while if he converts his four wins here to a fifth it would put him ahead of Michael Schumacher as the driver with the most victories at the Hungaroring. He will doubtless just be concentrating on the race rather than records, but on today’s form he looks locked in to claim both.
Final positions after qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes 1min 22.020sec, 2 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes 1:22.595, 3 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:22.739, 4 Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:22.774, 5 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:23.020, 6 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams 1:23.222, 7 Daniil Kvyat (Rus) Red Bull 1:23.332, 8 Felipe Massa (Br) Williams 1:23.537, 9 Max Verstappen (Neth) Toro Rosso 1:23.679, 10 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus 1:24.181, 11 Nico Hülkenberg (Ger) Force India 1:23.826, 12 Carlos Sainz Jr (Sp) Toro Rosso 1:23.869, 13 Sergio Pérez (Mex) Force India 1:24.461, 14 Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Lotus 1:24.609, 15 Fernando Alonso (Sp) McLaren no time, 16 Jenson Button (GB) McLaren 1:24.739, 17 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber 1:24.843, 18 Felipe Nasr (Br) Sauber 1:24.997, 19 Roberto Merhi (Sp) Manor 1:27.416, 20 Will Stevens (GB) Manor F1 1:27.949