Mercedes dominate as Racing Point take advantage of vulnerable Red Bull
Mercedes once again easily cast aside their opposition in what seems will be a repeating Saturday theme for the remainder of this curtailed season. Lewis Hamilton edged out Valtteri Bottas in the sister black Mercedes by a slender one-tenth margin. The cameras were on board with the reigning champion for much of his pole lap, and it was simply mighty with unbelievable grip everywhere at the twisting Hungaroring.
The Mercedes times were nearly a full second ahead of the closest challengers, the Racing Point’s, in what many call the Pink 2019 Mercedes. If as many components in the pink cars are clones of last years title-winning car, then that means no other constructor has progressed enough this year to outqualify a 2019 car — what a troubling prospect for a sport built on constant innovation and improvement.
At the other end of the grid, the Ferrari-powered customer cars did one worse than last week by having all four drivers fail to make it out of Q1. The Alfa Romeo pair will start side by side on the back row with a shocking last place for former-champion Kimi Raikkonen. Magnusson was edged out of qualifying by Latifi and will start 16th, ahead of Kvyat and Grosjean.
The end of Q1 turned into a free-for-all as the track evolution had the times tumbling by huge margins. Williams took advantage, and both Latifi and Russell, who already looked relatively quick in the session both made it through to Q2 in another encouraging qualifying from the Grove-based outfit. George Russell showed his natural ability and ultimately qualified just three-hundredths behind Daniel Ricciardo in raw pace, with no rain or external factors at play. Latifi in the other Williams made a career first Q2 but couldn’t find more speed and starts P15.
Renault had a disappointing day with both cars failing to make the final session. Worryingly, Ocon was almost half a second from making Q3 and Ricciardo was only a tenth faster. The big story from Q2 though was Alex Albon finishing in P13. His team radio had him complaining that his engineer put him out in traffic. Replays showed there were cars around the Anglo-Thai driver, but no significant blocking or mistakes by others to explain such a time deficit to the front.
To add insult to injury for both Renault and Albon, the Racing Point pair elevated themselves to Q3 on the medium compound of tyre, which Pirelli state is half a second slower than the softs. The Racing Point’s early runs looked like they would be in a precarious position at the end of the session and it seemed they had been perhaps overconfident by using the white-walled medium tyres. They doubled down on their decision though and put both cars out again on the mediums and made it through to the final session without using any softs, giving them a substantial strategical advantage for Sunday’s race.
Pierre Gasly’s miserable weekend with reliability issues continued. After engine problems meant he had no running in FP1, the gremlin returned in qualifying. He should be encouraged that his Q2 time managed to get him into Q3, but the AlphaTauri driver didn’t add any strain to his Honda power unit and stayed in the garage for the duration of the third session. Gasly will start the race 10th unless the team decide to replace any components in the Frenchman’s ailing power unit.
Of the nine runners that did go out in Q3, it was Max Verstappen that looked the odd one out with Mercedes, Racing Point, Ferrari and McLaren all managing to get both cars into the final shoot-out. Hamilton laid down a marker in his first run by claiming the lap record by just under a second from Verstappen’s 2019 pole time. Bottas needed to find three-tenths to challenge after his initial outing. Both went better in the closing seconds but Hamilton outdrove his Finnish rival to score his 90th career pole.
Outside of these two who were in a league of their own, just four-tenths covered 3rd-8th places. The second row seemed anyone’s to play for. But then the Racing Point driver’s put their fast laps in. Lance Stroll with a 1:14.377 to outqualify his pressured Mexican teammate Perez who managed a 1:14.545. The second row will be all-pink for Sunday as the soon-to-be Aston Martin team outperformed everyone in the midfield and even Red Bull to be second-best.
Continuing the two-by-two pattern, Ferrari found themselves in 5th and 6th. The Scuderia will be encouraged by their performance after struggling twice in qualifying at Austria. From the TV coverage, the car looked far more predictable cornering, perhaps from a higher downforce setup. It’s fascinating times we are in when Ferrari will be happy to be on the third row behind two Racing Point’s.
In contract, Max Verstappen’s Red Bull seemed skittish, and he complained of the rear sliding in Q1 before then finding understeer in Q2. P7 was the best he could manage as Red Bull’s season when they hoped to challenge Mercedes continued to falter. The Mclaren pair rounded out the top nine runners in a solid, yet unremarkable qualifying. Norris and Sainz weren’t a million miles away from the Red Bull and Ferrari’s ahead of them that they’ll fancy challenging them in the race.
With the threat of rain hanging over the circuit today remaining for Sunday, it could be another wet Hungarian thriller. If it stays dry, then Mercedes will race unchecked into the sunset. Hamilton lapped all but three cars last year, and it could be more of the same tomorrow. Will Racing Point manage their first podium of the year or can the close midfield keep up with them in the race? And can Williams capitalise on their improved performance with much-needed points? Lights out is at 15:10 local time tomorrow.