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Hamilton revels in ending long pole drought

An emotional Lewis Hamilton said “it felt like the first time” after ending his lengthy pole drought by outpacing Max Verstappen in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday.

The seven-time world champion revelled in snapping a barren run stretching back 33 races by claiming a record-increasing 104th pole of his career and his record ninth at the Hungaroring circuit.

Clocking a fastest lap of one minute and 16.609 seconds in his Mercedes to beat Red Bull’s runaway series leader by 0.003 seconds he ended Verstappen’s run of five straight poles.

His success prompted a near-euphoric reaction from a big crowd.

“It’s been a crazy year and a half,” said Hamilton, who last fronted the grid in the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

“I’ve lost my voice from shouting in the car and I am so grateful for that feeling because the team have worked so hard.

“So, to finally get the pole, it feels like the first time.

“I didn’t expect, coming here today, that we would be fighting for pole so when I went into the last run I gave it absolutely everything. There was nothing left in it.”

Asked about his prospects for Sunday’s race, the 38-year-old said: “We’ll bring our A game, as a team. It’s going to be difficult to fight these guys tomorrow — Lando (Norris) has been doing a mega job and it’s great to see McLaren up there battling.

“And Max — you know Max. He’s always up there, doing his thing!”

Hamilton will be hunting his record-increasing 104th win and ninth at the Hungarian Grand Prix, but he will face a fierce challenge to defeat Verstappen who has reeled off six consecutive victories on his way to a 99-point lead ahead of team-mate Sergio Perez in the title race.

‘All over the place’

Verstappen, with a new upgrades package on his Red Bull, was disappointed with his own performance in taking second ahead of the McLaren duo of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri.

He said: “Not much happened (for me)… I’ve been struggling the whole weekend to find balance and every session has been up and down and I found it really difficult to attack corners.”

He added that he felt Red Bull had not found the best set-up yet for their new package.

“We are all over the place and not where we want to be,” he said.

Norris, who followed up his second place at the British Grand Prix with a strong showing in qualifying, said: “I’m a little surprised and a little disappointed. I’m happy the team did a good job today – P3 and P4 – and as a driver I felt I made too many mistakes. But I am still excited for the race.”

Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc occupy the third row ahead of Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo), Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin), Red Bull’s Perez, back in the top-ten shootout for the first time in six outings, and Nico Hulkenberg of Haas.

While one half of the Mercedes garage was in celebratory mood the other half was facing a tough Sunday after George Russell qualified down in 18th.

Russell, pole man last year, failed to make it out of the first qualifying session, blaming heavy traffic for his elimination.

He said: “We got punished. We were fast and the car felt great, but we were out of synch for the whole session.

“I’m really disappointed. We didn’t need to take so many risks – you get what you deserve if you don’t do things right.”

Out of the first session with Russell went Williams’ Logan Sargeant, Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri and Williams’ Alex Albon.

Daniel Ricciardo, back in F1 as replacement for the luckless Nyck de Vries at Alpha Tauri, showed his potential by squeezing into Q2 in 15th place, out-qualifying his established team-mate at the first attempt.

In a furious final flurry to the second qualifying segment Carlos Sainz was knocked out along with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Ricciardo, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Pierre Gasly in the second Alpine, leaving Hamilton to perform his magic in a tense finale.