Cool customer: Lewis Hamilton was dominant in qualifying, recording the 22nd pole of his career
In a season defined by its competitiveness, with hundredths of seconds and the tiniest of margins dictating an unprecedented seven different winners in the first seven races, Hamilton’s 0.38sec pole position margin over Frenchman Romain Grosjean, who starts on the front row for the first time, is a chasm.
Super stuff: Romain Grosjean starts second - his best qualifying performance to date
Converting his pole into his 19th career victory will be key. Keeping the tyres in the right operating window over a race distance has been the secret of success in 2012 and the best way to do that is by controlling the pace from the front.
In the hunt: Sebastian Vettel will begin in third place
Tyre woe: Mark Webber
Filling the 0.63 sec gap between Hamilton and McLaren team-mate Jenson Button are Grosjean and reigning double champion Sebastian Vettel.
Grosjean’s Lotus team are just a point behind McLaren in the constructors’ championship as F1’s longest ever season heads into its second half.
So far, Lotus have displayed impressive race pace but have been hampered by their one-lap qualifying speed, leaving too much to do on a Sunday afternoon. The car’s benign tyre usage is an asset in the race but a liability when it comes to generating sufficient heat to optimise a qualifying lap. Does its best qualifying performance of the season mean that the team have solved the conundrum and the breakthrough win is there for the taking?
“It’s a good question,” Grosjean admits. “I have come back from a bit of a disastrous German GP. We have improved the car, found the speed and getting on the front row is something special. Hopefully I can have a good battle with Lewis.”
Happy hunting ground: Jenson Button can look forward to a positive race on the site of his first F1 victory
“It’s just been difficult for us to get the balance right this weekend” Vettel claimed. “The car is quick, sometimes really quick, but it’s hard to get the performance out of it all the time, although I think our race pace will be good.”
Grosjean’s Lotus team-mate Kimi Raikkonen starts fifth, with Alonso behind him. The Spaniard’s championship lead is based around metronomic consistency that has brought him points in every race so far. He may have to adopt a patient, watching brief in the Ferrari.
Watching them all will be F1’s ringmaster, Bernie Ecclestone. The 81-year-old billionaire was conspicuously absent from last weekend’s German GP after his involvement in the case of jailed German Banker Gerhard Gribkowsky, who alleged that Ecclestone had paid him a bribe.
But it is business as usual for Ecclestone in Hungary.