Mercedes locks out front row as Hamilton pips Bottas

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W11.
© XPB 

Lewis Hamilton successfully claimed his 90th career F1 pole position in qualifying for the 2020 Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday.

His team mate Valtteri Bottas was just a tenth of a second slower, meaning that Mercedes successfully secured its first front row lock-out of this year's world championship.

Racing Point also continued to flex their new-found muscles, with Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez clinching the second row ahead of the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc.

However it was a tough day for Red Bull, with Max Verstappen only managing seventh place and his frustrated team mate Alexander Albon not even able to reach the final round of the session.

Long established as Formula 1's dry, superheated dustbowl, the Hungaroring was almost unrecognisable as it shivered under heavy dark grey skies that seemed ready to unleash more rain at any moment, in the wake of Friday's afternoon practice which had been largely a wash-out. The unfamiliar conditions gave a definite sense of unpredictability as the cars headed out to start the first round of qualifying.

Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W11.

Q1: Racing Point fastest in changeable conditions, both Williams progress

With forecasts of rain being imminent, there was a general scramble to exit pit lane as soon as possible while the track was still completely dry. Red Bull's Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon and the two Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton led the charge to lay down early banker laps, the Finn pipping Hamilton by 0.097s with a time of 1:15.484s on soft tyres. Hamilton soon reversed the situation by putting in an improved lap of 1:15.366s to head the timesheets.

Confirming their pace in practice, both Racing Points were also quickly up to speed with Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez slipping into third and fourth ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc. Verstappen's initial time was only good enough for sixth ahead of the two McLarens of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, leaving Sebastian Vettel in ninth followed by Albon.

Just as the weather radar had warned, light rain was starting to move in and was increasingly making its presence felt. The drivers most concerned about this were the Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi and the two Haas drivers of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen who were stuck in the drop zone along with Williams' Nicholas Latifi. They would have to hope that the track remained dry enough to allow for a second set of runs if they were to have any chance of progressing to the second round.

Nicholas Latifi (CDN) Williams Racing FW43.

Their luck held: but with the rain abating, it also meant that everyone was now at risk of getting caught out. This was demonstrated by a mighty effort by George Russell that jumped the Williams up to third place, with Latifi also vaulting into the top ten. The two Racing Point drivers were similarly flying, Perez going top from Stroll with a half second advantage over the two Mercedes cars. Some big names were now being driven remorselessly downwards toward the cut-off, so there was palpable relief at Ferrari when the at-risk Vettel dug deep and found safety by going fourth fastest.

Even with late improvements from Sainz and Norris, Vettel finished the round comfortably in the top ten ahead of Bottas, Verstappen, Russell and Renault's Esteban Ocon. Left down and out at the other end of the timing screens were the two Haas and both Alfa Romeo drivers, with AlphaTauri's Daniil Kvyat joining them on the bench. Yes, you read that right: no Williams were eliminated in the making of Q1 this week, meaning that for the first time in almost two years both of the team's drivers had made it safely through to the second round. For Russell it was the second week in succession that he had successfully survived the cut, progress indeed for all at Grove.

Alexander Albon (THA) Red Bull Racing RB16.

Q2: Hamilton and Bottas back in charge as Albon eliminated

Russell was the first driver to head back out when the lights at the end of pit lane went green to signal the start of the second round of qualifying. Mercedes, Racing Point and Renault were also quick to make a move, all of them having changed to medium tyres in the hopes of making it their starting compound for tomorrow's race.

Russell's opening gambit of 1:15.698s was swiftly topped by Stroll and Perez, who in turn were trumped by Norris and Sainz who had stayed on softs. Hamilton then laid down his claim to the top spot with a new best time of 1:14.261s, putting him more than a quarter of a second clear of his team mate. That pace was certainly too hot for Vettel and Verstappen, who slotted into third and fourth respectively ahead of the two McLarens. The Dutch driver was certainly not sounding very happy, complaining about understeer, lack of power and erratic tyre handling over the team radio. Also concerned about his car was Pierre Gasly, who was sitting in ninth place but who told his team "I feel I am destroying the engine!"

With the light showers having moved through for the time being, rain was no longer a factor as the remaining 15 cars returned to the track for one last push. Norris was able to find some extra speed to jump into the top three, and seconds later Charles Leclerc was also able to successfully break out of the bottom five to ensure that for the first time this season both Ferraris would participate in the final pole shoot-out round.

In doing so, the Monegasque pushed Daniel Ricciardo into the drop zone where the Renault was joined by his team mate Ocon as well as Russell and Latifi. And also - in one of the bigger shocks of the session - by Albon, who was unable to improve his earlier time after being released into traffic, much to his audible frustration over the team radio.

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB16.

Q3: Hamilton pips Bottas to pick up pole position

The result meant that despite his problems, Gasly had scrapped through into Q3. However he played no part in the final round, his AlphaTauri remaining up on stands in the team garage, drained of oil as the team immediately set to work tracking down and fixing the engine problems ahead of Sunday's race.

With the administrative matter of tyre selection for the top ten having been resolved, it was time for the remaining nine contenders to bolt on soft tyres and go all-out for pole. Stroll and Perez were among the first out, but it was Hamilton's 1:13.613s that took everyone's breath away when it put him 0.311s ahead of Bottas, with Stroll third after Perez' first effort was deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 4. Verstappen settled into fourth ahead of Norris and Sainz, who were quicker than both Vettel and Leclerc.

There was time for one last run, Vettel and Leclerc making an early move and finding some extra time to move up into fourth and fifth ahead of Verstappen. They were both knocked back a place a moment later when Perez finally set a time, despite the rain once again starting to pick up.

As for the matter of pole position, it was an exclusively all-Mercedes party as Hamilton and Bottas slugged it out for supremacy, with the reigning champion coming out on top with an improved time of 1:13.447s, a tenth quicker than Bottas' final effort.

With concerns at Red Bull over his engine, Verstappen left it until the last minute before coming out. He was then unable to find any additional speed and ended up settling for a disappointing seventh on the grid, still ahead of the two McLarens with the sidelined Gasly set for tenth on the grid - assuming that his car is back in working order in time for the race without breaching parc fermé conditions..

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