The ultimate prize of pole position in Austria went to Lewis Hamilton, who took his 45th career pole to draw level with Sebastian Vettel’s current record. The pair sits equal-third on the all-time list behind Ayrton Senna (65) and Michael Schumacher (68).
It was an unusual end to an eventful qualifying session, as Hamilton was struggling throughout the session in Sector 2. He was able to find time taking provisional pole, but in the last lap he spun out at the first corner, bringing out yellow flags.
Fortunately for him, his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg went into the gravel heavily on the last turn, but nonetheless Mercedes took a 1-2 start for tomorrow’s 71-lap race.
There were a number of drivers who were not so lucky in a session which started out on a damp track surface that quickly dried off.
Worst of all was Kimi Räikkönen, who languished in 17th-fastest and just “couldn’t put the lap together”, according to his Ferrari team. The Finn was frustrated on the pit-to-car radio at the end of the session – “We are P17, how the heck is that possible?” he cried – and later conceded that it was “a bad day” in the open media session with SKY Sports’ Natalie Pinkham.
On the other hand, Räikkönen’s teammate Sebastian Vettel finished P3 and will start on the second row of the grid alongside last year’s pole-sitter, Williams’ Felipe Massa.
Both Massa and teammate Bottas took the fight to each other in Q3, but were ultimately split by Force India’s Nico Hülkenberg, who showed great pace throughout all three qualifying sessions to claim his best grid spot of the season to-date.
His teammate, Sergio Pérez, was another victim of the damp track conditions in Q1 and found himself held up by Fernando Alonso which cost him “rhythm and position”.
Fellow midfielders Sauber had Marcus Ericsson knocked out in Q2, but his teammate Felipe Nasr put in a stunning performance to make Q3. It was an impressive turnaround for the Brazilian, following his Canadian Grand Prix practice smash just a fortnight ago, to make his first Q3 appearance since April’s Chinese Grand Prix..
Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado missed out on Q3, just being on the cusp of the cut-off time. His teammate Romain Grosjean made it in, however he had brake-by-wire issues, which led to him failing to set a time.
It too was a mixed session down at Scuderia Toro Rosso. Carlos Sainz had backed off and aborted his last lap when he was on course for a top-ten result. Teammate Max Verstappen did make the Q3 cut and finished seventh-fastest, a great result for the grid’s youngest driver.
The big sister Red Bull Racing team had a poor qualifying session in a weekend where their frustrations with engine partner Renault have been played out in an ugly public display. Daniel Ricciardo failed to make the Q3 cut for the first time in his career with the team, and he will take a 10-place grid penalty for tomorrow’s race. Teammate Daniil Kvyat qualified eighth-fastest, despite being slightly help up by his own teammate in Q2.
At the back of the grid, Manor Marussia’s Roberto Merhi outqualified teammate Will Stevens for the second time this season. The gap between the pair was over a second, although Stevens did spin on his final flying lap.
The pair won’t actually start from the back row of the grid, however, thanks to the Red Bull pair’s penalties, as well as hefty grid drops for the McLarens as well. Jenson Button was quick in the early damp conditions in Q1 before tumbling into the drop zone, while teammate Fernando Alonso made it into Q2 but no further. Both will start from the back row of the grid and have to serve a drive-through penalty at minimum in the race (a result of not being able to fully serve their respective grid penalties), which will render Sunday’s race to be little more than a test session for the Woking team’s cars.
Image via XPB Images