Valtteri Bottas was the quicker of the two Silver Arrows drivers, lapping 0.2s slower than Vettel, with Lewis Hamilton looking ragged as he came home in fourth, a couple of tenths down on his team mate.
Next up were the Red Bulls who were never quite in the mix for pole, with Max Verstappen edging Daniel Ricciardo to fifth, before a big gap to Nico Hulkenberg, who qualified his Renault seventh but will drop five places on the grid thanks to an unscheduled gearbox change.
The top ten was completed by the improving McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne and Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso.
Vettel had outlined his credentials by setting the pace in Q1, albeit by just 0.022s as Verstappen kept him honest. But the undoubted star of the opening segment was Williams stand-in Paul Di Resta.
Called up to drive at the last moment as a replacement for the unwell Felipe Massa, the Scot – who hadn’t driven an F1 car in anger since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix and had only tested the team’s 2017 car on the simulator – worked down to 1m 19.868s within just 11 laps.
That left him P19 – just two spots and seven tenths down on the other Williams of Lance Stroll and one place ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson. Kevin Magnussen was unlucky not to advance to Q2 after tying with Sergio Perez on 1m 19.095s, but having set the time later than the Mexican he was the first driver eliminated. He was joined by Stroll in 17th and the Saubers of Pascal Wehrlein and Ericsson who sandwiched Di Resta.
Hamilton, who had been targeting a record-equalling 68th pole, had been fastest in Q2, but only after going out on a second set of supersofts was he able to move ahead of Vettel and Verstappen, who had stayed in the garage after their first runs. Hulkenberg put in a mighty lap as he went sixth, but team mate Jolyon Palmer could only manage P11 as Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz took the last spot in Q3.
The Briton was eliminated along with Force India’s Esteban Ocon, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, the other Force India of Sergio Perez and Haas’s Romain Grosjean.
It could scarcely have looked closer between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull going into Q3, but in the end the red cars proved untouchable.
Vettel’s blistering pole lap – a new outright lap record for the Hungaroring – came on his first run in Q3, with the German initially followed by Bottas, Verstappen, Ricciardo and Raikkonen as Hamilton, having complained of tyre vibrations, abandoned his first run after sliding off the road at Turn 4.
The Briton was the first to head out for a second run and improved to P3, but Raikkonen subsequently leapfrogged both him and Bottas to take second place and put Ferrari in the best possible position to score maximum points heading into the summer break.
With penalties applied, the grid will form thus: Vettel, Raikkonen; Bottas, Hamilton; Verstappen, Ricciardo; Alonso, Vandoorne,; Sainz, Palmer; Ocon, Hulkenberg; Kvyat, Perez; Grosjean, Magnussen; Stroll, Wehrlein; Di Resta, Ericsson.