BUDAPEST – The bad news for Lewis Hamilton’s traditional rivals at Ferrari and Red Bull is that the dominant Mercedes is getting faster, while another team using its engines is growing in confidence.
Hamilton’s pole position at the Hungarian Grand Prix on Saturday was his second straight and third in a row for Mercedes, after Valtteri Bottas' pole at the season-opening Austrian GP two weeks ago.
“Without doubt it is a better car than last year,” Hamilton said Saturday after clinching his record-extending 90th career pole by .107 from his teammate.
“We keep pushing each other to the next level,” said Bottas, who won the Austrian GP before Hamilton followed up with victory at the Styrian GP from pole last weekend.
Worse still for Red Bull and Ferrari is that third and fourth places on the grid went to the Mercedes-powered engines of Racing Point’s Lance Stroll and Sergio Pérez.
“The car was on fire today," Stroll said. “I’m going to try and get some big points tomorrow.”
Racing Point was only seventh out of 10 teams in the constructors' championship last year, but has made a significant leap forward.
“I’d like to say congratulations to Racing Point for their strong performance in qualifying,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “I’m really happy to see them locking out the second row.”
Stroll’s father — the Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll — runs the team and his 21-year-old son has a shot at a second career podium after finishing third at the Azerbaijan GP in 2017.
Ferrari competed well last year in qualifying, with Charles Leclerc leading Hamilton 7-5 for most poles, but the Ferrari cars were more than one second behind Hamilton's time on Saturday.
Sebastian Vettel goes from fifth, Leclerc from sixth and Red Bull's Max Verstappen from eighth in Sunday's race.
On a winding track which is among the most difficult for overtaking in F1, their chances of preventing Hamilton from clinching an 86th F1 win to move within five of Schumacher's record look slim.
Verstappen, who took pole position here last year and led a tense race until Hamilton overtook him late on, appears increasingly frustrated with his team's car.
He won three races last year and had hoped to challenge Hamilton strongly.
“I don’t know why but clearly something is not working compared to last year, where we had really good car balance around this track," Verstappen said. "It’s hard to understand why as we have changed a lot of things, but it doesn’t seem to have given us a lot more lap time. Around here you really need a stable car.”
Schumacher won seven F1 titles — one more than Hamilton so far — but Hamilton's total of 90 poles already puts him 22 clear of the former Ferrari great.
“I just have to pinch myself, it doesn’t register,” Hamilton said. “It does not seem real."
Hamilton has won seven times at the Hungaroring and the veteran British driver needs one more to equal F1 great Schumacher’s single-track record of eight wins, when the French GP was held at Magny-Cours.
Hamilton's first win in Hungary was way back in 2007, the year after Schumacher's eighth in France.
Hamilton's first win for Mercedes was in 2013, the year after replacing Schumacher with the Silver Arrows.
They belong in the same category as among the best drivers in F1 history.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports