Hamilton beats Verstappen and Norris to Hungarian GP pole in qualifying thriller
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton charged to his first pole position since the closing stages of the 2021 season with a scintillating qualifying performance at the Hungarian Grand Prix, getting the better of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and McLaren’s Lando Norris at the end of an ultra-close qualifying hour.
In a session that saw Pirelli’s ‘Alternative Tyre Allocation’ in play, which enforced hard tyres for Q1, medium tyres for Q2 and soft tyres for Q3, Hamilton navigated the precarious opening exchanges to reach the top 10 shootout, where he bagged his first pole in 34 events (Saudi Arabia 2021).
Hamilton’s improvement on his second run demoted Verstappen – who could not find more time – to second by just 0.003s, with Norris eight hundredths further back in third, supported by rookie team mate Oscar Piastri in another strong showing from McLaren.
Zhou Guanyu was another star of qualifying as he took a high-flying fifth, followed by the lead Ferrari of Charles Leclerc and team mate Valtteri Bottas, who underlined Alfa Romeo’s strong pace around the twisty Hungaroring circuit.
Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin had to settle for eighth position, while Sergio Perez finally managed to end his rough patch of qualifying performances, albeit taking only ninth in his Red Bull, with Nico Hulkenberg the final Q3 runner.
FORMULA 1 QATAR AIRWAYS HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX 2023
|1 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes
|2 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing
|3 Lando Norris NOR McLaren
|4 Oscar Piastri PIA McLaren
|5 Guanyu Zhou ZHO Alfa Romeo
Carlos Sainz could not join Ferrari team mate Leclerc in Q3 as he narrowly missed the cut in 11th, followed by Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and F1 returnee Daniel Ricciardo, who took a respectable 13th for AlphaTauri – last in the constructors’ standings – during his first competitive session since jumping back into a race seat.
Also unable to follow their team mate into the pole shootout was Lance Stroll, who wound up 14th in the second of the Aston Martins, having provisionally been last in the Q2 phase before Alpine's Pierre Gasly lost a lap time and dropped down to 15th.
An action-packed Q1 session saw a dramatic elimination for George Russell, who lost tyre temperature ahead of his final attempt when he was forced to slow down to find track position and stay clear of drivers approaching on hot laps – leaving him a lowly 18th for race day.
Williams driver Alex Albon just missed the Q2 cut in 16th, with Yuki Tsunoda outpaced by new team mate Ricciardo en route to 17th, as Kevin Magnussen in the second Haas machine and rookie Logan Sargeant in the other FW45 – who made a mistake on his last lap – brought up the rear.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Zhou a surprise leader and Russell a shock elimination
Pirelli’s ‘Alternative Tyre Allocation’ (11 sets of tyres per driver for the weekend rather than the usual 13) led to a trio of mixed-up practice sessions ahead of qualifying, where there would be another twist via an enforced hard compound for Q1, medium for Q2 and soft for Q3.
As the action got under way on the white-marked rubber, it was Bottas who set the early benchmark, producing an initial time of 1m 18.818s, before improving to a 1m 18.775s, with Perez 0.069s adrift, followed by Verstappen, Piastri, Russell and Alonso.
A host of deleted lap times for exceeding track limits saw Magnussen, Piastri, Albon, Sargeant and Zhou lose their early efforts, leaving the Haas driver and Williams pair in the drop zone alongside Tsunoda and Ricciardo, who continued to build up speed on his return.
After cooling their tyres, the drivers went for it again as the session hit the halfway mark, with Verstappen taking over from Bottas in P1 on a 1m 18.658s, while Tsunoda jumped to fourth behind Perez, and Ricciardo leapt up the order to eighth behind the McLarens and Russell’s Mercedes.
Another big improvement from Ocon pushed Leclerc into the drop zone in 16th, along with Stroll, Hulkenberg, Sargeant and Magnussen, as the Monegasque radioed the Ferrari pit wall to express his concerns – leading them to pit for a second set of hard tyres.
