Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton earned pole position at the Austrian Grand Prix on Saturday, as his time of one minute, 7.922 seconds was enough to secure top spot in a dramatic qualifying session.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg will start alongside the Englishman on the front row with McLaren’s Jenson Button just behind in third, after Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel were hit with five-place grid penalties.
The German duo replaced their gearboxes between the final practice session and qualifying, so their respective second- and fourth-place finishes became seventh and ninth.
Rosberg suffered a big crash in FP3, and there were plenty of eyebrows raised as to whether he’d make it to qualifying at all. Hamilton got on the track nice and early in Q1 to lead straight away with a 1:06.947, but there was still no sign of his team-mate as the clock ticked away.
And just when fans started to fear the German wouldn’t make it out, he shot out and surged to the top of the Q1 leaderboard with an exemplary 1:06.516.
A nasty crash by Torro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat brought out the red flag with just over a minute of the session to go, but all the big guns were safely through to Q2, via Formula 1:
In Q2, it was more of the same from Rosberg, who was clearly determined to make up for his five-place grid penalty.
The championship leader set the bar at 1:06.403 early on, although Hamilton crossed the line moments later two-tenths ahead of his team-mate.
Most teams then took the risk of deploying supersoft tyres rather than ultrasofts, and the gamble seemed to pay off for Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen, Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
Mercedes, however, didn’t get their cars out in time, which means they’ll start Sunday’s race on harder tyres than their rivals.
Grand Prix Times reflected on Ferrari’s and Red Bull’s advantage:
Jenson Button put in a sterling performance to reach Q3, while Valtteri Bottas also produced the goods, per F1:
The heavens then decided to open and soak the track, and that made the drivers keen to get their final laps done—particularly with heavier showers scheduled.
Cars were struggling to stay on the greasy track, yet it was Vettel who was first across the line with a 1:20.798. Hamilton soon followed five-tenths back of the German.
The top of the podium was chopping and changing all the time as conditions started to improve, with Rosberg and Ricciardo dipping under the 1:20 barrier and times getting better by the second.
Pole position was well and truly up for grabs to whoever could make best use of the conditions. Drivers started to get back on the ultrasoft tyres as the clock ticked towards the end of Q3 and set up a dramatic finale.
In the end, it was Hamilton who pulled out an excellent lap when it mattered, as he notched up a 1:07.922 to narrowly edge ahead of Rosberg.
Rosberg will start in seventh due to his five-place penalty, while Vettel will be forced to take ninth. Raikkonen and Ricciardo will make up the top five alongside Hamilton, Hulkenberg and Button, per F1:
Hamilton comes into Sunday’s race with a huge advantage over his championship rivals.
If the Englishman can pull away early on and really hammer home an advantage, then there could be no catching him. It’s all set to be an incredibly tense race in Austria.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel reigned supreme in the final practice session of the Austrian Grand Prix on Saturday, chalking up an impressive lap time of 1:07.098 seconds.
Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen romped home second one-tenth back, but the biggest story of the session was FP1 and FP2 kingpin Nico Rosberg crashing out.
The Mercedes driver has been in exemplary form all week, but he suffered a suspension failure on the second turn of his flying run and smashed into the track barriers, as Formula 1 revealed:
Mercedes mechanics now need to work hard to get Rosberg’s car ready for qualifying or the championship leader will be starting at the back of the pack on Sunday.
Rosberg’s team-mate Lewis Hamilton decided to post a flying lap despite seeing the other Mercedes’ fault, but he could only come in two-tenths back of Vettel in third.
Here’s a look at the full standings from a dramatic final practice session in Austria:
Elsewhere, Red Bull duo Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen went well and came home fourth and fifth, respectively, while Jenson Button found himself in the top 10.