Lewis Hamilton used every ounce of the momentum that carried him into this weekend as he stormed to pole position in Hungary, staking his claim on his third successive victory of the season.
The British ace, fresh from back-to-back victories at Silverstone and Hockenheim, attacked the Budapest circuit with impunity, breezing to the top spot – with time in hand – to claim his third pole position of the season and the tenth of his career.
Team-mate Heikki Kovalainen came close to eclipsing his team-mate’s benchmark time in the shoot-out, but when Hamilton went one better with a 1:20.889 it was game over.
“It has been so far a pretty decent weekend and the team have done a great job in improving the car again, even from the last race,” said Hamilton. “The pace of our car is great and it is a great day to have me and Heikki 1-2.”
“It is about time we did that for the team and we’ve both done a great job, it is very satisfying. We were quick in testing yesterday. Q2 looked a bit close but it was tyre dependent and we made the right choice at the end so I am very happy.”
Ominously for his rivals Hamilton insisted that he could have gone even quicker – that put a dampener on Felipe Massa’s effort, the Brazilian having strung the neck of his Ferrari just to come within a whiff of the silver cars in third place.
“Felipe doesn’t believe me,” Hamilton joked in the post-qualifying press conference, “I have a bit of time in the bag still. The car was great. Sector 1 was very strong and I when got to turn 4, the quick left, was fine, and when I got back to Turn 5 I locked up the right front wheel and pushed me on a bit.”
“It might be half a tenth or a tenth but it is all important. Luckily I could save it and the rest of lap was good. Heikki was quickest in final sector so he is pushing me hard. It is good.”
Indeed, Heikki Kovalainen underlined the raw pace of the McLaren around the Hungaroring, and crucially for tomorrow’s race the MP4-23 seems to be working well on both the soft and super-soft tyre compounds.
“It was difficult to choose the right tyre for the final session and I felt I could have done a slightly faster lap in Q3, but I was a little cautious in Turn Two,” reflected the Finn. “Still, we’ve found a great direction with the car and I’ve got a great opportunity to win the race tomorrow.”
Rivals Ferrari on the other hand seem to be struggling on the softer compound; Felipe Massa never seemed totally comfortable in his F2008 and felt the need to make extra runs in the qualifying hour to try and hit the sweet spot.
“It’s a shame I didn’t manage to get the best out of the car in Q3, mainly because of traffic, especially on my second run,” explained the Brazilian. “In the first two parts of qualifying the car felt good, as can be seen from my times, but then I never managed to prepare the tyres in the best way.”
“Clearly, overtaking isn’t easy but we have a good pace and I will try and exploit that in fighting with the two drivers ahead of me on the grid.”
Serious questions will be being asked of Kimi Raikkonen in the sister Ferrari. For the second consecutive race the Finn failed to muster up the kind of fight that we have come to expect of the world champion. He puts his sixth place down to mistakes on his flying laps, but that in itself is a cause for concern.
“I made a mistake on my final flying lap which cost me time, and that followed on from not having got a great lap on my previous attempt, which explains why I’m sixth,” said Raikkonen, doing his best to deflect attention from his dire showing.
“Of course I am not happy and, starting from the third row, my race will be an uphill struggle. I will try and make the most of this situation, given that the car today was not that bad.”
Raikkonen starts sixth behind Timo Glock who put his crash at Hockenheim well and truly behind him with a blistering assault on the Budapest track. Jarno Trulli in the sister Toyota couldn’t provide an answer for his team-mate’s dazzling pace and ended the session ninth quickest.
Fernando Alonso wound up seventh for Renault while his rookie team-mate fresh from his podium success at Hockenheim a fortnight ago, was brought back down to earth with tenth place.
Mark Webber starts eighth for Red Bull Racing.
Nick Heidfeld was a notable casualty in the second knock-out session after he lost time on his final flying lap behind the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Vettel. The German will have his work cut on Sunday to salvage a good result from sixteenth place, as will the Williams and Honda drivers who surround him.
Barring a mechanical problem intervening McLaren’s operation tomorrow, it is hard to imagine anything other than a silver car romping home to victory. Kovalainen did touch on just about the only other thing that could stop this happening however: a first corner collision.
“It’s fantastic to be starting on the front row alongside Lewis. I hope that starting on. the dirty side of the track won’t be a disadvantage and I fully expect us to look out for each other in the first corner tomorrow. This result really repays the team for all its efforts over the past few months.”
If Silverstone is anything to go by, it should be an interesting run down to the first corner.