Lewis Hamilton snatched a brilliant pole position from under Sebastian Vettel's nose here yesterday, then admitted: "I'm not really looking forward to the race."
The Briton didn't even know he was on pole until he was informed during his slow-down lap. Yet such are Mercedes's ongoing problems with Pirelli tyre degradation over race distances that he said it would take a miracle for him to equal Michael Schumacher's record of four wins for two different marques in today's Hungarian Grand Prix.
"I was surprised when they told me over the radio that I was on pole," Hamilton admitted. "I was expecting Seb to get it with the pace he had shown earlier, and didn't even think mine was that quick a lap. I was really surprised. I actually thought maybe they'd made a mistake."
As Vettel sat in the press conference smirking like a man who knows he's going to be in his usual excellent shape when the red lights go out this afternoon, Lotus's Romain Grosjean, third fastest, replayed last year's super-competitive race in his head while figuring out how to take the big step towards his first F1 victory.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was stoic rather than ecstatic. It is hard to maintain the motivation and commitment he had just demonstrated so superlatively when you know you will effectively have one hand tied behind your back come race time.
"We know from practice what our long-run situation is," Hamilton said, referring to the way the Mercedes eats tyres in a race. "I didn't feel like it was a disaster by any means, but it's definitely not as good as these guys.
"To be honest, I'm not really looking forward to the race. I was just saying to Seb it's a shame to have such good pace now but to know that with the tyre issue I won't be able to compete with him in the race. Of course I'll be doing my best and we're starting in a good position but I don't see a chance for us tomorrow. We have such a steep hill to climb with these tyres. If we were to win, it would be a miracle."
Vettel was much happier. "There wasn't much missing from my lap," he suggested. "Maybe I wasn't aggressive enough. I think the time that Lewis did was in our car too, but it would be stupid to sit here now and say we should have done this or that.
"At the end of the day I'm happy with the lap but it just wasn't quick enough. Lewis did a fantastic job."
As usual, Vettel was prepared to give credit where it was due, but he couldn't resist slipping in a reminder. "The Mercedes has great speed in qualifying. But we have a good car and good pace for the race."
That's why, with track temperatures of 50C expected, the fight for victory is much more likely to be between Vettel and Grosjean. Lotus had a scare when the Frenchman's car failed technical inspection due to "excessive flexure of the undertray", and it appeared that Grosjean would be sent to the back of the grid. But it transpired that a stay had broken after impact with a kerb in Turn 11 during the second qualifying session and no penalty was applied.
The black and gold cars would have been first and second ahead of Hamilton here last year had the race gone another lap, and they were Vettel's principal opposition in Germany three weeks ago. Lotus paid a lot of attention to optimising the car around the 2013 tyres during its design, and so is the kindest machine on its tyres and thus strong in high temperatures. "I'm really relieved that everything is okay," Grosjean said. "Now I can focus on doing everything I can to win."
Hamilton did his best to keep his spirits up. "It's very difficult to follow here because of the effect on your tyres running in dirty air, so being on pole helps. It's a long run down to Turn One, but if you can hold on it's definitely advantageous to lead. But these guys are going to be ridiculously fast, so trying to keep ahead of them is going to be tough."
Raikkonen's Red Bull silence slows F1 merry-go-round
Kimi Raikkonen's poker face, allied to the searing heat in Hungary, has driven F1's traditional who-goes-where silly season into overdrive, writes David Tremayne. Many F1 insiders believe his deal to replace Mark Webber alongside Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull in 2014 has been agreed, but he has stonewalled.
"There is going to be an overall package that feels right for me," the 2007 world champion said. "The decision might feel stupid to somebody else, but then it might feel right for me."
The situation will be monitored closely by British racers James Calado and Jolyon Palmer. The former made a huge impression in his first F1 test with Force India at Silverstone last week, lapping close to regular driver Paul Di Resta's pace, while former F1 racer Jonathan Palmer's son won yesterday's GP2 race in style here. If Raikkonen leaves Lotus either Di Resta or Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg could replace him, potentially generating opportunities for them.
But the 17-year-old Russian Sergey Sirotkin, widely touted last week for a Sauber ride in 2014, is unlikely to graduate yet.
"Things can be coming too early for you," said Vettel, who entered F1 at 19. "It clearly took me a while to understand how Formula One works, and to make sure that the car wasn't driving me."
Raikkonen, who burst into F1 with Sauber aged 21 after just 23 races in the junior Formula Renault series, said: "For sure they will take him if they feel it's the right thing, so I don't see that age will be the problem."
Sirotkin, who turns 18 in August, would replace the Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari, who made his debut here in 2009 aged 19 years and 125 days, as F1's youngest-ever driver.
His manager, Igor Salaquarda, dampened the hype, saying: "He should spend more time in the 3.5- litre class to gain more experience."Reuse content