Lewis Hamilton stamped his authority on the Austrian hills on Friday and looked like the man to beat through final practice and the first two segments of qualifying. But it was his Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas who did the business when it mattered to snatch his first pole position of the season.
Bottas’ first run in the qualifying top 10 shootout was majestic, with the Finn finishing an incredible half a second clear of the field. Admittedly, Hamilton had made a mistake, which increased the pressure for the final run.
The reigning world champion upped the ante in that second run – but Bottas had a little more left in the tank, too – 0.019s in fact – to take a stunning pole, the fifth of his F1 career and his second in a row in Austria.
Sebastian Vettel admitted to making mistakes on both his Q3 runs as he ended up third, ahead of Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen with Max Verstappen slotting into fifth for Red Bull.
Romain Grosjean is a man in need of a good result and he made the most of a track he seems to run well at as he took sixth, ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo with Haas team mate Kevin Magnussen taking eighth. The Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10.
Here’s how the sessions unfolded at the Red Bull Ring located in the foothills of the spectacular Styrian mountains.
Williams have had a miserable campaign so far this year, with qualifying particularly painful. However, Lance Stroll gave the team some respite by sneaking into Q2 in the closing stages.
There wasn’t so much luck for Sergio Perez, the only non-Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull driver to score a podium this season, as the Force India man failed to extricate himself from the drop zone.
Fernando Alonso left it late to leap to safety, but his McLaren team mate couldn’t repeat the trick. He ended up 15th, with the other Williams of Sergey Sirotkin and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson joining him for an early bath.
Up front, Ferrari opted for a different tyre strategy than rivals Mercedes and Red Bull as they sent Vettel and Raikkonen out on supersoft tyres rather than the ultrasoft tyres.
They had no trouble getting through, with Raikkonen third and Vettel sixth, with Mercedes continuing their dominance in the Austrian hills with Bottas getting to within a tenth of pace-setter Hamilton.
Mercedes and Red Bull mixed things up in Q2 by opting to run the supersofts, while rivals Ferrari went straight to the ultrasoft. Hamilton and Bottas slotted into the top two slots with ease, but it was so easy for Red Bull.
Verstappen slotted into fifth, but Ricciardo’s first effort was only good enough for 11th as he struggled for front grip. After a cool-down lap, he went again and improved to ninth – but was forced to go out again.
Everyone bar Verstappen and Grosjean – such was the pace of Haas – headed out for a second run, with Vettel fitting a fresh set of ultrasofts to snatch the quickest time.
However, the four-time world champion is under investigation for allegedly impeding Sainz, who was on a hot lap when he appeared to get baulked by the slowing Ferrari.
Ricciardo went slightly quicker to take eighth, while the Renaults of Sainz and Hulkenberg hauled themselves out of the drop zone in the closing moments at the expense of Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.
Leclerc was a strong 13th, seven places higher than Ericsson, but he will start Sunday’s race 18th having picked up a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change after problems in FP3.
Alonso looked like he might edge into the top 10 shootout, but ran well wide at the penultimate corner and did the same thing at the final corner. He exited qualifying along with Stroll.
Bottas appeared to have ripped up the formbook in the early part of Q3 as he topped the times by a staggering half a second. However, replays showed Hamilton got out of shape at the top of the hill at Turn 3 while Vettel ran wide at Turn 4, leading both to lose a bunch of time.
Raikkonen popped into second to make it a Finnish one-two with Grosjean delivering a stunning lap to take fourth, nearly one second clear of Haas team mate Magnussen in eighth.
There was tension at Red Bull as Ricciardo was told to “get on with it” on his out-lap after the Australian said there was no point “punching a hole” and giving a tow to team mate Verstappen.
Neither could beat the Haas of Grosjean after the first run, slotting into sixth and seventh respectively. After stopping for a fresh set of tyres, everyone headed back out for a final run.
Vettel moved up into second, but he was no match for the Mercedes – who both improved. However, it was Bottas, rather than Hamilton, who nailed the best lap of the day.
The Finn secured his first pole position of the season, 0.019s ahead of Hamilton, with Vettel and Raikkonen locking out the second row for Ferrari. So often the bridesmaid in 2018, can Bottas finally get his first win of 2018? He’s certainly well placed to do just that.