Valtteri Bottas claimed pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix, setting the fastest time on the first lap of the final session, before yellow flags curtailed any further quick times being set. His Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton was one of the drivers affected; unable to complete a second quick lap he finished in third but will start the race from eighth after receiving a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change. His championship rival Sebastian Vettel was in second and the German’s Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen fourth, though the Finn will start from third.
It is the Bottas’s second pole position of his career, having taken his first earlier this season in Bahrain. Despite having struggles with their set-up and putting the tyres in their correct temperature operating window this season, Mercedes continue to show they have the edge over Ferrari over a single lap, the team have secured the top spot in seven of the nine meetings thus far.
Bottas’s performance was a further signifier that the Finn is adapting extraordinarily well to his new team and car having joined Mercedes at the start of the season. Austria has proved a happy hunting ground for the 27-year-old, a circuit on which he has enjoyed racing previously. He secured his first front row here and his first podium, both in 2014 when he was at Williams. He had looked in strong form throughout the session and looked a very strong prospect for pole, even had the yellow flags not been deployed.
“It feels good,” he said. “I really enjoy driving here, I enjoyed it today the car got better and better I had a decent lap in the end not quite perfect but good enough.”
Hamilton will take the five-place grid penalty because his team opted to change his gearbox on Friday evening. It had been damaged at the last round in Baku and the change was precautionary. A mighty comeback will be required to keep Vettel within striking distance; the Ferrari driver already has a 14-point lead in the world championship. Since the grand challenge of the 6km Österreichring was shortened to the current layout in 1997, only one driver has won from further back than third on the grid – David Coulthard’s victory from seventh in 2001.
“I would like to have improved my lap but it was just not meant to be today,” Hamilton said. “I have the supersoft tyre for tomorrow but maybe it can go longer, we will see.” The British driver also declined the offer to shake hands with Vettel, when prompted to do by the TV presenter, Davide Valsecchi, conducting the post qualifying interviews.
Vettel said: “I was not quick enough but I am happy, the car was very good, I was hoping for more from the last lap but for the yellow flags.”
There was the threat of rain for the final session and Hamilton and Bottas went out early, with Bottas setting the quickest pace in the first hot laps, four 100ths ahead of Vettel and two 10ths in front of Hamilton, who had run the harder rubber in Q2. Hamilton had gone wide at turn four on his second hot lap but there were no further chances for any drivers when Romain Grosjean’s Haas came to a halt on track, bringing out the yellow flags.
Hamilton had been quickest in the first session and then decided to take his laps in Q2 in the supersoft tyres, with which he will now start the race, rather than the quicker ultrasofts. Given the grid penalty, the team opted to let him run longer at the start and then finish the race on the faster rubber. He was impressively quick even on the slower tyres however, only a 10th back from Vettel who was running the ultrasofts. Bottas, also on the softer rubber, headed Q2.
Hamilton had topped the first two practice sessions, setting new fastest laps, but in the final run on Saturday morning he had a right front brake disc problem that curtailed his running. The team had to work flat out to prepare his car for qualifying and were successful although the British driver reported experiencing some vibration early in the session. Vettel topped the time sheets on Saturday morning, with another fastest lap of the Red Bull Ring.