George Russell signalled Mercedes’ return as a competitive force on Saturday when he outpaced both Ferraris to claim his maiden pole position in qualifying for Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old Briton, in his first full season with the champion team, produced a perfect late flying lap to snatch the prime starting position to stun his rivals and delight his team.
After months of struggles with bouncing and ‘porpoising’ problems, Mercedes have reeled off five successive podium finishes and, at last, found their qualifying pace with Russell delivering pole in his 73rd Grand Prix.
"I’m over the moon – absolutely buzzing," he said. "The lap time kept coming to me and it was an incredible feeling when I cross the line and saw P1.
"Yesterday was probably our worst Friday of the season and last night everyone worked so hard. We were still here at 11 pm and not sure what direction to go in.
"To come back 24 hours later and take pole, it’s amazing. I don’t know (if Mercedes are back) to be honest as we need to look at and understand where that lap came from – there’s a few ideas we had.
"Generally, we have had good race pace, but here the Ferraris looked very fast on Friday. We are going to be absolutely going for it, we want to win… But either way, this is a pretty special day."
Russell clocked a best lap in one minute and 17.377 seconds to outpace Carlos Sainz in the leading Ferrari by 0.044 seconds with Charles Leclerc third for Ferrari, one-tenth adrift.
Lando Norris grabbed fourth for McLaren, equalling his best qualifying of the season, ahead of the two Alpines of last year’s winner Esteban Ocon and two-time champion Fernando Alonso, who turned 41 on Friday.
Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton aborted his final flying lap in his Mercedes due to a Drag Reduction System (DRS) failure and qualified seventh ahead of former team-mate Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo.
Daniel Ricciardo of McLaren was ninth and Red Bull’s series leader and world champion Max Verstappen 10th after suffering power failure problems and failing to record a competitive lap time.
- 'Fun and games' -
Russell’s pole was also Mercedes’s first since last year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, suggesting that the team may finally have overcome their struggles with the new ‘ground effect’ aerodynamic regulations this season.
Team chief Toto Wolff welcomed the team’s return to form in qualifying and suggested that the ‘silver arrows’ are back in contention for race wins and pushing to challenge again in the championships.
"This is a solid result for us," he said. “We were always off the pace on a single lap and now we are on pole so let’s see what we can do tomorrow. If we have the pace, then I feel like we are in the fun and games at the front again!"
He warned against over-expectation and said he was sorry Hamilton was unable to join Russell on the front row.
“We saw our tyres were in the right window and the car was balanced from the start of qualifying and they both drove extremely well, gained confidence and this is the result.
"In this moment, you want to cry with joy for pole position, but equally you know the car was also good enough for Lewis to be there as well. So that is very bitter-sweet."
Hamilton, a record eight-time winner at the sinuous Hungaroring circuit, said: “My DRS wouldn’t open, but I feel great. The front row was there and pole and this is awesome for the team. Congratulations to George for his first pole – it’s a huge one for us. We definitely didn’t expect that."