Nico Rosberg on pole as Hamilton catches fire

ALAN BALDWIN
Last updated 05:10 27/07/2014

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Formula One championship leader Nico Rosberg took pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday (local time) while Mercedes team mate and title rival Lewis Hamilton saw his hopes go up in flames.

Hamilton, 14 points behind Rosberg after 10 races, has won in Hungary for the past two years and four times in total and was the favourite for pole and the race after setting the pace in practice.

Instead, the Briton will start from the pitlane after his car caught fire with the session barely started.

Red Bull's quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel qualified second, equalling his best grid placing of the season, on an all-German front row.

Finland's Valtteri Bottas starts third in a Williams with Australian Daniel Ricciardo fourth for Red Bull on an overcast afternoon that saw light rain fall between the second and final phase of qualifying.

For the second race in a row, Rosberg was left with mixed emotions - happy to be in the top slot with every chance of extending his overall lead - but saying also that he felt cheated of a battle with his team mate.

"It's a pity for the team, not a good thing...I would prefer to be out there battling with Lewis," he told reporters. "That would give me the maximum adrenalin rush.

"It wasn't a gloves-off battle with Lewis and that takes away a little bit of the ecstatic happiness."

STRING OF SETBACKS

Hamilton, winner of five races to Rosberg's four, has had a run of bad luck with two retirements to the German's sole blank and has also endured a string of qualifying setbacks going back six races.

At Hockenheim last Saturday, he crashed out of qualifying at the same point when a front brake disc failed and had to start in 20th place.

That triggered a thrilling charge through the field on Sunday to third place but the slow and twisty Hungaroring is a far more difficult track to overtake on, even if rain is forecast for Sunday.

"There's a lot going through my mind, but I just have to try to turn it into positives until tomorrow," said Hamilton, who will start with a new chassis, engine and gearbox.

"I think it's getting to the point beyond bad luck - it's something else. We just need to do better," added the 2008 world champion.

His former McLaren team mate Jenson Button said however that he still expected Hamilton to get on the podium, given the dominance of the Mercedes.

"A very, very good chance," said the Briton. "If it's dry tomorrow it's obviously hard to overtake around here but that car is by far the best car out there.

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"He can use his tyres in certain ways to get an advantage...as long as he keeps clean and doesn't have contact with people, there's a good chance he will be on the podium.

"It's a tough day for him again...but he'll fight his way through, I think."

While Hamilton's blaze - caused by a suspected fuel leak - was the main talking point, there were other shocks in an eventful session that ended with Mercedes' 10th pole in 11 races.

Frenchman Jules Bianchi, a Ferrari academy driver who races for struggling Marussia, qualified 16th - but will start 15th after penalties are applied to others - and ahead of Ferrari's 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen.

Ferrari had mistakenly assumed both their drivers were safely through the first phase and did not send them out for second runs - and then saw Bianchi pip Raikkonen when there was nothing they could do about it.

"The plan was to go out, but the team said 'No, you are fine, you do not need to go out'. I questioned it a few times, but they said no need, and we can see the end result," said the unhappy Finn.

"People make mistakes, but there are things we have to change to improve. As a team in Formula One, as Ferrari, we should not be doing these kind of things," added Raikkonen, who has finished second in the last two Hungarian races.

"None of us are in our first year."

Raikkonen's double world champion team mate Fernando Alonso will start fifth and with Brazilian Felipe Massa, who was replaced by Raikkonen at the Italian team, alongside.

The final phase was halted for some eight minutes after Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen crashed his McLaren heavily into the barriers on a surface made slippery by the sudden shower.

Although he qualified 10th, he will also start from the pitlane after a chassis and gearbox change.

Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado, who has not scored a point so far this season, was the first driver out of qualifying after parking up his Lotus with a power unit problem before he could complete a lap.

- Reuters

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