BUDAPEST, Hungary -- It seemed like a long time coming, but Max Verstappen has finally claimed a pole position in Formula One.
While it ended the tedious speculation over when he would finally get it done, it also sets up a fascinating prospect for tomorrow's Hungarian Grand Prix. It also comes at a time people some are debating whether Verstappen is the best driver in F1 right now and others are wondering where his future lies. Our round-up from qualifying must start with the Dutch sensation.
Super Max: It wasn't long ago people were calling Verstappen 'Mad Max' -- it was a label which annoyed the Dutchman and his Red Bull team, but reflected the fact that his early years were littered with incidents. The raw younger days of his career seem a lifetime ago now, and it's quite remarkable to think he had to wait this long for the first pole position of his career, 92 races and seven victories after making his debut at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix.
It seemed like a perfectly timed moment. The paddock chatter since his brilliant wins in Austria and Germany this year has been about whether he is performing better right now than five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. Earlier this week Hamilton said he would welcome the young Dutchman as his teammate to prove he is the better driver in equal machinery. They might be at opposite ends of their careers, but it is bubbling into quite the rivalry.
Verstappen's gap to Hamilton is 63 points in the championship, so it might be a tall order to expect the Red Bull man to drag himself into the title fight, but another win would give Hamilton something to dwell on over the summer break which follows this weekend. It would also hammer home to Red Bull how vital it is they lock the grid's in-form driver down to a long-term contract as soon as possible, but it's unlikely they need much reminding of that at this stage.
Nothing but a number: For a man who owns several F1 records as the youngest ever (winner, points scorer, debut), Verstappen is pretty unfazed by the fact he missed out on claiming that accolade for pole position. He agonisingly missed out on doing so at the Mexican Grand Prix last year, where former teammate Daniel Ricciardo beat him to it, but it seemed to be the achievement rather than the number which was bugging him.
Asked on Saturday afternoon if he was bothered, he said: "Will people stop asking me that question! For me it never really mattered. I knew it was a matter of time, you need luck as well, I made mistakes to miss the pole position shot, but finally we got it."
Later he added: "It doesn't make me sleep better or anything."
When told he was the fourth youngest, behind Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso, Verstappen shrugged, before Valtteri Bottas, sat alongside him, laughed and said: "Now you're not gonna be able to sleep!"
One thing is for sure: he's not going to stop at one. Saturday will be the first of many in what is already shaping up to be a potentially record-shattering career.
Déjà vu for Charles: Just two races ago Sebastian Vettel was the Ferrari driver under pressure, but in the space of seven days the negative attention has shifted to the other side of the garage. Charles Leclerc can consider himself incredibly lucky he isn't starting from 15th on the grid at the Hungaroring after slamming into the barrier at the final corner in Q1. Similar impacts have destroyed gearboxes and ended sessions in the past, but apart from the its rear wing endplates, the Ferrari held together remarkably well.
The incident comes just one week after Leclerc crashed out of second place in Germany, and it is his second crash in qualifying this year after his Q2 shunt in Baku.
"That's two mistakes in two grands prix," he said. "The first one wasn't acceptable, but this one is definitely not acceptable, and if I had stayed in the wall it would have been a lot worse. I need to learn from these mistakes. This is the second one in quali at an unnecessary time so I need to understand and work on that."
However, mistakes on Saturday can easily be forgiven by a good drive on Sunday and if Leclerc can wrestle a podium out of his Ferrari, the spin will be quickly forgotten.
The Great Haas Mystery continues: Haas is genuinely baffled by its car at the moment. As it did at the previous two races, the American team has split between the up-to-date specification, featuring the upgrades the team introduced at the Spanish Grand Prix, for Kevin Magnussen's car, and the specification of car the team brought to the opening race, the Australian Grand Prix, for Romain Grosjean's car.
Grosjean made it through to Q3 in what he calls "The Old Lady" and will line up ninth on the grid on Sunday, something the Frenchman was happy with -- he also pointed out that it's remarkable that a car which is effectively four months old can qualify so high.
By contrast, Magnussen looked as dejected as he has in a while. His second attempt in Q1 was good enough to finish that session in fourth position, but he finished 15th of the 15 drivers who contested in Q2. The temperature had risen slightly between that time, something which Haas knows suits the old spec better than the new spec, but it wasn't a drastic change. Magnussen looked like a man struggling for answers afterwards.
"We knew had those characteristics, but it's tough when you qualify P4 in Q1 to then not make it to Q3 is ... every lap when you go out you have to learn a new car," he said. "It was literally one second slower from one run to another.
"Q1, run one, I did a 16.1, then Q2, run one, I did a 17.1. I didn't have any mistakes or anything, you know, I just went through Turn 1 on that second run and felt no grip. You think 'OK, I'll make the best of this because maybe the track is worse and everyone is going slower, so try to get the best lap we can.' But it was one second slower, and no one else went that slow."
Magnussen also said the question marks still exist over Sunday pace, with both specifications of cars prone to wild fluctuations of performance hinging on seemingly tiny factors.
"We get times [in practice] where I'm one second faster than Romain -- you know, I'm not one second faster than him -- then we get other times when I'm half a second or a second slower. The variation is so big that there's no chance of having any types of predictions for the race tomorrow. Just hope for the best and try and learn."
Complicating things further is the fact the team is likely going to need both drivers to use the up-to-date package after the summer break at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza.
Super George: It's always easy to spot a great lap in Q3 -- a couple of milliseconds here or there can be the difference between pole position and second, as we saw in the 0.018s splitting Verstappen and Bottas at the end of the session. While laps lower down the order sometimes fail to get the credit they deserve, it was not difficult to spot how good a job George Russell had done on Saturday afternoon.
The Mercedes junior came within a whisker of dragging his Williams car into Q2, which would have been a remarkable achievement for a team which has been so off the pace this season so far. Russell's last attempt in Q1 put him in ninth, but he dropped down the order as others set their times -- Nico Hulkenberg's improvement at the death cruelly denied Russell and extended stint in qualifying. Granted, several others made mistakes, but the fact Russell was even in the mix speaks volumes about how well he's been performing recently.
Next season is likely too early for an elevation to Mercedes, but performances like that are going to make Toto Wolff feel very good about his team's long-term driver prospects.