August 03, 2019
Already adored by the hordes of orange-swathed fans who flock to grands prix in Europe, Max Verstappen gave them reason to roar until they were hoarse in Hungary. In claiming the first pole position of his career at the Hungarian Grand Prix he also became the first Dutch driver to claim the top spot in Formula One. It was, moreover, a further statement of his talent and another more than welcome challenge to the Mercedes F1 hegemony.
Max Verstappen takes first F1 pole position at Hungarian Grand Prix
Verstappen did so for Red Bull with a flawless lap of the Hungaroring, although pushed to the limit by the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas, who is in second place. Lewis Hamilton, also for Mercedes, is third with Charles Leclerc next, heading Sebastian Vettel, in the Ferraris.
Pole has been a long time coming for a man who is still deceptively young. Verstappen is only 21 but is in his fifth season in F1. Having become the youngest driver to compete in the sport, and its youngest winner, he was entirely unconcerned that he was only its fourth youngest driver to claim pole. He has matured so much in those five years that, while he was elated with the place, there was also the calm consideration of a driver who knows the real business begins on Sunday.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “This was still missing. The car felt good all weekend. I’m very happy about today but there’s still a race to do and that’s the most important.”
He has every reason to be confident for the race as well, with two wins from three races and with the Red Bull displaying a remarkable turn of pace around a track which plays to their aerodynamic strengths. Verstappen clearly had the balance and stability required for the frequent direction changes at the Hungaroring and was able to exploit them.
He did so with some style. He went quickest on his first hot run in Q3 with a time of 1min 14.958sec, almost two tenths clear of both Bottas in second and Hamilton in third. That was a mighty advantage to overcome but, much as Bottas tried, he could make little impression. Indeed Verstappen found even more on his second run. Pushing his Red Bull to the edge, he was on another level on his last lap, when he went almost half a second quicker with 1min 14.572sec. It was superb.
Bottas followed him to within a hundredth but could not match him. Hamilton, despite looking strong this weekend, was almost two-tenths back.
There were rightly celebrations at Red Bull for their first pole this season and with the engine manufacturer Honda, for whom it is a first pole since Jenson Button took the top spot at Australia in 2006.
Max Verstappen takes first F1 pole position at Hungarian Grand Prix
Hamilton was disappointed in being unable to challenge harder. “The car wasn’t the same as it was in third practice,” he said.
“It was a bit of a struggle, just plateaued. It didn’t really get better. But we’re still in the fight, hopefully for the race we’ll have better race pace.”
There were smiles, however, at the other end of the pitlane, as Williams turned in their best qualifying of the year. Having finally brought the aero upgrades they have been waiting for to Germany it paid off in Hungary, with George Russell in 16th. It was a superb run and the first time Williams have not been slowest on track in qualifying this year. Optimism that they can move closer to the midfield looks justified.
Ferrari had expected to be under the cosh through the slow and medium-speed corners of the Hungaroring but Leclerc did not help their cause. He lost the rear, too hot into the final corner and spun into the wall in Q1, taking minor damage. Remarkably his car was still able to put in good times and he did well to take fourth.
The day, however, belonged emphatically to Verstappen, continuing a strong and consistent opening to the season. He is third in the world championship, 63 points behind Hamilton and 21 in front of Vettel and there was optimism there would be more reasons for the Dutch fans to celebrate come Sunday.
“We know that, if you can start upfront for the race, it makes it easier to control,” he said.
“We have been working really hard to improve the engine in quali to get more out if it. That showed today. We keep improving.”
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