QUALIFYING: Hamilton leads Mercedes 1-2 at soaking Hungaroring
As the rain finally arrived in Hungary, Lewis Hamilton used his famed wet weather ability to claim his 77th pole position, having struggled in dry conditions earlier in the day.
In a session thrown into chaos by the changing conditions, Hamilton went fastest in the final moments of Q3 to lead team mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.260s as Mercedes locked out the front row for the fourth time this season.
The Ferrari pairing of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were P3 and P4, while there were impressive performances from Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly, with the Renault and Toro Rosso drivers going fifth and sixth quickest respectively.
Max Verstappen was seventh for Red Bull, ahead of the Toro Rosso of Brendon Hartley – enjoying his first ever Q3 appearance in Formula 1 – while the two Haas cars of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were line astern on row five of the grid, winding up ninth and 10th.
Right, umbrellas up and let’s see how qualifying went down…
Q1 – VETTEL LEADS FRANTIC FIRST SESSION
It was a nervy Q1 for all the teams as a malicious looking group of clouds threatened to spill their contents on the Hungaroring. But with only light rain having fallen just before qualifying started, the drivers all headed out on intermediate tyres.
However, as they dried the track and the rain held off, it quickly became clear that dry tyres would be the way to go. The drivers all ducked back into the pits for ultrasofts - except Daniel Ricciardo, the sole driver to use soft tyres in the session. That gamble came within 0.242s of not paying off, with Ricciardo only just scraping through the session in P12.
Although it looked like there could be some big name upsets as drivers struggled to string a clean lap together on dry tyres, there were few real shocks to be had as the session ended. Q1 victims were McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, both Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez – with Ocon reporting that he lost the use of his front brakes during the session – with a frustrated Sergey Sirotkin at the very back for Williams.
At the front of the field, Vettel headed Max Verstappen by 0.274s, ahead of the two Mercedes of Bottas and Hamilton.
Q2 – THE RAIN ARRIVES AND CATCHES OUT RICCIARDO
Remember those malicious looking clouds in Q1? Well they finally let loose in Q2, casting the session into disarray.
With the rain still holding off when the track went green, all the drivers initially filed out on ultrasofts. All, that is, apart from Sebastian Vettel, with the Ferrari engineers making the perfect call to put their man on intermediates from the get-go.
That allowed Vettel to shore up his place in Q3 early doors, as he again led the session and could watch on happily as the conditions worsened. Once the others had realised their mistake and switched onto inters, Sainz managed to finish P2, ahead of Verstappen, Hamilton and Gasly, with both Toro Rossos making it through into Q3 for the first time this year (Hartley going P7).
The big casualty of the session was Ricciardo. Coming out at the back of the queue as the weather deteriorated, he was unable to put in a competitive time – even chucking on a set of full wets to see if he could improve, along with a handful of the other runners – and ended up P12. Out with Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso was 11th in the McLaren, while Nico Hulkenberg was another Q2 shock, ending up in P13 for Renault. Marcus Ericsson was P14 in the Sauber, outqualifying his headline-grabbing team mate, while Lance Stroll wiped his Williams’ front wing off after a spin, and failed to post a time, ending up P15.
Q3 – HAMILTON MASTERS THE MAYHEM AS SAINZ IMPRESSES
We were now clearly in full wet territory as the drivers headed out on track for the final time on Saturday. Raikkonen was P1 for much of the session and it briefly looked like the Finn might be on course to take his first pole position since Monaco 2017. But as the clocked ticked down to the final minutes and the drivers dived back into the pits for new wets, Bottas pipped Raikkonen, before Hamilton emerged through the spray, his W09 looking alive in his hands, to claim the 77th pole position of his career.
Mercedes will have been especially overjoyed to claim a one-two in Hungary, with the team having struggled to find a balance on their cars in both Friday and Saturday’s dry practice running. Raikkonen ended up third ahead of Vettel, the Finn outqualifying a team mate at the track for the first time since 2007 – incidentally, the last time Vettel was outqualified by a team mate at the Hungaroring too. He was just 0.024s away from Raikkonen, however, while Sainz was impressive to go fifth for Renault, half a second down on Vettel but nearly one second ahead of Gasly in sixth.
Red Bull will be left ruing their luck, with Verstappen finishing in seventh, sandwiched in between the Toro Rossos, with Hartley in eighth heading the Haas pairing of Magnussen and Grosjean.
A properly breathless session, then, but perfect conditions for Mercedes, who hold the upper hand heading into Sunday’s race.
The key quote
“It’s so tricky out there. At the beginning, it was dry for part of the lap and then towards the end it was getting more wet. It’s really difficulty to arrive at a corner and know how much grip you’re going to have. That’s massively challenging. Then when it got extreme, you’re just looking for a clean line. Really tip-toeing around the corners. It’s like doing ballet – not that I’ve done ballet – but you know what I mean, you’re tip-toeing and feeling the movement of the car. It’s all about give and take each time you go around each corner. I was up and down, up and down. It was an emotional rollercoaster.” – Lewis Hamilton
The key stats
That was Mercedes’ 54th front row lock-out in their history, just eight short of the ultimate record shared by McLaren and Williams. Incidentally, Mercedes’ record also dates back to their Formula 1 entry in 1954…
Despite only being P4, that’s Sebastian Vettel’s worst on-track qualifying performance of 2018. He started P6 in Austria, but only after receiving a penalty.
Carlos Sainz’s fifth place on the grid matches his best qualifying from all the way back in Spain 2015.
On the other side of the coin, Spain 2015 was the last time both Force Indias failed to make it out of Q1.
It’s the first time both Toro Rossos have been in Q3 since Australia 2017 – back when the team’s drivers were Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat. It was also Pierre Gasly’s second time in the top six this season.
The last time a Red Bull driver failed to post a qualifying time good enough for the top six was Austria 2016.
Haas have now got both cars into Q3 for the fifth successive Grand Prix.
That was the second time in two races that Daniel Ricciardo hasn’t made it into Q3, after having been in the session in the previous 58 Grands Prix (admittedly he didn’t try to post a competitive lap last time out in Germany, knowing that he had grid penalties).
Hungary marked the first time Charles Leclerc has gone out in Q1 since the Chinese Grand Prix, nine races ago.
Leclerc’s Q1 exit meant that Marcus Ericsson could outqualify his Sauber team mate for the first time since Bahrain.
Onboard pole lap
Sunday’s race will begin at 1510 local time, 1310 UTC. Whether it will be wet or not remains to be seen, however, with forecast suggesting just a 10% chance of rain falling during Sunday’s race – a factor which could play into the hands of some of the drivers out of position after a hectic qualifying session at the Hungaroring.