Do all these pole positions make Lewis Hamilton happy? This time last year, around the time he first snuck out of McLaren to meet Mercedes, he must have been contemplating a year driving a midfield car at best. He was certain he would no longer be in the fastest car, he was leaving that behind. There were other reasons for jumping ship after all. He was prepared to write 2013 off.
But he is in the fastest car, as today’s pole position in the brutal heat of Hungary shows. He’s on pole ahead of Sebastian Vettel, again. But yet it is Vettel again who starts favourite tomorrow. Favourite that is, unless Mercedes has been hiding something from us so far this weekend. So while it must be both a comfort and a surprise to Hamilton that he’s been able to add to his tally of pole positions this year (he really didn’t expect anything, it’s got to be a worry that Mercedes just can’t seem to make a car that’s fast in qualifying to a car that wins. Tyres, let it not be forgotten, haunted Michael Schumacher’s time in Hamilton’s seat too. Something odd there at Mercedes.
Vettel is surely certain for a fourth title now, any hope that the Red Bull RB9 would struggle on Pirelli’s new B-spec 2013 tyres (this year’s rubber, last year’s construction) had vanished long before Q3 started, the team sailing through the weekend as if there has been no change. They are class, Vettel is class and frankly everyone else is just trying to play in the same game. Today, Mercedes aside, it was again Lotus’ turn, Romain Grosjean qualifying third and an especially lairy Kimi Raikkonen sixth. The top ten line up like this behind Lewis and Seb’; Grosjean, Rosberg, Alonso, Raikkonen, Massa, Ricciardo, Perez and Mark Webber who didn’t get a run in Q3 and must now be counting down the days until he can have his own team again.
Only one McLaren in the top ten then, despite an apparent improvement on the new tyres, which also seemed to benefit Williams who didn’t for one moment look like taking the drop in Q1 for a change. For everyone else, Ferrari included, it looked very much like business as usual today, just as Pirelli said it would. The change is after all to the construction not to the compounds. Red Bull remain on top of that game which is why, despite having a relatively quiet first half to the season, Vettel is in a stronger position to take his fourth title at this point in the campaign than he was for his first, second or third. As we head in to the break, all the pretenders — Mercedes and McLaren, Ferrari and Lotus — have more work than ever to do. So while it’s a good story to see Lewis bag another pole, it means diddly-squat.
Force India, who’ve spent so much of this first half of the season there or thereabouts behind the top five, didn’t have a good day, Adrian Sutil not making it to Q3, Paul di Resta again not making it to Q2. Then again each time it has all gone wrong this year for di Resta in Q1 — and it has more than once — he has gone on to score. Don’t count him out tomorrow, but don’t bet on it either. The bar has be well and truly raised this weekend. It’s going to be a tough second half for many teams. I bet they can’t wait to get this one over and hit the beach.