Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took pole position for the Hungary Grand Prix with team-mate Kimi Raikkonen claiming second to lock out the front row for the Scuderia.
Mercedes has been off the pace all weekend and Bottas could only qualify in third 0.254 seconds behind Vettel. Hamilton complained of tyre vibration through qualifying and will start from fourth.
Max Verstappen leads an all Red Bull third row ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne who were promoted after Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg qualified in seventh but received a five-place penalty for a gear box change.
Scotsman Paul Di Resta unexpectedly found himself in a Formula 1 car when Felipe Massa became ill. The reserve Williams driver ended in a very credible 19th.
Hamilton playing catch-up
Hamilton had a messy qualifying session complaining of consistent tire vibration.
The Englishman still managed to record the fastest lap time in Q2 – albeit running one more hot lap than Vettel – but he couldn’t replicate that in the all important Q3.
Hamilton ran wide at the blind uphill Turn 4 on his first fast lap and aborted the run. It gave him just one lap to improve on Vettel’s time of 1:16.276 however he took a cautious approach just to ensure he qualified somewhere near to the front.
“That’s the way it goes and at least I am on the second row,” he said. “I don’t think we could have matched the Ferraris even if I did a great lap.”
That comment alludes to a growing feeling among the paddock that Mercedes have the edge on the faster tracks but Ferrari have an advantage on low-grip circuits with long, slow corners.
And it is on those tracks where Bottas seems to have superiority over Hamilton to out-qualify the world champion.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said after qualifying: “I don’t really have an explanation. Is that really a pattern? I don’t know. I need to look it up. I have to think about it.”
“We are starting to see a little bit of a pattern that the DNA of our car just seems to be more suited to the faster circuits and Ferrari is doing very well on these twisty, slow circuits.”
Wolff said that Hamilton was playing catch-up after a disappointing practice.
“Final practice did not look good. The car was very difficult to drive and Lewis wasn’t able to put one single lap together.”
“We recovered for qualifying. We changed the set-up a little bit. And we found the operating window of the tire better and we recovered – but it wasn’t enough.”
It puts Hamilton in a tricky predicament to find a way through the field on a narrow track that is notoriously difficult to overtake. Trailing Vettel but one point, Hamilton is now pointing to damage limitation.
“We can’t do anything in the race. We can’t follow or overtake a car that is as fast or faster,” he said.
“It is going to be a battle to get on the podium – and unless something happens with the others that is probably going to be where we are.”
Di Resta Impresses on Return
There was also interest a little further back in the field when Paul Di Resta was thrown into the Williams to replace an ill Felipe Massa.
Massa drove in FP1 and FP2 but withdrew feeling sick and dizzy. He was taken to hospital as a precaution and later cleared but the problem returned again on Saturday morning giving Di Resta his first chance to drive in Formula 1 since 2013.
Di Resta has never driver a new 2017 era car before and finished qualifying only 0.766secs slower than team-mate Lance Stroll.