Red Bull Racing emerged as Mercedes’s chief challenger at the tight and twisty Hungaroring and Verstappen wasted no time imposing himself in the fight, his first lap quick enough to gap Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton by 0.178 seconds.
But Mercedes fought back on their second attempts, and by the time the dust settled and the chequered flag fell Verstappen had emerged ahead by only 0.018 seconds — or approximately 1.06 metres — to claim his first career pole.
“This one was still missing,” said Verstappen, who’s already won seven grands prix, including two of the last three. “A big thank-you to the team, the car was flying in qualifying. Incredible.
“There’s still a race to do … but for me today was an important one — a very nice one and a great one for the team.”
As well as being his maiden pole, the P1 start makes Verstappen the third-youngest polesitter in the sport’s history behind Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc. It’s also the first time a Honda-powered machine will start from pole since Jenson Button headed the grid for the Japanese marque’s works team at the 2006 Australian Grand Prix.
Bottas fell fractionally short in his quest to deny Verstappen his milestone, but the Finn nonetheless edged teammate Lewis Hamilton by 0.179 seconds for a spot on the front row of the grid.
It was a strong turnaround for Bottas, who undertook almost no practice on Friday owing to an engine problem and wet weather, and his attention now turns to maximising his result on Sunday.
“I’ve been kind of chasing a little bit this weekend after missing all of practice one and having limited laps in practice two,” he said. “It was getting better and better in qualifying and I was really pleased in the end.”
Hamilton’s execution in the top-10 shootout was imperfect, with a slide through the chicane at turns six and seven compromising his first attempt and leaving him with too much work to do with his final lap, but the championship leader remained optimistic for the race.
“It kind of got away from me a little bit once we got into qualifying,” he said. “Still, we’re in a good position to fight for the win. I’m always down for a fight.”
Ferrari brought upgrades to the Hungaroring to close the gap to the front, but the benefits were insufficient to vie for pole despite the SF90’s straight-line-speed advantage in the first sector.
Charles Leclerc will lead teammate Sebastian Vettel in fourth and fifth on the grid, but the Monegasque almost didn’t make it to the top-10 shootout in the first place after a needless crash in Q1.
Leclerc lost control of his car as he attempted to power out of the final turn, spinning backwards and rear-ending the tyre barrier on exit. He limped back to the pit with rear wing damage, but quick work from Ferrari ensured he was able to take part in Q2.
Pierre Gasly qualified sixth in another deeply underwhelming performance in the second Red Bull Racing machine. Not only was the Frenchman 0.878 seconds off his teammate’s pole position time, but he flirted with a Q2 exit when he couldn’t find any pace on the medium-compound tyre. He only just escaped unscathed, dropping to ninth and just 0.172 seconds away from disaster.
McLaren’s Lando Norris was the standout driver of the midfield. Consistently quick for McLaren in practice and qualifying, the rookie Briton will start seventh on the grid after bettering teammate Carlos Sainz by 0.052 seconds.
Romain Grosjean qualified ninth, the Frenchman still in an old-specification aerodynamic package from the first round of the season in March. It’s the third time in a row the Frenchman has used the older car as part of an experiment to identify his Haas team’s problems warming up the Pirelli tyres and the third time in succession he’s outqualified teammate Kevin Magnussen.
Grosjean beat Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, who will start 10th.
Nico Hulkenberg qualified 11th for Renault ahead of Toro Rosso teammates Alex Albon and Daniil Kvyat. Antonio Giovinazzi ended Q2 14th, but the Italian was penalised for impeding Lance Stroll during Q1 and will start the race 17th.
Kevin Magnussen, running the updated Haas aero kit, qualified 15th and will start ahead of qualifying start George Russell, who pulled his backmarking Williams car up to 16th.
Russell spent most of Q1 outside the knockout zone, and though he inevitably fell into the bottom five, he was more than 1.3 seconds quicker than last-placed teammate Robert Kubica and missed out on a place in Q2 by just 0.053 seconds.
His relatively lofty place in such poor machinery was assisted by Racing Point’s Sergio Perez and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo losing time in a squabble for track position for their final laps. The jostling meant they were eliminated in P17 and P18 respectively, with Perez’s teammate, Lance Stroll, qualifying 19th ahead of Kubica.