By Alan Baldwin
BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Ferrari’s Formula One championship leader Sebastian Vettel took pole position at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday as Mercedes title rival Lewis Hamilton missed out on a record-equalling career 68th.
The German’s Finnish team mate Kimi Raikkonen sealed Ferrari’s front row lockout, with the Italian glamour team back to their best after recent setbacks while Mercedes wondered where their previous pace had gone.
“The car was fantastic today, it was really a pleasure to just go around,” said Vettel after taking his 48th career pole on a hot afternoon at the Hungaroring.
His sizzling time of one minute 16.276 seconds was an absolute record for the slowest permanent circuit on the calendar.
“Obviously the last race wasn’t great for us but it doesn’t matter now,” added the four-times world champion, who finished seventh at Silverstone two weeks ago with a late blowout slashing his lead over Hamilton to a single point.
Hamilton will start from a disappointing fourth place on the grid and alongside his Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas.
The triple champion had been hoping to match Michael Schumacher’s all-time pole record with his sixth in Hungary, a circuit where he has won five times already, and had set the fastest lap of the second phase of qualifying.
But he had to abort his first run in the final part after running wide, complaining of vibrations to the tyres, with the pressure piled on as the clock ticked down and no margin for error.
“We knew they were quick and we were aware of their pace. I don’t know if they brought an upgrade but I think we did quite well considering,” said the Briton.
“You can’t overtake here so it’s most likely going to be a train unless we can do something on strategy.”
Ferrari had not swept the front row in Hungary since 2004, when a dominant Schumacher led Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello.
That year was also the last time anyone other than Hamilton has won at the Hungaroring from pole position and the last year in which the winner in Hungary went on to take the world championship that same season.
“They’ve been quick all weekend,” said Bottas. “Coming to qualifying we knew it should be close and they would be tough to beat and they had the upper hand today.
“They’ve clearly got everything right for this track and we still have work to do in circuits like this. But let’s see tomorrow.”
The top six places on the grid went in team order, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo qualifying fifth and sixth.
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was seventh, but will take a five place penalty for a gearbox change. That will raise McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne to seventh and eighth respectively.
While one Briton had seized all the attention at the front end, another stood out at the back with Paul di Resta making his first appearance in qualifying since 2013 as a last-minute replacement for an unwell Felipe Massa at Williams.
The Scot, who had never driven a 2017 car before and faced the monumental task of getting to grips with it in a matter of minutes, qualified an impressive 19th and ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)