Max Verstappen said his strongest feeling after grabbing his maiden pole position on Saturday for Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix was not excitement, but relief.
Relief that at last, after seven wins and a reputation built on raw speed and confidence, he could tick it off the statistical list of drivers’ achievements in his career profile.
“For me it never really mattered,” he said. “I knew it was a matter of time. You need luck sometimes as well.
“Of course, I made mistakes to miss the pole position shot, but today we got that so I am very happy with that.”
Asked for his overriding emotion, the Red Bull driver smiled.
“That people will stop asking me that question!” he replied.
The 21-year-old Dutchman secured pole with an outright track lap record that was just 0.018 seconds faster than that of Valtteri Bottas who took second ahead of his Mercedes team-mate defending five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
“It’s incredible,” he added. “The car felt good all weekend and then, of course, you know it’s always going to be hard in qualifying, but we managed to do it.
“So, a big thank-you to the team. The car was flying out there in qualifying, it was incredible and I’m very happy about it.
“There’s still a race to do and, at the end of the day, that’s the most important, but for me today was an important one. It’s a very nice one and also a great one for the team.
“Since Austria, where we introduced a few crucial updates, the car has been a lot better. Then we kept bringing new parts, maybe not as major as that one, but it gained me a bit of a better feeling with the balance and that’s what we were looking for.
“I guess it shows today on a track where you need a lot of down-force.”
Verstappen’s pole was his first and also Red Bull’s fourth since the start of the hybrid turbo era five years ago -– and Honda’s first since Jenson Button topped qualifying at the 2006 Australian Grand Prix.
He became the fourth-youngest driver to claim pole position at his 93rd attempt, behind Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso.
Red Bull team chief Christian Horner praised engine suppliers Honda, whose power-units have carried the team to two wins in the last three races, but made clear that it was Verstappen’s talent that was the key factor.
“The margins are so tight here, but Max was on fire and he aced pretty much every section of the qualifying. His last lap was stunning,” said Horner.
“He needed to nail the last corner, because I think Valtteri was probably slightly ahead at Turn 13, but he nailed it — and took pole position. It is fantastic for him to get his first pole.”
“All credit to Honda, we couldn’t do this without them,” Horner added. “To get the pole here is incredible – it’s great for them and a great team effort.
This success for the Dutchman came only six days after winning a tumultuous rain-hit German Grand Prix, his second victory in three races, and revved up talk not only of a late title bid, but also his value in the market place for next year.
“It’s been a good week so far,” said Horner, who has claimed Verstappen is the most in-form and fastest driver.
“I was hoping that his first lap in Q3 was going to be enough and was hoping the circuit wouldn’t get quicker.
“But it was obvious that he needed to improve. Bottas was getting closer and closer. It really came down to the last two or three corners for Max to nail that lap.”
Verstappen, in third, lies 63 points behind Hamilton who leads this year’s drivers championship in a bid to claim his sixth world title with Bottas, second on the grid for Sunday’s race, between them, 41 points adrift of the Briton.