Nico Rosberg negotiated a chaotic qualifying session to take pole position for tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix. The German driver took pole by under 2 tenths from his team mate Lewis Hamilton as the fraternity of F1 drivers certainly earned their payslips in extremely tricky conditions following a lunch time downpour at the Hungaroring.
The start of Q1 was delayed by 20 minutes in order to give the rain time to pass, and when the session got underway as the rain eased slightly, Felipe Massa and the Force Indias led the field out of a crowded pit lane and onto the track. The break in the rain didn’t last long and it soon returned to make life difficult for the drivers as they were in the middle of their first laps. The first round of laps saw the Force India drivers topping the timing sheets, with Fernando Alonso following in 3rd, but both Mercedes drivers got held up on their laps and backed off, leaving them bottom of the pack, ahead of only the Manor of Rio Haryanto. They would be unable to immediately improve their situation as the session was red flagged with 13 minutes of the session remaining, as the rain was only getting heavier and the conditions more treacherous.
As the safety car pounded round the soaked circuit, kicking up puddles of water at every turn, the rain finally began to ease again and the session was scheduled to restart at 14:40 local time. The cars again formed a queue at the end of the pit lane, with Max Verstappen heading the 2 Mercedes drivers as the cars returned to the track. With all the drivers displaying the depths of their talents on a soaking track, it was the 2 Red Bull drivers that impressed the most, with Daniel Ricciardo going fastest initially, followed by team mate Verstappen. The Mercedes drivers could not match this initial pace, and ended their first runs almost 2 seconds down on the Red Bulls, behind Kimi Raikkonen and the initial top 3 of the Force India drivers and Alonso. Just when we might have been on our way to some solid running on a drying track, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson lost the rear of his car around the back of the circuit and ended up in the barriers, bringing out the red flag yet again. While the drivers would be disappointed to return the the pits again, this did give the track a good opportunity to dry out a bit, with the rain now moving away from the circuit and giving away to fairer weather moving forward.
The session restarted again at 14:55 local time, with the customary long queue of cars forming yet again, this time led by Felipe Nasr, followed closely by the 2 Toro Rossos. Both Red Bulls and Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari opted for intermediate tyres initially, a decision which looked a gamble as the circuit was still very wet, evidenced by Lewis Hamilton locking up at turn 6 and taking to the gravel trap. It was first man out Nasr that went initially quickest, putting in a great lap to head the field, but again the session failed to gain any meaningful momentum as Felipe Massa lost the rear of his Williams at turn 4 and crashed, prompting yet another red flag.
The sun was now beaming as the session restarted at 14:07 local time, and all the cars headed out on track with inters on. With all the drivers needing a good lap with barely 5 minutes left, the conclusion of Q1 was heating up nicely. Lewis Hamilton went fastest initially, followed by Alonso and Vettel. Rosberg then went fastest, but it was then that Rio Haryanto had an almost identical incident to Ericsson at turn 10, and the session was once again red flagged.
With no time to restart the session, Q1 ended at that point, leaving both Manors, Massa’s Williams, Ericsson’s Sauber and both Renaults in the drop zone. With Q1 taking over an hour to complete, we moved on to Q2 hoping that a drying track would lead to more normal proceedings from this point on.
Q2 began with everyone on intermediates but dry lines were emerging and lap times were rapidly tumbling. Initial runs on the inters left the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers fighting for the top 4 positions, with Ricciardo, then Hamilton taking the top spot. The track was rapidly drying though, and with 8 minutes left, Williams called Bottas in to the pits and fitted supersoft slicks. The Finn tiptoed around the circuit on his out lap, but was rewarded by the top spot on his first flying lap, going over a second faster than anyone. By this point, most of the rest of the field were also fitting slicks, leading in to a thrilling final 5 minutes where the track was only getting faster and it looked like anyone could be eliminated by the time the chequered flag fell. Fastest times were traded between Alonso, Perez and the Vettel as the track evolved rapidly as it dried, although there were still areas that were catching drivers out, as happened with Ricciardo at turn one, a mistake that left him last as we moved towards the final laps.
