Valtteri Bottas has beaten Lewis Hamilton to take pole position for the third time at the Red Bull Ring ahead of Sunday’s season-opening Austrian Grand Prix. The Finn survived an off to beat the six-times champion by one-hundredth of a second.
Mercedes have looked in good form throughout the practice session which allowed the team to hammer home their advantage going into the season opener. Max Verstappen was third fastest going half a second slower than the Mercedes.
Bottas improved his time in the first sector but then slid into the gravel at the exit of Schlossgold, later spinning on the grass as he returned to the track, while Hamilton looked to be improving.
Hamilton has been called to face the stewards following an improvement under the yellow flag and potentially a breach of track limits at the final corner. He is at risk of a grid penalty after improving by one-tenth of a second on his final qualifying lap.
Mercedes were the favourites, Bottas has always performed well and again put in a brilliant first run, he hung on despite the off, Hamilton had though that had given him the advantage on the final lap, but he still remained a hundredth behind.
Verstappen could be in a strong position going into the race when it comes to strategy, he will start the race on the medium tyres having got through to Q3 on the slower compound of tyres. The race then could be one where he could go into it with the edge on strategy.
Bottas said, “It feels really good. I have missed this feeling after qualifying, the shakes. It is something special when you push the car to the limit. It feels so good. Our team, amazing job – we seem to be in our own league.”
Hamilton said that the incident with Bottas “didn’t really affect the lap. Great job by Valtteri. This is a great job by the team and I am happy to be here.”
Lando Norris had the best qualifying of his career putting his McLaren fourth fastest, six tenths off the Mercedes. Verstappen’s teammate Alex Albon believes he lost out by the timing of the yellow flags, he was forced to back off when Bottas went off, leaving him fifth. The British-Thai driver was almost four-tenths off his teammate.
Sergio Perez also set the identical lap time as Albon, he will start sixth as the Red Bull set the time first.
The midfield proved a close fight after both Ferrari struggled, the team appears to have gone from the fastest through the speed trap last year to one of the slowest. Charles Leclerc was only seventh fastest, almost a second off the pace.
Ferrari’s struggles were clear, they await the Budapest upgrade before they can make progress. Sebastian Vettel failed to even get into Q3, the German missing out by a tenth and a half. The German-made his mistake at Castrol Edge going wide and losing time.
Vettel told reporters, “it’s a surprise, we thought we had a little bit more in hand but it seems the others were probably running a little bit more fuel or were more conservative in practice. I wasn’t so happy with the car, more oversteer in entry than I would like.”
Carlos Sainz was eighth fastest ahead of Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo, rounding out the top ten. Vettel’s season wasn’t getting better, he was fastest of those knocked out in Q3, the Ferrari clearly struggling as Leclerc only scraped into Q3.
Mercedes and the rest of the top ten, will start on the faster but less durable soft compound.
Alpha Tauri duo Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat will line up twelfth and thirteenth on the grid behind Vettel. In his first Qualifying since Abu Dhabi in 2018, Esteban Ocon made it through to Q2 just four hundredths off his teammate in fourteenth.
Haas appeared to struggle to put the difficult eighteen months behind them, Romain Grosjean close to his fellow Frenchman but only fifteenth. While teammate Kevin Magnussen missed out on Q2 by just seven-hundredths of a second.
As in testing, the midfield proved to be close as ever, with fourth to sixteenth covered by around a second. George Russell was seventeenth, a huge improvement from last year when he was almost two seconds off the pace. Russell appeared to lose out on his final lap because of oversteer at Schlossgold.
Antonio Giovinazzi also made a mistake at the same corner on his final run leaving him eighteenth a hundredth behind teammate Raikkonen. Nicolas Latifi starts his first race from twentieth.
Tomorrow’s race could be an interesting one, Mercedes are clearly the favourites but have been for the last two years which they have lost to Verstappen. The race should see them hold the advantage, Bottas has constantly performed well here throughout his career.