BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Red Bull’s Max Verstappen celebrated a long-overdue first Formula One pole position at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday, with championship leader Lewis Hamilton qualifying third for Mercedes.
Instead of Hamilton taking a record-equalling seventh pole in Hungary, and 88th of his career, the Dutch 21-year-old wrote his name in the record books as the sport’s 100th driver to secure a pole.
“This feels good, this feels really good,” he shouted over the team radio after a roar had gone up from his massed supporters.
Finland’s Valtteri Bottas, 41 points behind Hamilton after 11 of 21 races, qualified alongside Verstappen on the front row of the grid.
After stepping out of the car, Verstappen said: “It’s incredible. This one was still missing. The car felt good all weekend and you know it’s always going to be hard in qualifying but we managed to do it.
“For me, today was an important one, a very nice one and a great one for the team.”
The youngster has already savoured seven career victories, including two in the last three races, and the pole came in his 93rd grand prix.
Already the only Dutch driver ever to win a championship grand prix, he became the first to take a pole, which was also a first for a Honda-powered car since Australia 2006 with Britain’s now-retired Jenson Button.
The battle had looked like being one between Hamilton and Verstappen, increasingly considered the heir apparent to the five times world champion, from final practice when the Briton was just 0.013 quicker.
Verstappen was on top in the first phase, with Hamilton second, and the positions were reversed in the second stage.
The top 10 shootout then saw Bottas strike when it mattered, the Finn determined to pull out all the stops with his future at the team still undecided amid talk of Verstappen possibly taking his place in 2020.
It was close, but Verstappen’s final flying lap of one minute 14.572 seconds was enough to beat Bottas by 0.018 — a difference that translates into a mere 1.06 metres over the twisting 4.38km track.
Hamilton’s best effort was a 1:14.769.
“It’s an incredible feeling to get your first pole so I’m really happy for him,” said Britain’s reigning champion, who won in Hungary last year from pole.
“I’m always up for a fight. It’s a long way down to Turn One so it should be interesting. It’s not the easiest place to overtake here but I hope we can give them a run for their money.”
Charles Leclerc was the quicker of the two Ferrari drivers in fourth place, despite smashing backwards into the tyre wall during the first phase and damaging his car’s rear wing, forcing a quick change.
“I’ve been very lucky to go again and I have to thank the team for what they did,” said the 21-year-old Monegasque, who crashed out of last weekend’s German Grand Prix while challenging for the lead.
“It was a completely unnecessary mistake at that moment in quali, and that’s two mistakes in two Grand Prix races.”
Team mate Sebastian Vettel will line up fifth, with Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly sixth and McLaren’s Lando Norris the best of the rest in seventh and just ahead of Spanish team mate Carlos Sainz.
Further back there were encouraging signs of progress at struggling Williams, who had British rookie George Russell in 16th and ahead of both Racing Point cars and Australian Daniel Ricciardo’s Renault.
“Prior to this weekend, I don’t think we could even have dreamed of qualifying off the back row on merit, but I feel like we’ve really turned a page,” said Russell.
Team mate Robert Kubica, enjoying the support of a sizeable Polish contingent, will start at the back of the grid.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris