Lewis Hamilton claimed his first pole position since the Malaysian Grand Prix with an imperious performance at the Hungaroring, while Mark Webber failed to make the top 10.
After being quickest in Friday's practice, Lewis Hamilton had been bumped into second place on Saturday morning by a competitive looking Mark Webber. But in qualifying it was the McLaren man who was back in the driving seat once more as he aced all three segments of the one-hour session.
In the final top-10 shootout, Hamilton took provisional pole with an impressive lap that left Sebastian Vettel trailing by two tenths. And when the Red Bull Racing driver bowed out after the single run he had given himself in Q3, thanks to heavy tyre usage early on, Hamilton upped the ante by going almost three tenths quicker in his final run.
“I’m really happy with the work the guys have done,” beamed Hamilton afterwards. “Obviously Jenson showed the pace of the car in the last race but to be able to put that to work through qualifying feels fantastic. This is a good boost for the team. Still, we have a very long race tomorrow. Lots can happen and we just need to keep our cool.”
Vettel should have annexed P2 but as he climbed out of his car in Parc Fermé, Lotus driver Romain Grosjean powered through the second sector of the Hungaroring. He crossed the line just five hundredths of a second clear of Vettel to claim his first front-row start.
Afterwards, Vettel admitted that the team has been struggling to find the perfect set-up. “It’s difficult getting everything to work properly," he said. "I think the speed is there but it seems extremely difficult once you lose the balance a little bit. So I think we were struggling a little bit with that in qualifying. I think it got better though."
“However, we more or less shot through all the tyres. I knew I only had one set in Q3. I’m not entirely happy with the lap I had. I think Romain was in reach but Lewis was probably a bit too far away today. But I think with the progress we made this morning and through qualifying we should be in a good position tomorrow for the race.”
Grosjean was understandably delighted with his performance. “It's good to be back at the front,” he said. “We had a difficult German Grand Prix and a difficult start here in Hungary. But the guys did a fantastic job helping me set up the car, trying to find out what was wrong and [we’re] back to the top and it’s good.”
Meanwhile, Mark Webber watched the drama unfold from the garage. Both he and Vettel had sailed close to the wind in Q1, ending that session in 16th and 17th places respectively, and in Q2 the Australian was at the wrong end of the top 10 with moments to go. Race engineer Ciaron Pilbeam advised another run to secure passage to Q3 and that should have been the signal for Webber to head out and jump up the order. But when Nico Hulkenberg and Bruno Senna both improved, Webber was left in 11th and the Red Bull driver couldn’t find the pace. He later blamed his final set of soft tyres.
“I was happy this morning," said Webber. "I was quick in Q1, in relation to what we could do, but in the end I didn’t feel happy on the new set of soft tyres I had and I struggled to even go against my scrubbed time, which was a bit bizarre. You need to get everything right when you’re on the bubble and we got bumped and that’s it. It’s disappointing to qualify there, but we look forward to the race tomorrow.”
Fourth on the grid went to Jenson Button, proving that McLaren's improved pace in Germany was no flash in the pan. Row three is occupied by the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, while Williams enjoyed a positive outing, with Pastor Maldonado taking eighth and Bruno Senna ninth. It’s the first time since the 2010 Brazilian GP that the team has had two cars in the top 10. Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10.
Further back, Jean-Eric Vergne battled through to Q2 for Toro Rosso and the Frenchman will line up 16th on the grid.
"I feel I got the most out of the car we have at the moment and I don't think I could have gone much quicker,” said Vergne. “We improved our performance in the dry conditions and got a bit closer to the guys ahead of us. It's always hard to overtake here, but there are many factors to take into account at this track, including tyre degradation."
"It’s disappointing to qualify there, but we look forward to the race tomorrow" - Webber
“As far as that's concerned, the long run we did this morning looked quite good,” he added. “Plus when you look at the way the gap between us and our rivals is always less in the race than on a Saturday, and as we seem to have found a bit more performance here, I think we can expect to have a good race tomorrow."
Team-mate Daniel Ricciardo was less successful and went out in Q1. "It's frustrating and a bit disappointing not to have made the cut, as this is the first time I've been stuck in Q1 all season. It would have been nice to have kept that sheet clean."
“The time I set on my first run on the Prime tyres was not too bad, but I wasn't completely happy with the car so we made a few changes before the Option run. It immediately felt pretty good but as I came down the main straight, a Lotus came out the pits in front of me and it stayed there for most of my lap. From the outside, maybe it doesn't look like traffic, but having someone a couple of seconds in front for a whole lap can really affect you, especially in qualifying when you need all the help you can get.”