As expected Red Bull proved to be Mercedes’ closest rivals, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen third and fourth respectively, followed by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz.
If Hamilton felt cheated out of pole, after a topsy turvy, weather-affected session, it was perhaps understandable. The world champion had a great lap going on his final Q3 run, having already gone fastest, when he came across Fernando Alonso’s spun McLaren at the top of the hill. His own lap ruined, he then watched as team mate Rosberg arrived just as the yellows for the Spaniard had been cleared, and pipped him to the top spot.
The weather forecasts proved spot-on as it began to rain shortly after one o’clock, but those which predicted sun and a dry road by the time qualifying was due to start at two proved optimistic in the extreme. The track was wet, and the rain was still falling when the magic hour came.
The first 10-minute delay was announced at 13.55. Out went Bernd Maylander on an exploratory lap in the safety car. The second 10-minute delay was announced at 14.02, just as the first roll of thunder was heard. At 14.15 it was announced that proceedings would get underway at 14.20. Everyone went out on Pirelli’s wet tyres, as there remained a chance of rain within another five minutes.
They lasted four minutes, long enough to see Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg fastest for Force India from Alonso, Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, Ricciardo, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, Verstappen, Haas’s Romain Grosjean, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer. Rosberg and Hamilton, meanwhile, were only 20th and 21st when the red flag came out. There was too much rain, and those who didn’t get the job done well enough on their first laps were about to suffer big time if the session wasn’t restarted.
Fortunately, it was, at 14.40. It lasted another four minutes, in which time Ricciardo went fastest from Verstappen, Perez and Hulkenberg on their former times, Alonso, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Nasr, Hamilton and Bottas.
Then Marcus Ericsson parked his Sauber in an advertising hoarding in Turn 10, damaging the right-front suspension in particular, and out came the red flags again. Nine minutes remained. And the sun was coming out.
The third attempt at completing Q1 started at 14.55, and by then a drying line was appearing in places. One thing you can say about the Hungaroring, it dries out fast. But it was still very wet in others. Most went for wet tyres but Vettel and Williams’ Felipe Massa gambled on intermediates.
Hamilton set a new fastest sector-one time, but then ran off road briefly at the top of the hill. Then just after the wet-shod Nasr had given Sauber’s new owners something to cheer about by setting fastest time, fellow countryman Massa crashed heavily after spinning in Turn 4 and hitting the opposite barrier.
This time the red flag was flown in fewer than four minutes. Five minutes, 20 seconds remained. The order was Nasr, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Kvyat, Perez, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Hamilton.
What would prove to be the final Q3 restart was timed for 15.07. Everyone but Renault’s Kevin Magnussen - on wets - went for inters. Rosberg jumped to first with 1m 33.302s on a track that was improving with every lap, to dislodge Hamilton on 1m 34.210s. Alonso was third from Vettel, Haas’s Romain Grosjean, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat, Raikkonen, Nasr and McLaren’s Jenson Button. Neither of the Red Bulls got a timed lap this time, and were effectively 12th and 13th from the Force Indias, which had never improved their original times.
The unlucky Palmer was on his best lap when the red flag came out for a final time with just over a minute remaining, when Manor’s Rio Haryanto performed a near carbon copy of Ericsson’s earlier shunt. That left the Renault driver 17th on 1m 43.965s, ahead of Massa on 1m 43.999s, Magnussen on 1m 44.543s, Ericsson on 1m 46.984s, Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein on 1m 47.343s and Haryanto on 1m 50.186s.
Q2 could only get better. The sun was out, the track was drying and a racing line was becoming more discernible, though inters were still standard wear initially.
Bottas was the first to switch to supersoft slicks and when he went quickest with 1m 30.647s it triggered wholesale tyre changes and times that improved faster than you could write them down, as the track improved with every lap.
In the end, Verstappen was fastest with 1m 22.660s from Rosberg on 1m 22.806s, Ricciardo on 1m 23.234 and Alonso on 1m 23.816s.
Hamilton just made it, having been fastest at one stage but dropping to 10th with 1m 24.836s after running wide on his last try, leaving Grosjean as the first to miss out on Q3 with his lap of 1m 24.961s for Haas. Kvyat didn’t make it either, with 1m 25.301s, and surprisingly Perez and Raikkonen also missed out, which showed how quickly things changed as both has been near the top only moments earlier. Perez lapped in 1m 25.416s, Raikkonen in 1m 25.435s. Esteban Gutierrez in the second Haas was 15th on 1m 26.189s, and Nasr, who had also been up there for a while, was 16th on 1m 27.063s.
Hamilton appeared to own Q3, lapping in 1m 20.018s as Rosberg managed only 1m 20.499s before trimming that to 1m 20.201s. On their second sojourns, the world champion set by far the fastest first sector time before having to abort his run as he came across Alonso’s stricken McLaren, but by the time Rosberg got there the yellows were cleared, and his subsequent lap of 1m 19.965s gave him the advantage.
Behind them, Riccciardo survived a big wobble on a damp patch coming out of the final corner on his first run and then improved to 1m 20.280s for third ahead of team mate Verstappen on 1m 20.557s. Vettel had an even bigger wobble than Ricciardo, and took fifth with 1m 20.874s.
Behind them Sainz displaced the McLaren pair with 1m 21.131s, leaving Alonso seventh on 1m 21.211 and Button eighth with 1m 21.597s. Hulkenberg was ninth for Force India on 1m 21.823s as Bottas put his Williams 10th with 1m 22.182s.
Thus with no penalties looming at present, the provisional grid will line up: Rosberg, Hamilton; Ricciardo, Verstappen; Vettel, Sainz; Alonso, Button; Hulkenberg, Bottas; Grosjean, Kvyat; Perez, Raikkonen; Gutierrez, Nasr; Palmer, Massa; Magnussen, Ericsson; Wehrlein, Haryanto.