Nico Rosberg has secured his fifth pole position in six races in Hungary today after seeing off the challenge of Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas in the final stage of qualifying.
After seeing teammate Lewis Hamilton pull over in Q1 thanks to an engine fire, Rosberg then had to contend with a brief rain shower and a red flag in Q3 en route to pole position, but he eventually gapped the field by a convincing four-tenths of a second.
Q1 began in slightly cooler conditions to practice, with the track temperature dropping under a cover of cloud. Most of the drivers opted to head out early to post a banker lap time, but Pastor Maldonado’s session lasted all of two minutes. The Lotus came to a halt at the penultimate corner, meaning that he will start tomorrow’s Hungarian Grand Prix from the back of the grid.
He will be joined there by Lewis Hamilton, who suffered yet more disastrous luck in qualifying when his engine caught fire. He was forced to abandon his car in the pit lane, and for the second weekend in a row, he will face an almighty struggle to beat Rosberg in the race tomorrow.
It seemed likely that the remaining four places in the dropzone would be taken by the Marussia and Caterham cars, but Jules Bianchi had other ideas. The Frenchman found half a second in the final sector of his lap to knock out Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who had remained in the pits and opted not to run again. The Finn was furious to have dropped out in Q1, and he will start tomorrow’s race from 17th place. Kamui Kobayashi, Max Chilton and Marcus Ericsson could not make it through, though.
Bianchi was quick out of the blocks to set a time in Q2, but it was Valtteri Bottas who set the early pace for Williams. Rosberg soon took Mercedes back to the top of the timesheets by going six-tenths of a second faster than the Finn, though. Sebastian Vettel slotted into second place, a further three-tenths back from his compatriot after the first run in Q2.
Sergio Perez’s session came to an early end after a hydraulic leak on his Force India car forced him to get out of the car with just one lap time on the board. He eventually was classified in 13th place, with teammate Nico Hulkenberg sneaking into the top ten.
On the final set of runs, none of the drivers in the dropzone managed to improve, with Daniil Kvyat spinning on his final lap to qualify 11th. Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez put in a good display for Sauber to qualify 12th and 14th respectively ahead of Romain Grosjean and Jules Bianchi.
As Q3 got underway, light rain began to fall over the Hungaroring, making it a race against time to get in a lap time and beat the weather. Rosberg was the first to head out, and was having to wrestle with his Mercedes in the slippery conditions. Just as he ran wide at the first corner, Kevin Magnussen shunted his McLaren in the wall, bringing out the red flag with ten minutes left on the clock. Thankfully, he walked away unharmed, but was disappointed to see his session end in such fashion.
The session resumed some ten minutes later with dry tires fitted to the cars despite the brief shower. Rosberg was the first to head out once again, but his first time was well off the pace. The drivers were able to push for more than one lap as the track continued to improve, seeing them trade fastest times for P1. Rosberg took to top spot with three minutes to go ahead of Vettel and Bottas, but there was still time for his effort to be bettered.
Bottas moved up to second place with his final effort, leaving the battle between Rosberg and Vettel. Although the Red Bull driver managed to move up to P1 for a few seconds, it did not last any longer as Rosberg improved through all three sectors to secure his sixth pole position of the season.
Daniel Ricciardo will start the race behind Bottas in fourth place, with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa behind him on the third row of the grid. Jenson Button will start seventh for McLaren with Jean-Eric Vergne in eighth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen.
It wasn’t easy for Rosberg, but once again he was the man to beat in qualifying, capitalizing on the misfortune of his rivals to secure pole position at the Hungaroring. However, he will now need to convert it into a race win on Sunday if he is to extend his lead at the top of the drivers’ championship over Hamilton, who may have to start from the pit lane.
Join us for the Hungarian Grand Prix live on CNBC and Live Extra tomorrow from 7:30am ET.