Nico Rosberg had mixed feelings again on Saturday when he claimed his sixth pole of the season for Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix after Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s car burst into flames on his opening lap.
The world championship leader took full advantage of Hamilton’s bad luck and admitted he would have preferred to have competed against his main title rival.
“It’s a pity for the team and for me,” said the 29-year-old German, who leads Hamilton by 14 points in their duel for the drivers’ title.
“Again it’s reliability and, also, I would prefer to be battling with Lewis and have the maximum adrenaline rush and not be like this… It’s not the same.”
Rosberg clocked a best lap of one minute and 22.715 seconds to claim the 10th pole of his career in an hour that started with intense heat and finished with rain in the final minutes.
He added: “Q3 was a big challenge. The track was changing all the time at the beginning I was the first one into the first corner. It was very difficult to judge. It was very wet.
“So, I took it easy and I managed to avoid crashing. It was massively difficult and unpredictable. And then it was drying and it was much easier and I managed to nail it with my last lap.”
Reading the weather conditions in advance, Rosberg was first car out in Q3 and ran wide at Turn One shortly before Danish rookie Kevin Magnussen flew off and into the barriers at the same place.
That caused the session to be halted for five minutes and it resumed in damp, but drying conditions as the hot sunshine resumed.
Vettel clocked a best lap of 1:23.201 that put him clear at the top in the final seconds, but Rosberg responded to outpace him by 0.486 seconds.
Finn Valtteri Bottas was third for Williams ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull, two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso of Ferrari and Brazilian Felipe Massa, sixth for Williams.
Vettel said: “I think the nature of the track here suits us better, there are less straights and historically we have always had a competitive car around here.
“It is nice to be a little bit closer to Nico, but his lap still gave him a bigger gap at the end than we had hoped for…”
Bottas said: “I think it is a little bit of a surprise for me to be here, but the team has worked hard and the upgrades have worked well. It is a good day for us.”
Briton Jenson Button, twice a winner in Hungary, in wet conditions, was seventh for McLaren ahead of Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne of Toro Rosso, German Nico Hulkenberg of Force India and Magnussen.
“We’ll have to replace the engine and gearbox, but with that penalty it’s a good thing (for a gearbox change),” said Hamilton.
“I can’t go any further back (than last row of the grid).
“There’s a lot going through my mind, but I just have to try to turn it into positives until tomorrow. I think it’s getting to the point beyond bad luck – it’s something else. We just need to do better.”
Earlier on a day of less-stifling heat than Friday, with a track temperature of a relatively modest 46 degrees, Hamilton was the second man eliminated in Q1, his car blazing from a first lap fuel leak just after Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado had idled to a halt in his Lotus.