A jubilant Lewis Hamilton said Mercedes‘ simulator work was key for them turning around their 2023 Hungarian Grand Prix weekend, after they turned a difficult Friday to a record-breaking qualifying thanks to his record-breaking pole position.
George Russell finished FP2 dead last at the Hungaroring with Hamilton not much better in 16th, but the seven-time champion topped FP3 before repeating that feat on Saturday to record his ninth pole at the circuit – more than any other driver at a single circuit.
And Hamilton revealed he had a glimmer of hope for the race win despite Red Bull‘s extraordinary pace.
“We come into the week and run the simulator and sometimes the simulator feels good sometimes it feels terrible,” Hamilton told the media.
“And then we come to the track and you’re just always hopeful that when you get in, you’ve got somewhat of a decent balance and the car doesn’t feel bad, but nine times out of 10, you get in the car and you’re like, damn, it really feels terrible.”
“So yesterday just wasn’t great for us. But what we do best is work hard through the night, the team work hard on the simulator and we get a new direction for Saturday, made some really great changes to the car last night and it put us in a much better window.
“So, I was then able to just build on that.”
Max Verstappen lines up second on the grid in his rampant Red Bull, having taken victory in the last six races in a streak that extends back to the start of May.
He won the 2022 Hungarian GP from tenth on the grid against another pole-sitting Mercedes – that of George Russell – but starting third in 2021 he was hit by Hamilton‘s then-teammate Valtteri Bottas and sustained damage to finish ninth.
“Normally it’s not a bad race car, we tend to have decent race pace,” Hamilton added. “Max‘s race pace yesterday was, I think quite extraordinary, I think they were quite a bit quicker than us.
“But, yeah, if there’s a way to hold position then maybe there’s a fighting chance for us.”
Hamilton: I didn’t breathe the whole lap!
Hamilton was almost lost for words after qualifying, his first pole position since the 2021 Saudi Arabian GP.
He was second behind Verstappen going into the final few minutes of Q3, and was even third for a few moments when Lando Norris displaced him at the top.
But Verstappen wasn’t able to improve on his last flying lap leaving the door open for Hamilton, who duly took the opportunity to make history – by just 0.003 seconds.
“I forgot what it feels like to sit in this spot, you’ve been hogging it for a while!” Hamilton said at the post-race press conference with Verstappen.
“I don’t think I breathed the whole lap, I think I hold my breath and I was just so out of breath at the end.
“But it’s an extraordinary feeling after you’ve been here for such a long time and you’ve had success before, even though it’s 104 it feels like the first. It’s hard to explain just how special it feels and we definitely weren’t expecting to be fighting for pole today.”