Lewis Hamilton beat Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to the front of the grid for the Hungarian Grand Prix for a 101st pole position.
Max Verstappen, the title leader for Red Bull Racing, could manage only third, 0.421s off the pace.
Hamilton was in control throughout the top-10 shootout, setting three purple sectors to snatch provisional pole with his first lap ahead of Bottas and Verstappen, but the Dutchman felt he lacked grip with his first set of tires, and his lap time was slower than his best from Q2.
But if the RB16B had more pace to give, Mercedes wasn’t interested in seeing it. Some slick timing from the pit wall ensured Hamilton was ahead of Verstappen as the title contenders left pit lane, and the Briton did his best to control the pace and disrupt Verstappen’s rhythm.
The strategy appeared to work. His tires not fully prepared, Verstappen couldn’t muster a personal best time at the first split, and by the time he crossed the line he could improve by only a tenth of a second — not even enough to make it onto the front row.
Mercedes had secured only its second front-row lockout of the season, and at a track that had been expected to favor Red Bull.
“It was an amazing qualifying lap,” Hamilton said. “It’s been amazing teamwork from everyone this weekend, Valtteri included.
“It’s been amazing to see everyone coming together and rallying and pushing forward.”
In the box seat for Sunday
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Helping Hamilton’s cause on Sunday will be the strategy outlook. Both Mercedes drivers will start on the medium compound, whereas neither Verstappen nor Sergio Perez had the pace to do the same in Q2 and will start on the softs.
The softer rubber will offer an advantage off the line, but in the sweltering Hungarian heat the mediums offer an easier route to an advantageous one-stop strategy.
“Tomorrow will be exciting,” Bottas said. “The Red Bulls are on soft tires, we’re on the mediums, so it’s all to play for. It’s going to be a good battle.”
Verstappen admitted pole wasn’t on the cars for him after a difficult weekend, and the Dutchman was pessimistic that his tire strategy could pay dividends.
“We’ll find out tomorrow,” he said. “It’s going to be really hot, so naturally the soft tire will not last as long as the medium, but it will give us an opportunity off the line.
“Clearly I think the whole weekend so far we’ve been a bit behind … but we’re still there in P3, and we’ll see what we can do. So far, not what I want.”
Perez qualified fourth and a full second adrift of the benchmark, but the Mexican missed the checkered flag for his second lap caught behind the gamesmanship between Hamilton and Verstappen ahead.
Pierre Gasly will start sixth after prevailing in a tight battle with Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc, the trio split by 0.013s.
Alpine teammates Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso were similarly close, separated by just 0.06s in eighth and ninth, while Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel qualified 10th.
Daniel Ricciardo missed Q3 by just 0.077s, but the Australian was almost half a second slower than Q3-bound teammate Norris. Lance Stroll will start alongside him from 12th.
Alfa Romeo teammates Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi will line up alongside each other in 13th and 14th.
Carlos Sainz crashed without setting a lap time in Q2. The Spaniard carried too much speed into the final turn for his overheating rear tires to handle, spitting him sideways into the barrier.
The Ferrari driver kept the engine running, but he was unable to return to the pits under his own power, leaving him stranded in 15th on the grid ahead of AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.
Williams drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi were split by a tenth of a second for 17th and 18th ahead of Haas’s Nikita Mazepin.
Mick Schumacher didn’t set a time thanks to a heavy crash in final practice earlier during the afternoon. The team attempted to repair the car in the two hours between sessions, but the damage was too significant, leaving him last.