Budapest: Two-times world champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso claimed his 18th career pole position on Saturday when he emerged on top after an incident-filled and chaotic qualifying session for Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old Renault driver grabbed his first pole this year in chaotic scenes as the circuit’s electronic timing system crashed in the final minutes after a half-hour’s delay following an accident involving Ferrari’s Brazilian driver Felipe Massa.
Alonso had predicted he would be on pole for the first time since the Italian Grand Prix of 2007 before the session began, but he was left asking his rivals what had happened and what were their times when the session ended.
“Who is fastest, who is on pole?” said Alonso. “I don’t know.”
In the chaos, there was relief among the drivers to learn that Massa was unhurt after his 200 kph crash in the final minutes of Q2.
One item of information that was certain was that Spanish debutant Jaime Alguersuari had kept his nose clean but qualified 20th earlier on when the timing screens and clocks were working reliably.
It was only when Alonso, German Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull team-mate Australian Mark Webber came out to wave to the fans that it appeared confirmed that they were fastest in that order.
Several minutes later came confirmation that defending champion Briton Lewis Hamilton was fourth fastest for McLaren Mercedes ahead of German Nico Rosberg of Williams and Finn Heikki Kovalainen in the second McLaren.
Another Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari qualified seventh ahead of championship leader Briton Jenson Button in a Brawn GP car with Japanese Kazuki Nakajima ninth for Williams and Massa, who took no part in the top ten shootout, placed 10th.
Alguersuari was one of the first men on track when the session began and he soon clocked a decent lap time to claim a banker position. His Toro Rosso team had said shortly before the session that they were delighted with the efforts of the 19-year-old Spaniard this weekend.
Unfortunately, for the Iberian, it was not enough. He ended up with a problem on the track and parked at Turn 13 and ended up as one of the five men eliminated as he was 20th and slowest.
He joined Poland’s Robert Kubica and his BMW Sauber team-mate German Nick Heidfeld and the two Force India’s of Italian veteran Giancarlo Fisichella and German Adrian Sutil in failing to make the first cut from Q! to Q2,.
Alonso just squeezed through in his Renault with a late lap that lifted him from 17th to sixth.
At the front, it was Rosberg who set the pace ahead of Hamilton and Webber with Vettel fourth, Button down in 10th and Barrichello 12th, the two Brawns sandwiching Raikkonen in 11th for Ferrari. Massa was ninth and the top 15 cars were separated by only eight-tenths of a second.
In Q2, it was equally tight and tense after Webber set the first quick time. The Australian stayed there and all the drama was behind him as Alonso again produced a quick lap to claim a top ten spot while Barrichello was eliminated, the first time this year a Brawn has failed to make it into Q3.
Out with the Brazilian, who was 13th fastest, went Swiss Sebastien Buemi of Toro Rosso, Italian Jarno Trulli and his Toyota team-mate German Timo Glock and Brazilian Nelson Piquet, on his 24th birthday, in the second Renault.
An accident claimed Massa in the closing minutes and he ended the session with the nose of his Ferrari buried into a wall of tyres at Turn Four. It was several minutes before the medical car arrived and Massa was lifted from his car.
From the tyre marks across the circuit and the run-off area, it appeared that he had suffered a brake failure. Organisers immediately delayed the start of Q3 as the medical staff carried Massa into the circuit medical centre.
After examination, it emerged that Massa was not seriously hurt. He had been struck on the chin by a piece of tubular debris from compatriot Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car and, momentarily concussed, lost control of the car.
Barrichello visited Massa in the circuit medical centre, before he was airlifted to hospital, and reported that he was talking.