Ellis Goodwin, F1 Correspondent
In dominant fashion, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton continued to pace the field and qualified on pole position for Sunday's FIA Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix.
Hamilton's lap of 1m 20.953s gives the Briton his 22nd career pole position. It also marks McLaren's 150th pole position as a team
"It’s been a really positive weekend so far," Hamilton said. "The guys have done an incredible job as always preparing the car... Generally every lap has been good throughout practice and qualifying."
Lotus' sophomore driver Romain Grosjean qualified in second with a 1m 22.366s; .413 adrift of Hamilton and the best start of his career.
"We normally have good race pace, and it’s good to be back at the front after a difficult German Grand Prix and a difficult start to Hungary," Grosjean said with a beaming smile. "I think the race tomorrow is going to be interesting."
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel rounded out the top three with a 1m 21.416s lap. “It was difficult session for us. We didn’t get into qualifying how we would like and the rhythm wasn’t there straight away," he said.
Vettel's teammate Mark Webber had an even more difficult qualifying, and was unable to clear Q2, qualifying in 11th position.
McLaren driver Jenson Button's Q3 time of 1m 21.583s was good enough for the fourth grid spot, and Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen will start behind the Briton in fifth with a time of 1m 21.730s.
The Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa followed in sixth and seventh. Massa was just .056s behind his teammate, who ran a 1m 21.844s
The Williams cars will start in eighth and ninth on Sunday. Pastor Maldonado was the last of the drivers to reach the 1m 21s mark. Bruno Senna ran a 1m 22.343s qualifying lap, almost one-half second behind his teammate.
Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10 in his Force India with a time of 1m 22.847s.
Behind Hamilton the competition is very close. The top eight qualifying times were spread over less than one second, and the top 17 spread over just 1.7s.
Webber, who was bumped in Q2 after sitting at the upper end of the time sheet during the session and leading Free Practice three, explained that the competition was very close. He was baffled by the lack of performance in his car and tires, but a switch to new tires in Q2 did not work as planned.
"On my last run I didn't get the most out of the tires. I was struggling to match what I did on the scrub tires which is bizarre," Webber said. "It’s very tight the field at the moment and obviously disappointing."
Red Bull has denied that the FIA's new rule on engine maps has hurt the Milton Keynes squad's pace in Hungary. They have shown great speed at times, but have also struggled to get to the top spot of the grid this weekend. Both cars narrowly made it out of Q1, sitting in 16th and 17th after the 20 minute session.
Mercedes' Michael Schumacher also failed to reach Q3. Schumacher lost time when Maldonado dropped a tire and showered the German with a cloud of dust. Schumacher got out of the throttle, and did not finish the run, relegating him to 17th.
"I could have done a faster lap probably, without the dust having been brought to the track by Maldonado, but then I still do not think it would have brought me into Q3. I don't think we could have done much more," Schumacher said.
Hamilton and McLaren may be on pole, but a race win is not guaranteed. Some teams expect rain, while others expect dry conditions on Sunday.
There is also a question of tire wear. This year Pirelli has brought its P Zero White medium tire and P Zero Yellow soft tire to Hungary: the same selection as the German Grand Prix. However, these tire compounds have never been used at the tight, twisty and slippery Hungaroring.
In years past, Pirelli have brought their medium and P Zero Red super soft compounds, but complaints of high degradation may have pushed the Italian tire supplier to bring harder compounds to Hungary.
"In Hungary last year we saw some wet weather, so it’s important not to make any assumptions," Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery said. "Consequently, we are still lacking some information about the performance of our slick tyres under race conditions at the Hungaroring. Balancing the demands of speed and durability will be key to getting the most out of the tyres in Hungary, in order to keep degradation under control."
Overtaking is traditionally difficult at the Hungaroring, and Hamilton's overall pace has been unmatched this weekend. Catching the Briton may be a difficult prospect. Race strategy and tire management are extremely important to tomorrow's results. Teams will look to catch McLaren, Hamilton and all other rivals by overtaking with lightning fast pit stops and precise race management, as opposed to risky maneuvers on track.
"We know it’s difficult to overtake here...Tyre management will be crucial," Vettel said.