Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Lewis Hamilton Takes Hungary Pole

Pole position is crucial at the Hungaroring; the track is often compared to Monaco with twisty corners and a lack of overtaking opportunities. And this weekend it was Lewis Hamilton who snatched the pole with a flying lap of 1:15.419. 

Mercedes and Red Bull had looked pretty evenly matched throughout qualifying, but in Q3 both Mercedes drivers found an extra ounce of pace, with Valtteri Bottas finishing the session in second behind Hamilton. He ended up being around a tenth of a second ahead of Max Verstappen, who couldn’t find the speed he’d had in Q1. His Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez will line up fourth, setting a lap time that was a whopping six tenths down on Verstappen’s best lap.

On the third row will be Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri and Lando Norris for McLaren. Both drivers had been in the bottom of the top 10 early in the session but found pace late to improve.

Starting seventh will be Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who was quick in Q2 but struggled to find the pace he needed in Q3. Seventh is still a strong result, but Ferrari will likely have hoped for more after looking fast in practice as well.

The two Alpines will start behind him, with Esteban Ocon in eighth and Fernando Alonso in ninth; Alonso continued his strong run of results while Ocon looked quick again in his new chassis. Sebastian Vettel for Aston Martin will be 10th on the grid.

Q2 came to a stop when Carlos Sainz slid off the track at the last corner, smacking the wall hard. The front wing snapped off of his Ferrari and the suspension was badly damaged meaning he couldn’t return to the pits, bringing out the red flag. Sainz had been going well all weekend — he was fourth fastest in both FP1 and FP3 — and was following his teammate on a quick lap when he crashed. It was Sainz’s third Q2 elimination in the last four races.

When the session got back underway, the track conditions quickly improved, with lap times dropping massively on the drivers’ final runs. Norris, who had been in 11th, managed to go second, but his McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo couldn’t quite find the pace, eventually pushed down into 11th by Vettel.

Vettel, in the Aston Martin, managed to just squeeze into Q3, falling down the order in the closing stages of Q2 but staying 10th. His teammate Lance Stroll couldn’t improve from 12th, however, and will line up behind Ricciardo.

Next will be the Alfa Romeo duo of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, with Sainz set to line up 15th on the grid after he failed to set a time due to his crash.

Q1 was fairly low key, with none of the drivers who were in the elimination zone able to go higher than 15th on their final flying laps. Yuki Tsunoda complained of having “no grip” in his Alpha Tauri and was two tenths of a second behind Giovinazzi, finishing the session 16th. He will start ahead of George Russell, who was eliminated in Q1 for the first time this year. Williams had looked off the pace all weekend, and Russell was unable to improve on his last lap, suffering from understeer. His teammate Nicholas Latifi will line up behind him on the grid, continuing the streak of Russell beating Latifi in qualifying. The Haas of Nikita Mazepin will start 19th, ahead of his teammate Mick Schumacher, who did not take part in qualifying after clobbering the wall in FP3, heavily damaging the car. 

In other news this week, Alpine made the all-new 2022 technical regulations a priority, effectively stopping development on this season’s machine so that all of its resources can be put toward the 2022 car. The team did say a few more new parts would arrive in the short term, but both its Enstone, England, and Viry-Châtillon, France factories are now only doing research and development for next year’s car.

Halting development is a tough decision to make, but it was probably the right one in Alpine’s case. The team is down in seventh with 40 points, battling with Alpha Tauri (49 points) and Aston Martin (48 points) for fifth. While Alpine isn’t far away from fifth, fourth-placed Ferrari is over 100 points ahead. The new rules for next year are a fairly radical shift away from the current aerodynamic philosophy in F1 and could shake up the grid significantly. Although fifth this season would be a good result, the more time they spend on next year’s car, the more they stand to gain in the uncharted waters of the revised rules.

Those last new parts this season will be crucial, however, in Alpine’s attempt to catch Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin. The team will look to build momentum following a double-points finish at the British Grand Prix. Despite Alonso finishing in the points for the last five races, it was only the third time that both Alpine drivers had finished in the top 10. Ocon had been in a slump, but he seemed much happier in the car after receiving a new chassis in Britain, where he crossed the line in ninth. 

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