Hamilton and Bottas shocked by ‘big, big gap’ to Red Bull in Hungary qualifying
At the track where Max Verstappen took his first career pole in 2019, the Red Bull driver couldn’t get within 1.4s of the Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton during qualifying for the 2020 Hungarian Grand Prix – a gap that left both Hamilton and his Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas shocked.
Having been expected to close the gap to the Silver Arrows at the Hungaroring, qualifying was a torturous affair for Red Bull, with an off-colour Alex Albon exiting in Q2, as Verstappen struggled to P7 on the grid – with the Dutchman, who also spun his car on his own in Free Practice 3 – telling the media: “Clearly something is not working… The whole week has been really tricky and it’s hard to understand… Something is clearly wrong.”
And that was a statement polesitter Hamilton appeared to agree with when he learned about Verstappen’s 1.402s qualifying deficit.
“I didn’t know that was the case but that is a really big gap,” said Hamilton. “I definitely wasn’t expecting them to be as off as they have been this weekend.
“You saw the pace of them last year. This is not a power circuit, this is more about the car and the mechanical grip and aero package, and we would have definitely thought – I thought – that they had a better package than I guess today’s results showed. I don’t know if they’ve all had great laps or not but either way that’s a big, big gap.”
Bottas agreed too, as the Finn revealed that Mercedes had predicted that Red Bull – more than, say, Racing Point, whose drivers locked out the second row of the grid – would be closer to them Hungary.
“It’s very surprising for sure,” said Bottas. “I was expecting them to be maybe potentially closer here than Austria, but also I don’t know the details, how their session went, was it nice and clean or were there other issues. But the whole weekend they’ve not really been that close so it's just surprising obviously. I don’t really know why.”
Not only were the two Mercedes drivers surprised, but their boss was too, with Toto Wolff – who’d said after Mercedes’ 1-2 at the Styrian Grand Prix that he was “100% convinced [Red Bull] will come very strong in Hungary – telling the press after qualifying: “I'm very surprised, because Red Bull has always been [strong] on the Hungaroring. It's a high downforce circuit that suited their car.
“I don't think they have a fundamental problem in the car,” he added. “I think it probably took the wrong junction between setting up the car and bringing an upgrade, but I don't know what it is. But they are our best enemy and I wish they could be racing against us tomorrow in a competitive way.”
Going into Sunday’s race, Red Bull will be left to reflect on the sobering statistic that, while Hamilton’s pole time – and new track record – was a full 1.125s faster than Verstappen’s pole time last year, Verstappen’s own 2020 lap in qualifying was 0.277s slower than the one he managed in 2019.