BUDAPEST, Hungary, July 29 – Lewis Hamilton danced in the rain on his way to a memorable pole Saturday ahead of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes secured a front row lockout for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The championship leading Briton, who is battling with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel for a fifth drivers’ world title, delivered another master-class in wet-weather driving and perfect timing.
He chose to go for his final flying lap in the dying seconds of the session and grabbed pole with a lap that produced his team’s fourth lockout of the season.
Six days after his epic drive from 14th on the grid to win the rain-hit German Grand Prix last Sunday, he claimed his sixth pole in Hungary, his fifth this year and the 77th of his career.
“Are we good?” Hamilton asked his team over the radio. “We’re good,” came the reply.
“It’s great for the team to have a one-two,” added Hamilton. “Jeez. We couldn’t have expected this. The heavens opened and it was fair game…”
Hamilton was nearly three-tenths quicker than Bottas who was second ahead of fellow-Finn Kimi Raikkonen and his Ferrari team-mate Vettel, Carlos Sainz of Renault and Pierre Gasly of Toro Rosso.
“When it was drier it was a bit like doing ballet and tip-toeing, trying to find a line,” added Hamilton.
“It was give and take all the way around. We’ve got a great position so we’re going to do our best to keep the red guys behind us…”
Bottas said: “I crossed the line on pole and then Lewis had a better lap… He was quicker, but a one-two for the team – it could have been worse! We are free to fight so I’m looking forward to it.”
– Thunder crackled –
Raikkonen reflected: “The weather was the most important thing today and the car was driveable and enjoyable. I was a bit unlucky with the tyres…”
Max Verstappen was seventh for Red Bull ahead of New Zealander Brendon Hartley, who made the top ten for the first time in his Toro Rosso, Kevin Magnussen and his Haas team-mate Romain Grosjean.
Ferrari had been clearly fastest in dry conditions, but after a sweltering morning with a track temperature touching 58 degrees Celsius, qualifying began in dramatically different conditions.
This created tricky conditions, similar to those during the race in Germany a week earlier, and the use of ‘intermediate’ tyres as thunder crackled and black clouds swirled.
Ferrari and Mercedes were the last to switch to the ultra-soft slicks, leaving their drivers in danger of failing to clock a lap time before more rain fell.
As Vettel led at the top, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, Charles Leclerc of Sauber, Esteban Ocon and his Force India team-mate Esteban Ocon, and Williams’ Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin were eliminated.
When Q2 began, Vettel went out on intermediates while the rest remained on slicks. Within seconds, it was clear that his decision was a wise one as rain swept in and the pack returned to change tyres.
This all resulted in Fernando Alonso, Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Marcus Ericsson and Stroll missing the cut to the top-ten shootout which began with everyone on ‘full wet’ tyres.
In succession, Verstappen, Bottas and then Hamilton topped the times on their first runs with Vettel down in sixth, as a patch of blue sky appeared over the Turn 14 grandstand.
With five minutes remaining, Hamilton led Bottas before Raikkonen went top by four-tenths ahead of the two Mercedes men.
On new full wets, Vettel was unable to find much extra pace as, with two minutes remaining, Hamilton and Raikkonen rejoined on new rubber for their final – and dramatic — flying laps.