Mercedes has so far proven to be returning to race-winning form over the last two Grand Prix weekends in France and Austria, but for the first time this season it was the turn of Valtteri Bottas to lead a front-row lockout for the Silver Arrows.
Two error-free laps proved unbeatable, with teammate and championship leader Lewis Hamilton falling short of snatching pole position himself by a mere two-hundredths of a second.
Better news was to come for Hamilton, with confirmation that his chief championship rival Sebastian Vettel had been handed a three-place grid penalty for impeding Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. in Q3. The German, who qualified third-fastest in his Ferrari, will now start from sixth place.
Following errors in Azerbaijan and France where attempts to wrestle track position has ended in points losses, Vettel could barely afford another error. It was not to be – after completing a flying lap Vettel slowed for a cool-down lap and hogged the racing line as he trundled through Turn 1 while Sainz bore down at much quicker speed.
Lightning quick reactions prevented a nose-to-tail collision, but Sainz’s lap was ruined and confined him to ninth on the grid ahead of Renault teammate Nico Hülkenberg.
The drama should not detract from Bottas’ run to pole position – his second at the Red Bull Ring and the fifth of his career – which was a superb effort. The Finn has not enjoyed much in the way of luck this season after losing victory in Azerbaijan with a puncture and getting punted out of a potential podium result by Vettel last time out in France.
His qualifying performance will give him an extra boost of confidence as he seeks to reignite his own championship aspirations.
“I knew I could improve on the first run and I managed to find it. Apparently I needed it,” he said. “I just need a good clean start; no need to be a hero into turn 1. I can guarantee I am more hungry for the win than anyone on the grid.”
Hamilton came closest but fell narrowly short, but of comfort to the Mercedes team will be the three-tenths of a second margin it enjoys back to Ferrari. The performance advantage comes in part due to an engine upgrade introduced last time out in France, as well as a number of bespoke aerodynamic upgrades introduced specifically for this weekend’s Grand Prix in the Styrian mountains.
Vettel qualified third-fastest provisionally alongside teammate Kimi Räikkönen, but it likely to see his 14-point deficit in the Drivers’ Championship standings extend further.
Red Bull Racing was left disappointed, qualifying well off the pace of the leading two teams and – perhaps worse still – split by one of the Haas Ferraris. Max Verstappen put aside a mechanical drama in FP3 to qualify fifth-fastest, benefiting from a succession of tows provided by teammate Daniel Ricciardo as the team continued the use of this tactic to try and negate some of the car’s straight line speed disadvantage.
This time it was Ricciardo who had to do the duties of punching the hole in the air for Verstappen, and the Australian didn’t really want to play ball at the team’s home event.
That strategy perhaps put Ricciardo at a greater disadvantage against the more slippery Haas Ferraris, with Romain Grosjean – who has been rapid here all weekend – putting his VF-18 a superb sixth-fastest. Teammate Kevin Magnussen backed up the American team’s strong form here by qualifying eighth fastest.
Sunday’s 71-lap Austrian Formula 1 Grand Prix starts at 15:10 local time (GMT +2).
|FORMULA 1 EYETIME GROSSER PREIS VON ÖSTERREICH 2018 – QUALIFYING RESULTS|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:03.130|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:03.149||+ 0.019|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:03.464||+ 0.334|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:03.660||+ 0.530|
|5.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:03.840||+ 0.710|
|6.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:03.892||+ 0.762|
|7.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:03.996||+ 0.866|
|8.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:04.051||+ 0.921|
|9.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:04.725||+ 1.595|
|10.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:05.019||+ 1.889|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|11.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:04.845||+ 1.301|
|12.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:04.874||+ 1.330|
|13.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:04.979||+ 1.435|
|14.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:05.058||+ 1.514|
|15.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:05.286||+ 1.742|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|16.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:05.271||+ 1.191|
|17.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:05.279||+ 1.199|
|18.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:05.322||+ 1.242|
|19.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:05.366||+ 1.286|
|20.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:05.479||+ 1.399|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:04.080 posted by Lewis Hamilton
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:03.544 posted by Sebastian Vettel
- Sebastian Vettel – who provisionally qualified 3rd fastest – will serve a 3 place grid penalty for impeding Carlos Sainz Jr during Q3
- Charles Leclerc – who provisionally qualified 13th fastest – will serve a 5 place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change
Images via Scuderia Ferrari