BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Max Verstappen took his first Formula One pole at the 93rd attempt in Hungary on Saturday and said the overriding emotion was that people would finally stop asking him when it was going to happen.
The precocious Red Bull driver is still only 21 and yet the breakthrough at the Hungaroring, in front of a crowd of raucous and orange shirted fans on a cloudy afternoon, felt long overdue.
As Verstappen’s race engineer told him over the radio: “Better late than never”.
Verstappen is the man of the moment, the sport’s on-form driver with two wins in the last three races and 20 successive top five finishes, so it seemed like a distinct anomaly that he had never started on pole.
He has seven wins already and team boss Christian Horner regularly refers to him as a wise head on young shoulders, praising his maturity.
It was not ever thus, with Verstappen a young man in a hurry from the moment he became the youngest to take part in an official practice session — with Toro Rosso three days after his 17th birthday in 2014.
The youngest F1 race driver, also at 17, Verstappen became the youngest winner at 18 but the opportunity to become the youngest pole sitter slipped through his fingers.
Sebastian Vettel, who also started out at Red Bull-owned Toro Rosso and is now at Ferrari and a four-times champion, did that at 21 years and 73 days.
Verstappen, the 100th driver to take a Formula One championship pole position, sometimes got it wrong and sometimes Red Bull were hampered by reliability problems with former partner Renault’s engines.
“For me it never really mattered,” Verstappen, who turns 22 next month, said of the lack of poles. “I knew it was a matter of time. You need a bit of luck sometimes as well.
“Of course, I made mistakes myself to miss a pole position shot. And today we got it, so very happy with that.”
Saturday’s pole was also a first for engine partner Honda since Jenson Button put their factory team on the top slot of the grid in Australia in 2006.
A week ago at Hockenheim, the Japanese manufacturer celebrated the first time since 1988 that two of their teams were on the podium.
Verstappen’s victory in Austria in June was the first for a Honda-powered car since Button in Hungary in 2006.
While Horner hailed Verstappen, saying he was “on fire this afternoon”, he was also careful to praise the manufacturer’s contribution.
“It’s fantastic for him to get his first pole,” said the boss. “It’s all credit to Honda, and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge