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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Lewis Hamilton takes Hungarian F1 GP pole as Mercedes best Verstappen

Lewis Hamilton executed with sublime precision to take pole for the Hungarian Grand Prix but the Mercedes driver received a blunt and boorish reception by some fans for his efforts. Red Bull accused him of gamesmanship and he was booed as he climbed from his car at the Hungaroring after a qualifying session in Budapest that will have done little to ease the tension between the two teams. The title is on a knife edge and tempers, too, are being tested.

Hamilton took pole with his first hot run in Q3 with a flawless lap of 1min 15.419sec, three tenths up on his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who was second, and ultimately four tenths up on third-placed Max Verstappen. On the final runs, however, Hamilton and Bottas went out at the back of the field but in front of the Red Bulls. Their out lap was slow, backing up their rivals, leading to Sergio Pérez failing to cross the line in time to start a final lap. The Mexican was left fourth fastest.

With a slow start to the lap and cool tyres, Hamilton and Bottas did not improve and Verstappen knocked only a tenth off his time. Mercedes successfully locked out the front row with what appeared to be a deliberate tactic but one within the regulations. Some fans, many of them Verstappen supporters from the Netherlands (“Sir Cheat Karma is Coming,” read one of their banners), booed Hamilton after he climbed from his car, aggrieved at what they felt had cost their man a shot at pole.

“It’s a bit of gamesmanship,” said Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, who clearly felt Mercedes had deliberately chosen to slow their drivers. “Lewis had a lap in the bank and is backing it up. It is his right to do that, he has the track position.”

Hamilton insisted the field in front had been slow and dictated their pace, and was dismissive of suggestions otherwise. “I wasn’t playing any tactics, I don’t need to play any tactics,” he said. “I know what I am doing in the car and I am fast enough. Those making the comments really don’t know anything about the job we are doing here, which is probably why they are not driving.”

Relations between Red Bull and Mercedes have been deteriorating since Verstappen and Hamilton clashed at the British GP. Both sides have been exchanging verbal slings and arrows and after qualifying Verstappen, smarting perhaps at being so far back from Hamilton, had clearly had enough. Asked once again about the Silverstone incident he snapped back. “Can we already stop about this? We have had so many fucking questions about this it’s just ridiculous,” he said. “On Thursday we were answering this stupid shit all the time so can we just stop with it please?”

His fans clearly still felt sufficiently indignant, however, as their boos demonstrated. Hamilton took it stoically as he has in the past. “I’ve never felt so great with the booing, but it fuels me,” he said. “That’s sport, people act wild when it’s sport. It’s competition, I don’t take it to heart. I must be doing something right to be up front.”

It is an aspect of this increasingly fractious title fight that does not sit well with many, as illustrated by Bottas’s unusually emotional response. “I don’t think it is fair,” said the Finn. “We are here as athletes to give everything we have for the sport we love. Lewis did an amazing lap and then you get booing. It’s not right, it’s not fair and we don’t want to see this kind of thing.”

For a qualifying session that was in large part a run-of-the-mill affair, these were drivers who clearly felt the need to get things off their chests and it must be hoped their passion translates into the race, where a fascinating contest is potentially in store. Hamilton set his best time in Q2 on the medium tyre while Verstappen did his on the soft, putting them on differing race strategies but with the Dutchman enjoying the quicker tyre to start with on the run down the slope to turn one. He will be looking to take advantage and Hamilton will have his elbows out.

The British driver needs to win to combat Verstappen’s recent momentum, with the title fight now finely poised before F1’s summer break. After Verstappen’s DNF at Silverstone his lead of 33 points was cut to just eight. Equally for Hamilton after this 101st pole, if he takes the flag here he would score a unique double-century with his 100th career win and also become the first driver to win nine times at the same circuit.

AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was in fifth, with Lando Norris sixth for McLaren and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc seventh. Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso were in eighth and ninth for Alpine and Sebastian Vettel in 10th for Aston Martin.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz crashed out at turn 14 in Q2, causing the session to be interrupted by a red flag, and he finished in 15th. Kimi Räikkönen was in 13th for Alfa Romeo with his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi in 14th. McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo was in 11th.

Yuki Tsunoda was in 16th for AlphaTauri, with Williams’s George Russell in 17th and his teammate Nicholas Latifi 18th. Mick Schumacher did not set a time for Haas after he crashed in FP3 and will start from the back of the grid. His teammate Nikita Mazepin was in 19th.

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