Rosberg on pole after Lewis woe
Nico Rosberg looks certain to extend his World Championship lead in Sunday’s Hungarian GP after claiming pole position in the wake of another qualifying disaster for the luckless Lewis Hamilton.
While Rosberg will line up his Mercedes car P1 on the front row, Hamilton will begin the grand prix from the pitlane after the fire which engulfed his W05 at the start of Saturday's qualifying hour required a change of gearbox, engine and chassis.
Although the Englishman was able to leap out of his burning car unscathed, the same cannot be said of his World Championship prospects. It was the fourth occasion this term, and the second time this week, that Hamilton has suffered critical unreliability from his fast but fragile W05 and leaves him braced for a substantial deficit to his team-mate when the sport adjourns for its summer holidays.
"This is a track that you cannot overtake on so I think I will struggle to get in the top ten tomorrow or at least the top five. I will probably leave here more than 20 points behind Nico," a dejected Hamilton told Sky Sports F1 before leaving the circuit long before qualifying had reached its seemingly inevitable conclusion.
Having played second fiddle to Hamilton in each of the weekend's three practice sessions, Rosberg duly cruised to pole in his absence, outpacing Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas by over half a second. Only a brief rain shower, which saw Kevin Magnussen crash his McLaren into the barriers, at the start of Q3 threatened to derail Rosberg's procession before he made his car's superiority count to fully capitalise on his team-mate's unfortunate demise.
"I would prefer to be out there battling with Lewis, that would give me the maximum adrenalin rush," admitted Rosberg as he celebrated his third pole position in succession. "Of course, I am very, very happy, but it wasn't a gloves-off battle and that takes away a little bit of the happiness."
Only the exasperation of Kimi Raikkonen came close to matching Hamilton's dejection as the Finn's wretched season reached a new low when an inexplicable strategic error by his Ferrari crew saw him eliminated from Q1 as he sat in the garage. To compound Raikkonen's frustration, Marussia's Jules Bianchi, waiting in the wings to claim the former World Champion's seat, progressed to Q2 at his expense while current team-mate Fernando Alonso, the perpetual escapoligist of F1, secured fifth on the grid.
"The plan was to go out but the team said 'we are fine' and not to go out," reported Raikkonen whose unusual willingness to speak out in itself spoke volumes. "I questioned it a few times, asking if we were 100 per cent sure, and the answer you can see."
It will be of meagre consolation to the Finn, but at least the wisdom of his decision to leave Lotus over the winter cannot be questioned. Even before Hamilton's Mercedes caught fire, Pastor Maldonado's E22 had developed a mechanical failure which will see the South American line up last on the grid for the fourth time this year. Romain Grosjean fared only slightly better but the Frenchman's lament at being unable to out-pace Sauber's Adrian Sutil summed up his and the team's plight.
Daniel Ricciardo was fourth for Red Bull, two-tenths down on team-mate Vettel as the World Champion finally found the sweetspot of his RB10 to edge out the consistently-impressive Bottas from the front-row. Felipe Massa was sixth in the second Williams, just ahead of Jenson Button in the McLaren and Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne.
But it's the image of a forlorn Hamilton bangi ng his hand in frustration on a guardrail as the Hungaroring track marshals rushed to extinguish the fire on his crippled Mercedes car which burnt brightest on Saturday night. The Englishman said last week that he never likes to win easily, but nobody could have foreseen 2014 becoming quite so difficult for a driver in danger of becoming the unluckiest in F1.