Lewis Hamilton fears that the Hungarian Grand Prix will be a walk in the park for his championship rival Sebastian Vettel after the Ferrari driver stormed to pole position.
Hamilton, who trails Vettel by a single point in this year’s see-saw title race, was bidding to match Michael Schumacher’s all-time pole record in qualifying.
But Hamilton never came close to equalling the German’s haul of 68 and his wait to lay claim to being Formula One’s greatest ever one-lap speedster will go on until after the four-week summer break.
For now, the 32-year-old has the more pressing matter of concocting a plan to somehow stop pole-sitter Vettel from extending his championship advantage from a lowly fourth on the grid.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team appeared to hold the upper hand over Ferrari in the title race after his crushing victory on home turf at Silverstone a fortnight ago.
But the high downforce nature of the twisty 2.7-mile Hungaroring, coupled with track temperature of 56 degrees, have suited the Italian team.
Indeed Vettel will be joined on the front row by his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen with Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas third on the grid. And with overtaking far from straightforward here, Hamilton, who was the best part of half-a-second slower than Vettel, predicted a gloomy forecast.
“It is going to be a breeze for Ferrari tomorrow,” Hamilton said. “I don’t think there was any moment that we had a shot at pole because we could not match the Ferraris. They have made an improvement this weekend and they deserved it.”
Hamilton’s father Anthony arrived here in the paddock on Friday, perhaps in the hope of seeing his son engrave the family name into F1 folklore by matching Schumacher’s pole tally.
Hamilton Snr has been a peripheral figure on the grand prix tour in recent years, and his appearance, with his wife Linda, marks his first at a grand prix weekend since the 2014 Abu Dhabi title decider. Hamilton beat Nico Rosberg to the title by virtue of winning under the lights at the Yas Marina circuit on that occasion, but a victory here appears improbable.
Hamilton’s shot at pole was thwarted after he ran wide at the high-speed Turn 4 during his first attempt. He was forced to abandon his lap, and it left him with too much to do.
“If I finished the first lap then I could have taken a greater risk on the second one,” Hamilton added. “When you serve in tennis you try to ace the first, and, unless you are Roger Federer, you don’t try to ace the second one.”
In contrast, Ferrari’s response here is the perfect answer to their disappointing showing at the British Grand Prix a fortnight ago after Vettel finished a lowly seventh following a penultimate-lap puncture.
“It is only Saturday so there is nothing to get from today other than the best position on the grid, but we did that which is great,” Vettel said. “The talk after the last race was a bit too much so it was good to deliver an answer on the track.”