Lewis Hamilton denied Sebastien Vettel pole position during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix in a thrilling contest that saw the British driver take his third pole position in a row.
Mercedes put behind them the handicap of their ban from the recent young driver test at Silverstone, Hamilton securing his 30th pole position by denying Vettel his 40th pole thanks to a last-gasp effort that surprised both Red Bull and Hamilton himself, putting the 2008 champion now ahead of Juan Manuel Fangio in the all-time pole postions list.
After team-mate Nico Rosberg topped the first two phases of qualifying, the Silver Arrows went into Q3 looking like contenders for pole position once again, where it was Hamilton who rose to the occassion to beat Vettel by less than half a tenth after the championship leader looked to have set the pole-sitting pace.
The front-runners seemed in no hurry to head out onto the circuit for the first part of qualifying, finally emerging on the medium compound tyres during the final third of the 20-minute session to set their first competitive times.
Drivers found it tough when they entered the sweltering Hungaroring track for a frantic final few minutes, third free practice session pace-setter Romain Grosjean going fastest for Lotus before the Frenchman’s effort was lowered by the Mercedes duo, Rosberg’s 1m20.350s effort topping the session narrowly ahead of his own team-mate Hamilton by less than o.020s.
While Mercedes hooked up their laps to perfection, the Mecredes-powered Force India of Paul Di Resta suffered a disappoining third Q1 elimination of his season, the Scot unable to find time in the final seconds of the session on his way to qualifying 18th on the grid behind Sauber‘s Esteban Gutierrez and ahead of Charles Pic, Giedo Van Der Garde, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton rounding out the other victims of qualifying’s first phase.
While one British driver bowed out earlier than planned, another was to fall at the second hurdle, while Friday pace-setters Red Bull were stymied by a KERS issue for Mark Webber that effectively blunted the team’s chances of a front-row lock-out that looked very probable based on the Friday practice pace they showcased.
Kimi Raikkonen entered the track on soft tyres to commence the start of the second phase of qualifying, where his team-mate was again rapid as Grosjean was only pipped at the halfway stage by Hamilton, before Vettel smashed both their efforts with a sub-1m19s lap. That lasted until the final minute of the session as his fellow German Rosberg moved to the top of the times, 0.084s clear of Hamilton as Mercedes again brushed aside their sluggish Friday performance to top the times in Q2, just over two tenths of a second faster than their Red Bull rival.
Webber made a great escape meanwhile in the second Red Bull, a KERS failure leaving him down as low as 15th in the dying stages, although the Australian’s final effort was enough to make it through with eighth place, ironically just ahead of one of those tipped to take his seat next year, Daniel Ricciardo.
The biggest faller from Q2 was Jenson Button, the McLaren driver only managing to qualify 13th for tomorrow’s race as he missed the cut by 0.232s with an understeering car. Adrian Sutil was the first of those missing out on Q3, the Force India man 11th ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, Button, Jean-Eric Verge and the two Williams cars of Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas.
Webber brought the train of 10 out for the 10-minute final phase of qualifying, where it was his team-mate that responded emphatically to the challenge of Mercedes in the early going with a 1m19.506s lap that lay the gauntlet down during their first runs, over eight tenths quicker than Hamilton and Rosberg.
Raikkonen was first to test that lap but came short by three tenths, while Rosberg also came up short as he spilt the pair. The second Lotus of Grosjean came mightily close however, the Frenchman coming just 0.089s shy of the German.
Vettel looked set for pole position, but was denied as Hamilton emerged from the heat haze to take the chequered flag with a blistering lap of 1m19.388s to grab his third pole position in a row, beating his rival by just 0.038s and taking his fourth pole position of the year.
Grosjean’s strong showing saw him rewarded with third ahead of the second Mercedes of Rosberg, while Vettel’s nearest championship rivals, Fernando Alonso and Raikkonen, made up row three on the grid ahead of Felipe Massa, Ricciardo and Sergio Perez, the Mexican driver repaying his team’s hard rebuild effort following an accident in third practice.
Webber’s mechanical drama did not resolve itself, meaning he sat out the session after a sighting lap only, the Australian now having to start the race – notorious for being tricky for overtaking – in 10th position.