Formula One championship leader Nico Rosberg claimed pole position on Saturday for the Hungarian Grand Prix while Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton will start at the back of the race grid as an engine fire prevented him setting a qualifying time.
Rosberg’s time of 1 minute, 22.715 seconds at the Hungaroring was 0.486 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel while Valtteri Bottas of Williams qualified third.
Hamilton, who was fastest in all three practice sessions, will start at the back for the second-straight grand prix as his engine caught fire due to a fuel leak in the early stages of the first session of qualifying.
Brake failure caused Hamilton to crash during qualifying at the German Grand Prix last week, but he finished third after starting 20th. A similar performance will be difficult on the twisting Hungaroring — a circuit where Hamilton has won four times, including the past two races — as it offers few clear opportunities for passing.
“There’s a lot going through my mind, but I just have to try to turn it into positives tomorrow,” Hamilton said. “It’s getting to the point when it’s kind of beyond bad luck. We need to do better.”
With the whole field separating the two Mercedes drivers in Sunday’s race, Rosberg is perfectly positioned to build on his 14-point lead over Hamilton in the drivers’ championship.
“I would prefer to be out there battling with Lewis,” said Rosberg. “That would give me the maximum adrenalin rush.”
A brief rain shower complicated the final session of qualifying, with Kevin Magnussen of McLaren sliding off the track and making a heavy collision with a tire wall.
“It was massively difficult down there and unpredictable,” said Rosberg, who like Magnussen ran off the track at the slippery Turn 1 but avoided the barriers.
It has been a challenging season for four-time defending champion Vettel. After winning 13 of 19 races in 2013, including the last nine, Vettel’s best results this year are two third-place finishes. Nonetheless, the layout of the Hungarian circuit could boost his team’s performance.
“The nature of the track suits us a bit more — it has less straights,” Vettel said. “It seems we are a little bit closer, but Nico’s final lap was very good so the gap was again quite big, bigger than we were hoping for.”
Bottas, who has been surging lately and finished second twice and third once in the last three races, complained of “missing some grip” but was still satisfied with the performance of Williams, which is third in the constructors’ standings behind Mercedes and Red Bull.
“Today was a really good day for us,” said Bottas, whose teammate Felipe Massa will start from the sixth spot on the grid. “We have a good chance also here to get some really good points.”
Daniel Ricciardo qualified fourth for Red Bull ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
Behind Massa in sixth came Jenson Button of McLaren, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, and Magnussen, who did not set a third-session time.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen qualified a lowly 17th due to a tactical blunder by the team, which tried to preserve tires and not send him out in the closing stages of the first session, believing his existing time could not be bettered, only for Marussia’s Jules Bianchi to do so.
Thunderstorms have been forecast for Sunday, along with a maximum temperature of 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit), though most of the rain is expected to fall in the late afternoon, after the race.