Ricciardo soon made up for this error though by going third fastest on his final lap. Verstappen went fastest with Rosberg in second place, but it was Lewis Hamilton’s time that caused the most concern, after the world champion locked up on his lap, putting in a less than impressive time that was tumbling down the standings as the rest of the field completed their laps. Finally, Hamilton could breathe easy (just about) as he ended Q2 in 10th place.
It was a great session for McLaren, who got both cars into the top 10 for the first time of the McLaren-Honda partnership, but not so much for the 2 Haas drivers, Felipe Nasr, Kimi Raikkonen, Daniil Kvyat and Sergio Perez, who all missed the cut to make it to Q3 despite showing promise earlier in the session.
Q3 got underway in almost completely dry conditions, although the still damp kerbs were proving troublesome in places, no more so than at the final corner, where Daniel Ricciardo had a big moment while setting his first lap time. Hamilton was initially fastest with a 1:20.4, three tenths ahead of Rosberg, followed closely by the Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Verstappen. Sebastian Vettel came out of the pits late, but eventually took 5th on his first lap, just ahead of the 2 McLarens. Carlos Sainz, Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top 10 after the first runs, although Sainz would climb to 6th as he stayed out between the 2 runs of the rest of the drivers.
As the final laps began, it appeared that Red Bull has missed out with Max Verstappen as the Dutch driver appeared to just cross the line just after the chequered flag had fallen, which would obviously deny him the opportunity to go for pole, and may well have lost him some grid places. However, this was soon rendered mostly irrelevant as Fernando Alonso spun at turn 5, causing yellow flags that ruined the final laps of Lewis Hamilton as well as the majority of the rest of the field. That looked to be that, with Hamilton on pole, until Nico Rosberg defied the odds to snatch pole position at the very last moment, negotiating a tricky lap to go fastest by 2 tenths. Debate will rage as to how he could set a fastest time when there were yellow flags on track, but footage appears to show a lift from the German at this point on the circuit, so we can assume that the positions will stay as they are, with a top 3 of Rosberg, Hamilton and Ricciardo. Verstappen and Vettel follow, with Sainz doing a fantastic job in 6th. Further back we have the 2 McLarens of Alonso and Button in 7th and 8th, and rounding out the top 10 are Hulkenberg and Bottas.
1. Nico Rosberg GER Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 19.965s
2. Lewis Hamilton GBR Mercedes-Mercedes 1m 20.108s
3. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Red Bull-TAG 1m 20.280s
4. Max Verstappen NED Red Bull-TAG 1m 20.557s
5. Sebastian Vettel GER Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 20.874s
6. Carlos Sainz ESP Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 21.131s
7. Fernando Alonso ESP McLaren-Honda 1m 21.211s
8. Jenson Button GBR McLaren-Honda 1m 21.597s
9. Nico Hulkenberg GER Force India-Mercedes 1m 21.823s
10. Valtteri Bottas FIN Williams-Mercedes 1m 22.182s
11. Romain Grosjean FRA Haas-Ferrari 1m 24.941s
12. Daniil Kvyat RUS Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 25.301s
13. Sergio Perez MEX Force India-Mercedes 1m 25.416s
14. Kimi Raikkonen FIN Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 25.435s
15. Esteban Gutierrez MEX Haas-Ferrari 1m 26.189s
16. Felipe Nasr BRA Sauber-Ferrari 1m 27.063s
17. Jolyon Palmer GBR Renault-Renault 1m 43.965s
18. Felipe Massa BRZ Williams-Mercedes 1m 43.999s
19. Kevin Magnussen DEN Renault-Renault 1m 44.543s
20. Marcus Ericsson SWE Sauber-Ferrari 1m 46.984s
21. Pascal Wehrlein GER Manor-Mercedes 1m 47.343s
22. Rio Haryanto INA Manor-Mercedes 1m 50.189s