Lewis Hamilton took pole at the 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix, his 104th, nipping it from Max Verstappen by the slightest of margins after a thrilling battle.
The seven-time Formula 1 Champion showed why Mercedes are working on resigning him beyond his current contract, as he made all the difference driving the wheels off his W14 to take his 104th career pole position around a track where he reigns as the most successful driver.
While the expectations were for Lando Norris and Verstappen to be gunning for pole, Hamilton showed up in Q3 against all the odds and nailed in a great final run, taking the risk of being the last driver to set a lap despite the risk of traffic and beat Verstappen by a negligible 0.003s.
Norris proved that McLaren’s form from Silverstone was no fluke, despite all his efforts to say otherwise, he was a pole contender till the last minute but had to settle for third.
The best thing for the sport and the fans is that in the race on Sunday we will have two fierce rivals lining up first and second on the starting grid which will bring back memories of their 2021 battles, which will make for an interesting first lap, not to mention an eager Norris starting behind them and definitely hoping to crash the Verstappen/Hamilton party.
What the top three said after Qualifying
It was Hamilton’s first pole since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, he reflected after the Qualifying: “It’s been a crazy year and a half. I’ve lost my voice from shouting so much in the car!
“It’s amazing that feeling. I feel so grateful to be up here because the team have worked so hard. We have been pushing so hard over this time to get pole. It feels like the first time.
“I didn’t expect today to be fighting to pole so when I went into that last run I gave it absolutely everything, there was nothing left in it.
“It’s been massively challenging for every single person in the team. There’s been ups and downs. It’s a big rollercoaster ride. None of us lost faith,” he insisted. “We all just united together and have been focusing on trying to steer the car in the right direction.
“Today we were losing so much in Turn 4 and 11 compared to the others so I just sent it and hoped I stayed on track. It has been tough and it will be tough moving on from here but hopefully this shows we are on the right track if we keep on pushing.”
As for his chances in the race, the Mercedes ace said: “I have to see if I can sleep tonight! Tomorrow, we will study as hard as we can, bring our A-game.
“It will be difficult to fight these two guys – Lando has been doing a mega job, it’s been great to see McLaren up there and Max, you know Max, he’s always up there doing his thing,” he concluded.
Verstappen was clearly pissed after missing out on his 28th career pole, he said: “I’ve been struggling the whole weekend to find a good balance – every session has been up and down.
“Today also in qualifying, it was really difficult. Q1, Q2 to feel confident, to really attack corners. I thought my first run in Q3 was quite good, but then second run, again no feeling. I tried to push a little more – you lose the rear, lose the front,” he explained.
“We’re still second, but I think we should be ahead with the car we have normally, but so far this weekend I think we haven’t been on it.
“I think the update works, but I think we just really didn’t put everything together setup wise because I just think today everything has just been all over the shop and not exactly where we wanted to be,” Verstappen concluded.
Norris admitted he was disappointed to miss out on pole by less than a tenth; he commented: “I’m disappointed. If you’re within a tenth of pole it feels like you should be on pole if you put the lap together.
“I guess with the overall picture I’m happy. The team did a good job with P3 and P4. A good weekend so far,” he added. “As a driver I’m not the happiest, I feel I made too many mistakes and it cost me today.
“There’s always little things – just putting the lap together. It wasn’t the cleanest. There’s always an element of risk involved in trying to push a bit more.
“Nothing major. There was definitely a tenth in it. Frustrating. I’m happy. P3 is still a good position, so still a good day,” he concluded.
Finally the Soft tyres made their qualifying debut, as the ten drivers who made it into Q3, bolted the red-banded tyres to their cars in the final shootout on Saturday afternoon at the Hungaroring.
After the first runs in Q3, three contenders for pole emerged. Naturally the first was Verstappen who was fastest after the first round, followed by Hamilton in second, while an on-form Norris was third, all three within three tenths of a second.
Hamilton delayed his return to the track as late as possible, risking being stuck in traffic, but in the end managed to deny Verstappen his fifth consecutive pole position, as he failed to improve his lap time.
Hamilton’s pole lap was a 1:16.609, while Verstappen was 0.003s behind in second, as Norris was 0.083s further back in third.
Once again, Oscar Piastri was right up there for McLaren, fourth fastest behind his teammate but was 0.211s slower after his final hot lap. Nevertheless a decent effort from the rookie.
Zhou Guanyu was a superb fifth for Alfa Romeo, the back markers the surprise of the Hungary Qualifying. Zhou was the fastest in Q1 and but his Q3 time was over three tenths off the pace.
Charles Leclerc was a disappointing sixth for Ferrari – Carlos Sainz was out from Q2 – and the Monegasque never finding his rhythm on any tyre compound. He was 0.383s off the pace.
Valtteri Bottas capped off a great afternoon for Alfa Romeo, seventh fastest in the second car and ahead of Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard – once a podium contender in 2023 – only eighth fastest and 0.426s off the pace.
Sergio Perez was a disappointing ninth in the #11 Red Bull, 0.436s off the pace, but at least he made it into Q3 for a change.
Nico Hulkenberg continued his strong qualifying performances for Haas, tenth fastest, but will face a trip down the order in Sunday’s race as has been the case for the American team’s cars and their huge appetite for tyres.
Q2: Verstappen survives a scare, Norris leads the way, Sainz out
The remaining 15 drivers head out to the track with the Medium tyres bolted to their cars as they started their attempts to enter Q3.
Verstappen was the first driver in Q2 to have his first lap time deleted due to violating the track limits. Stroll also lost his lap, he was also under investigation for impeding Bottas in Q1.
The Dutchman returned to the pits for a fresh set of Mediums, and with less than six minutes on the clock, he was yet to have a time set.
However in the end Verstappen made it into Q3 in third place, 0.219s behind Norris who set a lap time of 1:17.328, and Hamilton in second who was 0.427s behind the younger Briton.
Sainz lost out to teammate Leclerc by 0.002s, the latter making it into Q3 by the skin of his teeth. The Spaniard will start the race from 11th.
Esteban Ocon was 12th fastest, 0.138s behind Sainz, while Daniel Ricciardo was 13th fastest in the AlphaTauri, 0.161s behind Ocon.
A decent effort from the Honey Badger, beating Yuki Tsunoda upon his return, and also outqualifying an Alpine and an Aston Martin.
Lance Stroll was 14th fastest in the Aston Martin while Pierre Gasly was 15th in the other Alpine.
The hot and clear conditions carried over from FP3 into Qualifying, as Q1 started with ambient temperatures of 26C while the track temperature was 45C.
That makes the key for a successful qualifying lap around the Hungaroring, is making sure the tyres do not overheat which will cause the driver to lose grip towards the end, something Verstappen experienced in the final practice.
The session witnessed several lap times deleted for Kevin Magnussen, Piastri, Alex Albon, Logan Sargeant and Norris all falling prey to the white lines.
It was all about putting in the laps on the Hard tyres, the traffic on making it difficult for the drivers to have clean runs.
In the end, Zhou lead the way into Q2 with a 1:18.143, 0.175s faster than Verstappen in second, while Perez was third fastest, 0.217s slower than the Chinese driver.
The first driver to be eliminated in Q1 was Albon who lost out by a 0.011s and will start the race on Sunday from 16th, while Tsunoda 17th fastest in the AlphaTauri. Ricciardo made it into Q2.
George Russell was a shocking 18th at the end of Q1, losing out by 0.121s, his final lap compromised by traffic.
Kevin Magnussen was 19th and Sargeant was dead last.