George Russell of Mercedes beat both Ferraris and world champion Max Verstappen to claim his maiden pole position with a spectacular last-gasp lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old Briton clocked a best lap in one minute and 17.377 seconds to outpace Carlos Sainz in the leading Ferrari by 0.044 seconds. Charles Leclerc was third for Ferrari, one-tenth adrift.
Lando Norris grabbed fourth for McLaren ahead of the two Alpines of last year’s winner Esteban Ocon and two-time champion Fernando Alonso, who turned 41 on Friday.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton aborted his final flying lap in his Mercedes due to a Drag Reduction System (DRS) failure and qualified seventh ahead of former team-mate Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo.
Daniel Ricciardo of McLaren was ninth and Red Bull’s series leader and world champion Verstappen 10th after suffering power failure problems and failing to record a competitive lap time.
Russell’s first pole in his 73rd Grand Prix was also Mercedes’s first since last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and signalled that the team may finally have overcome their struggles with the new ‘ground effect’ aerodynamic regulations this season.
“Incredible! Amazing. You did it,” screamed Russell on his team radio. “You beauty. No points for Saturday, boys… Let’s go tomorrow.”
Back in the pitlane, as the big crowd gave him generous cheers, he said he was “over the moon” and “buzzing – and yesterday was our worst Friday of the season… It’s mega. An incredible feeling.”
Sainz was quick to congratulate him. “George must have produced a pretty good lap,” he said while Leclerc took consolation from knowing Verstappen would start 10th while he was third on the grid.
Russell added: “Everyone last night was working so hard. We didn’t know what direction to go in. When I came across the line, and looked at the screen and saw P1, it was an incredible feeling.”
After a rain-hit final practice session earlier in the day, qualifying began in dry conditions with some sunshine – and every driver emerging quickly on soft tyres to take advantage of the improved weather.
After early fastest laps from Magnussen, Stroll and Hamilton, Verstappen set the pace in a close scrap with the two Ferraris before Hamilton and Russell took over for Mercedes, taking advantage of warmer conditions after earlier struggles.
At the other end of the timings, Nicholas Latifi of Williams, who had been fastest on a drying circuit in final practice, was eliminated in P20 along with Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly and luckless retirement-bound Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin.
Vettel had crashed in the final minutes of the final practice and assisted his mechanics in repairing his car prior to Q1, but to no avail as he went out in P18.
“Not what I wanted,” he said. “It’s been really nice (how everyone reacted to his retirement plans), but my head is in qualifying and we had a poor day. I can’t be happy.”
Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri also went out in 16th along with Alex Albon in the second Williams.
Although a large dark cloud loomed, the track remained dry for Q2 with Norris taking top spot early for McLaren, ahead of the fast Ferraris before Verstappen gained the initiative with the first lap inside 1m 18secs and stayed there.
Keen improvements by both Alpines and Alfa Romeos left Russell and Hamilton on the cusp of missing the top ten after their first run, but the multiple champion improved to third on his second.
Perez struggled again in the second Red Bull, had a lap disallowed, but reinstated before exiting in P11, complaining he was blocked by Magnussen.
Out with the Mexican went Zhou Guanyu of Alfa Romeo, Magnussen and his Haas team-mate Mick Schumacher along with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.
Only 0.065 seconds had separated Verstappen and Leclerc at the top, creating the prospect of a thrilling duel for pole.
But it was Sainz who set the pace, ahead of Russell, on the opening runs when Leclerc was third and Verstappen back in seventh, ahead of the closing drama.
“I have no power,” said Verstappen, on his out-lap.
“Ok, stand by,” replied his Red Bull team. A further exchange ended with the driver saying “nothing works” as Leclerc and then Sainz went fastest before Russell’s late intervention.