BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Formula One world championship leader Lewis Hamilton put Mercedes on pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday amid thunder, lightning and plumes of spray.
Valtteri Bottas made it a Mercedes front row lockout for Sunday’s race, when conditions are expected to brighten up, with title rival Sebastian Vettel only fourth and behind Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Hamilton now has 77 career poles, and five this season, but Saturday’s qualifying went against the odds with the opportunity emerging as the heavens opened.
“It’s great for the team to have a one-two. We couldn’t have expected this,” said the 33-year-old, who leads Vettel by 17 points after 11 races in the battle of four times world champions.
“Ferrari have been quickest all weekend and we were doing our best to catch up, but then the heavens opened and it was fair game.
“It’s so tricky out there, at the beginning it was dry and then it got wetter so it was hard to say how much grip we had.”
Vettel had been fastest in Friday and Saturday practice, with track record times in the hot and dry conditions that left the Mercedes drivers spinning and struggling for grip.
“It looks like in the wet conditions we aren’t as confident as we are in the dry,” said the German, whose team are mourning the death of former chairman Sergio Marchionne with flags flown at half mast.
“We managed well until the end. I think in the dry we were in control but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Red Bull had also expected to be in the mix but Australian Daniel Ricciardo, whose win in Monaco raised hopes of a repeat at a track that also plays to the car’s strengths, failed to make the cut in the second phase. He starts 12th.
The rain that fell more heavily in the second phase put a premium on getting in a good early lap but Canadian Lance Stroll spun his Williams in front of him and the Australian had to abort his effort.
“We were just unlucky. Tomorrow I will have a fight on my hands,” said Ricciardo.
Dutch team mate Max Verstappen qualified only seventh, with Renault’s Carlos Sainz and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly fifth and sixth respectively.
Vettel had been quickest in both the first and second phases of qualifying but Mercedes got their timing right when it mattered.
Hamilton will now be favorite, providing he makes a clean getaway without incident, at a circuit where overtaking has always been difficult.
The Briton has won five times previously at the Hungaroring, but never in a year in which he has gone on to take the championship.
New Zealander Brendon Hartley, whose future at Toro Rosso remains uncertain, qualified eighth with the Haas pairing of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean ninth and 10th.
At the bottom, Force India were the big casualties a day after the fifth-placed team were put into administration pending a likely takeover.
Frenchman Esteban Ocon qualified 18th with Mexican Sergio Perez, whose legal claim for millions owed triggered the administration, was 19th.
Struggling former champions McLaren had a mixed afternoon with Spaniard Fernando Alonso 11th, but Belgian team mate Stoffel Vandoorne 16th.
Double world champion Alonso also provided one of the memorable lines from the session, telling his team when they asked about tyre choice: “Even if we put on a rocket ship we will still be 11th.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis