Mercedes driver George Russell claimed his first Formula 1 career pole position in Hungary, producing a stunning final lap to snatch pole from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz by less than half a tenth of a second, with championship leader Max Verstappen down in 10th.
After a weekend where Mercedes had struggled for tyre temperature and subsequent pace, Russell delivered a lap with three personal best sectors, but none that were fastest overall for the session.
“Yesterday was probably our worst Friday of the season. Then that last lap, turn 1 was mega and the lap kept coming,” a delighted 24-year-old said.
“When I looked at the screen and saw P1, it was amazing!”
“I’m over the moon and absolutely buzzing. The team was working so hard last night and we were able to make a big step forward. In Formula 1 there are so many fine margins and when you get in that perfect window, your car will just fly, which we managed to do in today’s conditions. We didn’t know what direction to go in but on the last lap I came across the line, looked at the screen and saw we went P1, which was such an incredible feeling. We need to look into our performance from today and understand where it came from. We have a few ideas, but don’t fully understand it yet. Getting this result today is really huge for all of us. I’m so happy for the whole team and we will do our best to have a great day tomorrow and give it our all,” Kings Lynn-born Russell added.
Russell’s 1:17.377 beat Sainz, who looked to have sealed his second career pole after beating teammate Charles Leclerc, in what seemed to be a Ferrari front row lock-out, but a small slide at turn 5 may have been the crucial moment that cost the Spaniard pole.
Ferrari had appeared a little off the pace throughout the session, with Verstappen favourite for pole heading into Q3, but a power-unit issue prevented the Dutchman from setting a final lap, leaving the championship leader down in 10th.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff’s smile said it all, after guiding Russell through his early F1 career, placing the young Briton at Williams before promoting Russell to the Mercedes team for 2022.
Russell’s Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, eight times a winner around the Hungaroring, suffered a Drag Reduction System (DRS) problem on his final lap, consigning the seven-time World Champion to seventh place.
“My DRS stopped working, which was frustrating after all the struggle we had to finally have the chance to fight for front row but then not being able to, because of the issues with the DRS. We did a lot of work overnight at track and back at the factory. The car didn’t feel good in FP3, but was strong in Qualifying. We didn’t know how strong our pace was and where it came from so it’s a very positive day for us. I will do what I can tomorrow to support and contribute to us in winning from P7 and I will try and work my way up. I don’t know where our race pace is going to be tomorrow, but hopefully we will be in a position to attack. Huge congratulations to George, it’s an amazing feeling to get your first pole position and it’s also huge for us as a team,” said Hamilton.
A stunning result, as championship contenders falter
Russell’s pole came somewhat out of the blue, considering the lack of pace Mercedes had exhibited on Friday.
The W13 has generally been very kind to it’s tyres over the course of the 2022 season, which has been useful on race day, but made life tough for the Silver Arrows in qualifying sessions.
“We saw from the beginning of qualifying, our tyres were in the right window and this is the result,” said Toto Wolff, “Let’s see what we can do tomorrow in the race.”
Mercedes took full advantage of the top two teams Ferrari and Red Bull leaving the door ajar for the Constructors’ champions of the past eight years to steal in and take the spoils.
Charles Leclerc, who has seven poles in 2022, had looked a little below the ultimate pace all through the qualifying hour and failed to beat team mate Sainz’ first Q3 time with his final effort, but did appear to have sealed an all-red front row.
Sainz improved his time and, it seemed, his second pole in three races.
A front-row lock out for Ferrari would have been maximum damage on a day where rivals Red Bull suffered problems.
Firstly, they lost Sergio Perez in Q2, who failed to improve on a time that was initially deleted for track limits, but reinstated after TV replays appeared to show an abirritation by the stewards.
Perez set another lap on used tyres but did not improve, claiming the Haas of Kevin Magnussen impeded his run through the left-hand turn 2 and was bumped out as Valtteri Bottas in the Alfa Romeo and the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo.
The session suddenly spiralled for the Milton Keynes based team as Verstappen locked up into turn 2 during his first Q3 attempt, after topping Q1 and Q2, which left the defending champion in seventh.
But there was still the final run, but a power-unit issue on the Dutchman’s out-lap proved too much of a hurdle, despite the teams’ best efforts to rectify the problem.
“We could have had a shot at, at the very least, the front row today,” said Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner.
While Ferrari will be disappointed to miss out on the pole position, they are still in a great position to take a big bite into Red Bull’s lead’s in both championships from second and third on the grid.
Norris out-shines both Alpine’s
But for George Russell, Lando Norris would have been the star of the show in Budapest, qualifying his McLaren a highly impressive fourth.
The pace in the McLaren had been surprising on Friday, with 22-year-old Norris second fastest between the Ferrari’s in practice.
And the pace in the McLaren remained strong in qualifying, with Norris regularly setting competitive sector times, culminating in a second row start for Sunday.
The result is important for the team, as well as impressive, considering the performance of rivals Alpine, who McLaren trail by four-points in the Constructors’ championship.
In the inter-team battle between Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, it was Frenchman Ocon who prevailed, beating his 41-year-old team mate by six-hundredths of a second.
The Spaniard, who turned 41 on Friday, had been third fastest in Q2 and looked a threat for the second row of the grid, but Norris out-shone the driver he replaced at McLaren in 2019.
Both Alpine’s are ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, as well as Alfa Romeo’s Bottas in eighth and the second McLaren of Ricciardo, who will start ninth.