Verstappen takes 1st career pole position at Hungarian GP

BUDAPEST, Hungary — After his brilliant win at the rain-soaked German Grand Prix last weekend, Max Verstappen had a near-perfect lap at the Hungarian GP to take the first pole position of his Formula One career on Saturday.

The Red Bull driver set a track record with 1 minute, 14.958 seconds and then beat it again with 1:14.572.

“Big thanks to the team, the car was flying,” said Verstappen, who became the 100th F1 driver to take a pole. “This one was missing. … It was only a matter of time.”

It was another boost for the 21-year-old Verstappen, who has won two of the past three races to creep into outside contention for the title race although defending champion Lewis Hamilton — who qualified in third place behind Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas — remains comfortably ahead.

Still, another win will start to eat into Hamilton’s 63-point lead over third-place Verstappen with nine races left after Hungary.

Verstappen kept his nerve at a chaotic, crash-marred Hockenheimring, having shown astonishing speed to win the Austrian GP on June 30 after tumbling down the leaderboard following a poor start in Spielberg.

Given that the Hungaroring track is one of the toughest to overtake on, he is in a good position to clinch an eighth career F1 win on Sunday. Verstappen’s speed and racing nous can be seen from the fact that none of his wins have been from pole — and achieved with the third-fastest car in F1 behind Ferrari and ultra-dominant Mercedes.

Verstappen is the youngest driver to win an F1 race — he was 18 when he won the Spanish GP in 2016 — and is the fourth youngest to take pole. He sits behind Fernando Alonso, Charles Leclerc and record-holder Sebastian Vettel, who were all also 21.

Hamilton, the five-time F1 champion, was chasing a record-extending 88th career pole and record-equaling seventh at the Hungaroring circuit to match F1 great Michael Schumacher.

“Max did a great job. It kind of got away from me,” Hamilton said. “But we’re still in the fight. There’s a long run down to Turn 1, so it’s going to be very interesting. It’s not the easiest place to overtake, but strategy will come into it.”

Leclerc, who took his first career pole in Bahrain in March, placed fourth ahead of his Ferrari teammate Vettel. The Ferraris were quickest in the first sector of qualifying but both tailed off.

Leclerc recovered well after spinning the car in the first part of qualifying, known as Q1, sliding backward into the barriers and drifting back onto the track as a Williams car came flying past.

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Pierre Gasly qualified sixth ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris, who has impressed in his debut season.

But Daniel Ricciardo, a winner of seven F1 races, was among the five drivers eliminated from Q1. Ricciardo, who left Red Bull and made a surprising move to join Renault, starts from 18th place.

Renault struggled again as German driver Nico Hulkenberg was among the five eliminated from Q2.

Despondency at Renault but it will be all smiles in the Red Bull garage on Saturday night.

Team principal Christian Horner made the difficult choice to drop Renault engines and switch to Honda for this year and beyond.

It appeared a somewhat risky move, given that McLaren experienced a woeful three seasons running on Honda engines from 2015-17.

But the marriage between the Red Bull chassis and the Japanese manufacturer’s engine is proving a harmonious one. The reliability problems of recent years finally seem over. This was Honda’s first pole since British driver Jenson Button at the Australian GP when driving for the Honda Racing F1 team in 2006.

Earlier Saturday, Hamilton had the fastest time in the third and final practice ahead of Verstappen.

Hamilton leads the championship by 41 points ahead of Bottas, who is fighting for a new Mercedes contract next year.

After Sunday’s race, F1 takes a mid-season summer break and resumes at the Belgian GP in Spa on Sept. 1.

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