Lewis Hamilton cruised his way to an unchallenged pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix, while the rest of the field were reduced to squabbling over second place behind him.
And, unlike last year’s maelstrom of controversy, there was nothing but smiles in the McLaren garage as Heikki Kovalainen found some speed for the first time in the session to grab a late 1-2 for the team.
Now Hamilton hopes to repeat their performance in the race itself: “It has been so far a pretty decent weekend and the team have done a great job in improving the car again, even from the last race.
“You can never be too comfortable, for sure, but I feel safe to be in the position I am in. It would be great to have a 1-2 for the team. The team deserve it and I think me and Heikki have been pushing hard so we both deserve it.”
Neither Ferrari nor BMW particularly impressed, but Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica succeeded in overhauling the impressive Timo Glock to take third and fourth.
Massa said he was unable to get the most out of his car in the third qualifying session because traffic had prevented him from warming his tyres properly.
“We are pretty strong,” he said. “Look at the lap times of Q1 and Q2 – I think we are there.”
He will be starting on the advantageous clean side of the track and will hope to use it to jump Kovalainen at the start.
Toyota’s Glock, returning after a crash in the last race that sent him to hospital, spent most of qualifying challenging for the front row but will still be pleased to be sharing the third with a sluggish Kimi Raikkonen, who starts sixth.
Fernando Alonso, whose clashes with Hamilton during last year’s qualification triggered McLaren’s months of troubles, managed seventh on the grid – finally outpacing team-mate Nelson Piquet Jr who could only take 10th.
In between the Renault pair are Mark Webber in eighth and Jarno Trulli in ninth.
Jenson Button squeezed every ounce of performance out of his Honda to take an unlikely 12th, bumping Red Bull’s David Coulthard to 13th at the death.
Earlier, Button had scraped through the first qualifying session at the expense of BMW’s Nick Heidfeld, who hit traffic at the very end of his last-ditch attempt to set a competitive time. Stewards later investigated whether he had been blocked by Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Bourdais – but the Frenchman was himself in traffic at the time.
Honda believe that the key to a good race for Button will be holding position at the first corner, as 12th place means the Englishman starts on the less favourable side of the gird.
He said: “I’m happy to have qualified in P12 today after a good lap on the final run in Q2 pushed me a few places up the grid. We’ve definitely made some progress with the new developments to the car and in particular the new rear suspension is working well and this has enabled us to improve the car step by step over the weekend.
“I got the most out of the car today and it’s encouraging to see we were only three-tenths away from the top ten as it has been a while since we were that close. I’m on the dirty side of the grid, which is a disadvantage, but I am sure we can have a good race tomorrow from here nonetheless.”
Honda engineering chief Steve Clark said: “P12 is where we hoped to be today so, yes, we have moved a little closer to the middle order again. Due credit to Jenson as he delivered a particularly good lap when it counted and we have reason to feel optimistic about tomorrow’s race.
“Unfortunately both cars will be starting from the dirty side of the grid, so holding position into the first corner will be key. From there, with a free fuel allowance Jenson is in a good position to target the top ten with a good strategy and strong pitstops. “
Coulthard admitted before qualifying that he was expecting the race to be a long day at the office. His 13th place did little to change his mind: “I was losing a little bit of time in each of the sectors and I couldn’t deliver that last little bit of lap time because I was bringing the mid-corner speed too low. It’s tough from thirteenth for sure, but the Hungarian race can be unpredictable, so let’s see.”
- Webber Trulli