Valtteri Bottas survived a high-speed spin as he upstaged Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton with a sizzling display Saturday to claim pole position for Sunday’s delayed season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.
The Finnish driver outpaced the six-time champion with a best lap in qualifying in one minute and 2.939 seconds and then survived an ‘off’ into the gravel and a spin on his final lap to remain 0.012 seconds clear of the Briton.
It was Bottas’ third pole at the Austrian Grand Prix and the 12th of his career, a feat that followed Hamilton’s clean sweep of the three practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning.
“It feels really good – I’ve missed this feeling,” said Bottas.
“The qualifying shakes! It’s something special when you push the car to the limit and I’ve been waiting for a long time – we seem to be in our own league.”
Hamilton said: “A great job by Valtteri and it’s a great start to the season. I think we show year on year that we are the best team – because we are open-minded, keep with the times and nobody is too stubborn to admit they are wrong.”
Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull, half a second adrift of the two newly-painted ‘black arrows’ cars whose dominating performance delivered a 65th front row lock out for the team, equalling Ferrari’s record.
“I’m happy to be P3,” said Verstappen. “But we have a different tyre — so it’s going to be interesting.”
Lando Norris was an impressive fourth for McLaren ahead of Alex Albon in the second Red Bull and Sergio Perez who was sixth in Racing Point’s ‘pink Mercedes’.
Charles Leclerc was a disappointed seventh for Ferrari ahead of his future team-mate Carlos Sainz in the second McLaren, Lance Stroll in the second Racing Point and Daniel Ricciardo of Renault.
On a warm, sunlit afternoon in the Styrian Alps, Verstappen shone in Q1 before Mercedes found their rhythm. Five drivers were eliminated led by Kevin Magnussen of Haas, in 16th along with George Russell for the improved Williams team, and Antonio Giovinazzi and his Alfa Romeo team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Canadian Nicholas Latifi, who crashed heavily in the second Williams in Saturday morning’s third and final practice session, was 20th – a tough baptism for the rookie on a day of encouragement for the ‘up for sale’ Williams team.
Bottas and Hamilton were first out on track for Q2 ahead of Stroll, the ‘black arrows’ running on softs while behind them, when he emerged, Verstappen took to medium compound tyres.
The champion quickly set the pace in 1:03.325, two-tenths clear of Bottas while Verstappen, seeking a hat-trick of Austrian triumphs was adrift by seven-tenths.
Albon, in the second Red Bull pushed four-time champion Sebastian Vettel out of the top ten in his Ferrari.
The German’s team-mate Charles Leclerc scrambled through in 10th. “That’s crazy,” he reacted. “It’s a surprise. I thought we had more in hand than that,” said Vettel. “But we should make up some ground tomorrow in the race…”
Out with Vettel, in his final Ferrari season, went the Alpha Tauri paid Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat ahead of two Frenchmen Renault’s Esteban Ocon and Romain Grosjean of Haas.
Verstappen was eighth, but slowed on his final lap on softs to ensure he starts Sunday’s race on medium tyres, a tactical decision to enhance the team’s race strategy.
When the top-ten shootout began, Bottas topped Hamilton on the first runs by one-tenth in 1:02.939 with Verstappen third by six-tenths – suggesting it was an in-team scrap for pole for the two Mercedes men.
On his second run, Bottas ran into a gravel trap at Turn Four and then spun across the grass as he rejoined, flinging debris asunder. Hamilton was unable to take advantage and had to settle for second.