Winning pole position at the Austrian Grand Prix marked a clear statement of intent from Ferrari rookie Charles Leclerc, who smoked the opposition in an action-packed qualifying session that saw championship leader Lewis Hamilton joining a long list of drivers issued grid penalties for Sunday’s race.

Leclerc continued his pace-setting form from FP2 and FP3 to dominate proceedings on Saturday afternoon. Gone were the errors and missteps under pressure at several previous Grands Prix; the Monégasque driver was flawless around the Red Bull Ring to beat Hamilton to top spot.

Hamilton qualified second-fastest but his starting position on the front row looked far from guaranteed in the two hours after the session. The Mercedes driver was summoned to the FIA Stewards for allegedly impeding Räikkönen’s Alfa Romeo at Turn 3. Hamilton’s Mercedes was on a slow lap and holding the inside line to the right-hander, but found himself occupying the same piece of real estate Räikkönen was aiming for. He saw the Finn under approach and accelerated into the run-off at the outside of the corner but Räikkönen, initially uncertain whether Hamilton had seen him, was forced to back off and abandon his lap.

While the incident did not impact either driver’s prospects of making it out of Q1, the Stewards concluded that Hamilton failed to take sufficient action to avoid impeding Räikkönen, issuing him with a three-place grid penalty.

“Totally deserved the penalty today and have no problem accepting it,” Hamilton later wrote on Instagram. “[It] was a mistake in my behalf and I take full responsibility for it.”

“Of course I’ll be pushing for the win tomorrow,” Hamilton said in the post-qualifying media interviews. “Ultimately that is always the goal but it is not going to be easy to get close and pass the Ferraris as they have been very, very fast all weekend. Of course I’ll give it absolutely everything.”

The current championship leader has every right to be bullish about his chances given he still leads Bottas by 36 points and Vettel by 76 in the Drivers’ Championship standings. Leclerc, a further 24 points behind Vettel, is even less of a factor.

Leclerc had been in imperious form throughout qualifying and in Q3 he lowered his initial benchmark time of 1:03.208 on his final run with a lap record breaking effort of 1:03.003 to beat Hamilton to pole by two-tenths of a second.

“I changed a little bit my approach from Paul Ricard [last week] and I really felt I did a step forward,” said Leclerc. “Austria is also my favourite track, so it might fit a little bit better my driving style. I could feel it in the car, so I’m happy with this.”

Hamilton’s penalty promotes defending Austrian Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen to second on the grid, marking the first time since the Bahrain Grand Prix that a Mercedes won’t be starting from the front row.

It will be an all Silver Arrows second row, with Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton fourth, with the latter gaining a place due to a five-place grid penalty for Haas’ Kevin Magnussen (a gearbox change) who originally qualified a superb fifth-fastest. McLaren rookie Lando Norris will start from fifth on the grid.

Leclerc’s celebrations were muted somewhat due to teammate Sebastian Vettel being unable to post a time at all in Q3. The German’s SF90 suffered a mechanical problem in its air line pressure system between Q2 and Q3 and despite frantic attempts to fix it he was unable to emerge from his garage. He will start from ninth on the grid ahead of the already-penalised Magnussen.

Sixth- and seventh-fastest were the two Alfa Romeos of Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi, with the second Red Bull of Pierre Gasly one spot behind – all gain a grid position thanks to Magnussen’s penalty.

Magnussen’s teammate Romain Grosjean was unlucky not to join the Dane in Q3, just falling short of the top-ten cut-off. The Frenchman qualified eleventh-fastest ahead of Renault Nico Hülkenberg who, like Magnussen, takes a five-place grid drop although his is for a new internal combustion engine. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo was fourteenth-fastest.

Alexander Albon (Toro Rosso, 13th) and Carlos Sainz Jr (McLaren, 15th) will both start Sunday’s race from the back of the grid after taking on a raft of new power unit elements. Also penalised was Williams George Russell (19th-fastest) who, like Hamilton, earned a sanction from the Stewards for impeding Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat.

Q3 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap
1. Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari SF90 1:03.003
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10 1:03.262 + 0.259
3. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing RB15 1:03.439 + 0.436
4. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10 1:03.537 + 0.534
5. Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team VF-19 1:04.072 + 1.069
6. Lando Norris McLaren F1 Team MCL34 1:04.099 + 1.096
7. Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing C38 1:04.166 + 1.163
8. Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing C38 1:04.179 + 1.176
9. Pierre Gasly Red Bull Racing RB15 1:04.199 + 1.196
10. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF90 no time
Q2 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap*
11. Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team VF-19 1:04.490 + 1.112
12. Nico Hülkenberg Renault F1 Team RS19 1:04.516 + 1.138
13. Alexander Albon Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14 1:04.665 + 1.287
14. Daniel Ricciardo Renault F1 Team RS19 1:04.790 + 1.412
15. Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren F1 Team MCL34 1:13.601 + 10.223
Q1 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap**
16. Sergio Pérez Racing Point F1 Team RP19 1:04.789 + 0.982
17. Lance Stroll Racing Point F1 Team RP19 1:04.832 + 1.025
18. Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14 1:05.324 + 1.517
19. George Russell ROKiT Williams Racing FW42 1:05.904 + 2.097
20. Robert Kubica ROKiT Williams Racing FW42 1:06.206 + 2.399

* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 lap time of 1:03.378 posted by Charles Leclerc
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 lap time of 1:03.807 posted by Max Verstappen

Post-Qualifying Penalties:

  • Lewis Hamilton – who provisionally qualified 2nd-fastest – will drop three grid places for impeding Kimi Räikkönen during Q1.
  • Kevin Magnussen – who provisionally qualified 5th-fastest – will drop five grid places for an unscheduled gearbox change.
  • Nico Hülkenberg – who provisionally qualified 12th-fastest – will drop five grid places for the use of an additional power unit element.
  • Alexander Albon – who provisionally qualified 13th-fastest – will start from the back of the grid for multiple power unit element changes.
  • Carlos Sainz Jr. – who provisionally qualified 15th-fastest – will start from the back of the grid for multiple power unit element changes.
  • George Russell – who provisionally qualified 19th-fastest – will drop three grid places for impeding Daniil Kvyat during Q1.

Image via Scuderia Ferrari

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.