Racing

Russell grabs first F1 pole, Verstappen qualifies 10th

George Russell stole the show Saturday at the Hungarian Grand Prix by earning his first career pole and first of the season for Mercedes – on the same day Formula 1 champion and current points leader Max Verstappen qualified a season-worst 10th.

Russell screamed in celebration after a fast final qualifying lap helped him beat Ferrari drivers Carlos Sainz jnr and Charles Leclerc.

“Whooooo, come on! Yes! Hahahaha. You beauty! You beauty!” yelled Russell before jumping into the arms of his engineers.

George Russell celebrates his first pole position with Mohammed ben Sulayem, FIA president.Credit:Getty Images

The Mercedes pace was surprising since Russell claimed Mercedes’ second practice was “disastrous” when Russell was about a full second slower than Leclerc’s leading time.

“For us as a team it’s massive. We were all here until 11pm last night scratching our heads, and we all felt pretty lost,” Russell said. “To come back and grab pole position is an amazing feeling. We absolutely nailed today, 100 per cent.”

Verstappen unleashed expletives as his qualifying bid was undone.

Max Verstappen had a tough qualifying session.Credit:Getty Images

He struggled with grip then complained of having “no power … nothing works” on his second attempt.

“I still don’t know what it is. I need to talk to the team, but I hope everything is fixable,” Verstappen said. “I know this track is very hard to pass at, so we have to be patient. This year has shown that a lot of things can happen.”

The Hungaroring track, nestled amid rolling hills just outside of Budapest, dried out somewhat for afternoon qualifying following a huge downpour during the third practice.

Leclerc – who leads F1 with seven poles this season – crashed while leading the French Grand Prix last Sunday to hand Verstappen a win that gave the Dutchman a 63-point lead over Leclerc in the standings.

But now Leclerc has an ideal chance to close the gap on Sunday on one of F1’s hardest tracks for passing.

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez had a disappointing session and starts from 11th place.

“It’s been a bad day,” Perez said. “It’s certainly going to be difficult to overtake tomorrow.”

Lando Norris of McLaren qualified fourth followed by Esteban Ocon – last year’s winner – Alpine teammate Fernando Alonso and Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who is F1’s record holder with 103 poles.

Russell, who replaced Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes this year, landed his seat in part by overperforming for struggling backmarker Williams last year with an incredible performance in the wet to qualify second for the Belgian Grand Prix.

“Dare I say better than the Spa one?” Russell said. “This is what racing’s all about. This is why I want to become world champion.”

After a first pole, the British driver is eyeing a first win.

“Hopefully we can drive off into the sunset tomorrow. I’m already thinking of what I can do to win,” he said. “Saturday doesn’t mean a huge amount, Sunday is when the points and prizes are won.”

Russell has what it takes to reach the top, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes.

“This is one of many milestones to come. George is a champion in the making,” Wolff said. “We would never have put him in a Mercedes if he didn’t think he could become a world champion.”

Hamilton had some bad luck as his drag reduction system stuck.

“My DRS stopped working, which was frustrating after all the struggle we had to finally have the chance to fight for front row,” he said. “We didn’t know how strong our pace was and where it came from, so it’s a very positive day for us. Huge congratulations to George, it’s an amazing feeling to get your first pole.”

Sainz called his form “nothing special” and conceded Russell “deserves that pole,” while Leclerc said he “struggled massively in Q3” because “the tyres were definitely not in the right window”.

At least he has Verstappen where he wants him, seven cars back.

“Max might take a few more laps to come to the front,” Leclerc said.

Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo will start from ninth.

AP

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