Leclerc’s switch of tyres – which set a trend – got him out of trouble as he pumped in purple and green sector times to go third, slotting behind Perez and Zhou, who now led on a 1m 18.143s, with team mate Sainz displacing him shortly afterward and Norris then going second, only to lose his time over track limits.
After a final flurry of lap times, Zhou remained as a surprise pace-setter from Red Bull pair Verstappen and Perez, Ferrari duo Sainz and Leclerc, Piastri’s McLaren and Hamilton, the only Mercedes to make it through after a shock exit for Russell, who swore over the radio about a compromised warm-up lap after the Silver Arrows left it late to go for their final run.
Alonso, Hulkenberg and Norris rounded out the top 10, followed by Gasly, early leader Bottas, Stroll and Ocon, with Ricciardo squeezing into Q1 on his comeback weekend with AlphaTauri, denying Albon, team mate Tsunoda, the aforementioned Russell, Magnussen and Sargeant, who made a mistake at Turn 6/7 on his last attempt.
Knocked out: Albon, Tsunoda, Russell, Magnussen, Sargeant
Q2 – Norris leads Hamilton and Verstappen as Sainz drops out
When the action resumed, this time with medium tyres, Verstappen charged his way to the top of the timesheets on a 1m 17.296s, but another track limits violation saw him lose his lap and require another attempt, leaving Norris and Piastri in a McLaren one-two from Perez, Alonso and Hamilton.
After his deleted time, and with the other 14 remaining drivers having posted laps, Verstappen made the most of a clear track to post his first legal effort of the Q2 phase, delivering a 1m 17.547s to go from P15 to P2 and return to the front-running mix.
As the last runs filtered through, Norris remained at the head of the times with his early 1m 17.328s, with Hamilton slotting into second from Verstappen, Bottas, Piastri and Leclerc, who was the only Ferrari driver to progress to the pole position shootout.
Indeed, Hulkenberg, Perez – reaching Q3 for the first time since the Miami Grand Prix six rounds ago despite a deleted lap time – Zhou and Alonso all made it through at the expense of Sainz, leaving the Spaniard a lowly 11th on the grid.
Ocon led Alpine’s charge in 12th position, placing in front of Ricciardo in what marked a solid qualifying comeback for the Australian, with Aston Martin’s Stroll, and Ocon’s team mate, Gasly, completing the Q2 order – the latter losing a spot with a deleted final lap.
Knocked out: Sainz, Ocon, Ricciardo, Stroll, Gasly
Q3 – Hamilton pips Verstappen to pole in a captivating conclusion
Q3 marked another change of tyres as the drivers headed back out on softs, with Verstappen going quickest on the first sequence of runs thanks to a 1m 16.612s, a tenth clear of Hamilton, as Norris slotted into P3 from Alonso, Perez and Leclerc.
Behind, Bottas held seventh as the fastest of the Alfa Romeo drivers, followed by Hulkenberg, Piastri and team mate Zhou, who lost a lap time for exceeding track limits, with attention soon turning to the final rush of qualifying attempts.
While Verstappen could not improve on his final lap to the chequered flag, several other drivers did, with Hamilton posting a blistering 1m 16.609s to grab pole and line up at the front of the grid for the first time since the visit to Jeddah back in 2021.
Behind the former title rivals, Norris and Piastri were a fine third and fourth for McLaren, with Alfa Romeo pair Zhou and Bottas managing to sandwich the Ferrari of Leclerc in positions five to seven.
Alonso was eighth as Aston Martin’s drop in pace after their rapid start to 2023 continues, with Perez ending his qualifying dramas in ninth, albeit seven places and four tenths away from team mate Verstappen, as Hulkenberg placed 10th.
“It’s been a crazy year and half, so I’ve lost my voice from shouting so much in the car,” said pole-sitter Hamilton. “It’s amazing that feeling, I feel so grateful to be up here, because the team have worked so hard. We’ve been pushing so hard over this time, so to finally get a pole, it feels like the first time.
“I didn’t expect coming today that we would be fighting for pole. So, when I went into that last run, I gave it absolutely everything. There was nothing left in it.”
The 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix is set to begin at 1500 local time on Sunday. Head to the RACE HUB to find out how you can catch the action from the Hungaroring.