BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton is collecting pole positions at such a rate that he is dreaming of emulating his childhood idol Ayrton Senna.
Hamilton clinched pole position on Saturday for the Hungarian Grand Prix, where he will start at the front for the ninth time in 10 races this season, and 47th overall in his career.
Senna’s total of 65 poles might seem a long way off now, but at this rate Hamilton could be closing in next season.
“As a kid, I always wanted to emulate him, so to say that I’m on par to emulate that is definitely quite neat,” Hamilton said.
He was .575 seconds ahead of his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg and .719 clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who has 45 career poles. Michael Schumacher leads all-time with 68.
Hamilton, who can equal Senna’s total of three F1 titles if he wins again this year, has been utterly dominant this week, including topping every practice.
Hamilton, starting from pole for the fifth time here, looks well set to win his fifth race at the Hungaroring.
“I love the track, it feels like an old go-kart circuit we used to race on years ago,” said Hamilton, who has 38 career race wins. “Can’t remember having a better weekend so far than this.”
Last season, it was Rosberg on top in qualifying, beating Hamilton 11-7 in pole positions.
“That was a goal this year, to think how can I improve?” Hamilton said. “It’s hard to improve when you’re at the top of your game.”
Rosberg, who has never secured a podium finish in Hungary, is still searching for reasons why he has been slower.
“Part of it is that I worked on my racing, to improve that,” the German driver said. “But that’s slightly compromised (my) qualifying. I don’t understand why it’s such a big difference from last year.”
In an encouraging performance for Red Bull, Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo, the winner here last year, sneaked into fourth place ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
“I’m confident we can battle it out with Ferrari,” Ricciardo said.
After Raikkonen was his Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas, Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, then Felipe Massa in eighth.
Rosberg complained about his car’s balance during Friday’s second practice, and the problem with understeering resurfaced in Q1.
“Definitely not happy with what happened today,” he said.
Two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso sneaked into Q2 on his last lap, but McLaren teammate Jenson Button just missed out, placing 16th.
Then, McLaren’s persistent engine problems resurfaced as Alonso’s car stopped suddenly early into Q2, forcing a red flag and brief halt.
Alonso started to push the car uphill on his own before track marshals helped him.
Chasing down Hamilton’s leading time in Q3, Rosberg was fastest at the first time split, then drifted back.
To underline his superiority, Hamilton went out on one final lap and extended his leading margin.
There was a late worry for Rosberg in final practice as his car ground to a halt coming out of pit lane because the car’s anti-stall failed to engage.
A minute’s silence will be held before Sunday’s race in tribute to Jules Bianchi.
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