Lewis Hamilton claimed his first pole position since 2021 after edging Max Verstappen in qualifying on Saturday for the Hungarian Grand Prix as Daniel Ricciardo showed his potential on return for AlphaTauri.
Back in F1 as replacement for the luckless Nyck de Vries, Ricciardo squeezed into Q2 in 15th place, out-qualifying his established team-mate Yuki Tsunoda at the first attempt.
Ricciardo said he feels like he’s already made “good progress” at the team and is “learning quickly”.
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“It hasn’t been the easiest weekend to come in, with the wet conditions we had yesterday and the different tyre allocations, but I was happy to be competitive in qualifying,” he added.
“I don’t expect the racing to feel too foreign, I only took half a year off, so tomorrow will be fun, and of course, if there are gaps, I’ll see what the car can do.”
Red Bull boss Christian Horner was also impressed, saying: “He’s done a great job.
“He’s in a very foreign environment after seven months out of a seat, (so) it was a really solid, mature performance from him today and the team will really benefit from his experience and knowledge.”
“You can see he’s really enjoying it,” Horner added.
Ricciardo’s fellow Australian Oscar Piastri also had a strong qualifying, putting his car in fourth, albeit more than two-tenths slower than McLaren teammate Lando Norris.
“I’m happy to be at the front, definitely,” Piastri said. “I think in Q3 it wasn’t my best performance, but it was enough to be on the second row. So, we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.
“It’s been a very encouraging day for the team, to still be at the front at a very different circuit. So, full credit to the team in giving us these opportunities.
“I’ll try to make sure I’m a little bit more polished next time, but it’s still a nice place to be, in P4.”
Meanwhile, seven-time world champion Hamilton ended a barren run stretching back 33 races by claiming a record-increasing 104th pole of his career and his record ninth at the Hungaroring circuit.
His success with a last-gasp lap was greeted with cheers by the crowd and ended defending double world champion Verstappen’s run of five straight poles for Red Bull.
“I didn’t expect this, for us to be fighting for pole position here this weekend,” said a hoarse and emotional Hamilton, who had described his car as being “at its worst” on Friday.
“But hats off to the team. They’ve done a fantastic job” added Hamilton, back on the front of the grid for the first time since the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in 2021.
The Briton outpaced Verstappen by just 0.003 seconds in a thrilling conclusion to their contest.
Verstappen, whose Red Bull car ran with an updates package, was disappointed.
“We’ve not been on it so far this weekend,”he said, but with a 99-point lead ahead of team-mate Perez in the title race, he could afford a rare off day.
Norris was third ahead of Piastri, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc with Valtteri Bottas taking seventh for Alfa Romeo.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso was eighth for Aston Martin ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, back in the top-ten shootout for the first time in six outings, and Nico Hulkenberg of Haas.
The session began in warm sunshine with an air temperature of 27 degrees Celsius with the teams busy calculating their options for tyre strategy on a circuit known for high attrition rates.
The introduction of F1’s new Alternative Tyre Allocation had reduced supplies to drivers and ensured that the first qualifying session was run using only hard compound, Q2 only mediums and softs for the top 10 shoot-out – another puzzle for them to solve.
Hamilton’s team-mate George Russell, pole-man last year, failed to make it out of the first qualifying session, blaming heavy traffic for his elimination.
His comments on team radio were muted out by broadcasters.
Russell, disappointed by his early exit and 18th place on Sunday’s grid, blamed poor preparation and timing for his lap.
He said: “We got punished… We were fast and the car felt great, but we were out of synch for the whole session.
“I’m really disappointed. We didn’t need to take so many risks – you get what you deserve if you don’t do things right.” Out with Russell went Williams’ Logan Sargeant, who was 20th, Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri and Williams’ Alex Albon.
– Tense finale –
The ‘mediums’ second qualifying segment began with Perez quickly on top only to be overhauled by Verstappen whose lap was promptly deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn Five.
This gave McLaren their chance to shine and Norris and Piastri rose to first and second while Zhou Guanyu, fastest in Q1, rose to sixth, showing just how open the competition had become.
With Verstappen 15th, Red Bull sent him out alone for another run which resulted in a cautious lap for P2 with two minutes remaining.
In a furious final flurry, Sainz, who started second for Ferrari last year, was knocked out in 12th along with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Ricciardo, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Pierre Galsly in the second Alpine.
Perez began the final session but he was quickly topped by Norris and then Alonso, who went second, before Verstappen and Hamilton took over in P1 and P2 on their first hot runs ahead of a tense finale.
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