Austrian F1 Grand Prix 2018 Qualifying: Valtteri Bottas Leads Mercedes Lockout

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2018

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 30: Valtteri Bottas driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 30, 2018 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas smashed the track record to qualify on pole for the Austrian Grand Prix on Saturday.

The Finn produced a stunning lap of one minute, 3.130 seconds when it mattered most at the end of Q3, beating team-mate Lewis Hamilton in a Mercedes front-row lockout. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will begin in third and fourth, respectively, for Ferrari.

Earlier in the day, Vettel was on top in final practice, while Friday was dominated by Mercedes, with Hamilton leading a Silver Arrows 1-2 in both practice runs.

Here's a recap of the action from the Red Bull Ring, setting up a fascinating race on Sunday.

    

Qualifying Recap

This is how the grid is shaping up for Sunday's race; as reported by Andrew Benson of BBC Sport, Charles Leclerc was hit with a five-place grid penalty due to a change of gearbox:

While the early stages of qualifying aren't typically exciting, there were a couple of big names eliminated in Q1.

Sergio Perez encountered traffic on his last lap and was only able to muster 17th in his Force India, while McLaren man Stoffel Vandoorne also failed to make the cut, coming home in 16th position.

As noted by journalist Phil Duncan, the latter has not been enjoying many prosperous qualifying runs this year:

In Q2 it became clear that the track record set by Vettel earlier in the day was not going to last, as Hamilton lowered the bar to 1:03.577.

Given the previous record was 1:04.070, things were beginning to get serious out on track:

At the end of Q2, some of the drivers opted to don the ultrasoft tyres, including Vettel, who moved to the top of the standings. Fernando Alonso was on course to make the top-10 shootout, but an error at the final turn cost the two-time world champion.

It meant all the big names had made their way into the final qualifying session in Austria, with the potential for fireworks in the race for pole.

In the initial runs, both Hamilton and Vettel made errors, meaning they were in second and sixth, respectively. Bottas, meanwhile, laid down a blistering marker of 1:03.264, giving the rest of the field ground to make up.

Then a couple of surprise runs from Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean shook the order up:

In the final runs, Vettel did get it together to jump up to third, while Hamilton also improved his time. However, Bottas lowered his best mark again with his last lap, meaning he'll lead off the race on Sunday.

      

FP3 Recap

Here is how things finished up in Austria in the early practice runs:

While the drivers wouldn't want to take many risks with qualifying to come later in the day, some were still having trouble negotiating some of the hefty kerbs at the Red Bull Ring.

Brandon Hartley saw a section of his front wing taken off around one of the corners and needed attention to get the car mended:

After a dominant day for Mercedes on Friday, the early exchanges on Saturday offered a chance for rival teams to respond. While Red Bull continued to be a fair way off the pace of the elite teams, Ferrari showed they might be able to provide a challenge to the Silver Arrows.

The drivers have struggled to get the best out of the ultrasoft tyre for much of the weekend, although Vettel was able to hook it up in this session, as he posted 1:04.70 to usurp Bottas and hit the top of the standings.

As noted by the team's official Twitter account, the German's mark was a new record for the Austrian circuit:

Hamilton sought to respond, although he was slower than his rival in the first sector of his lap and subsequently was 0.029 seconds short of Vettel in FP3. He will feel he has room to improve in qualifying, though.

In the latter stages of the session, there was a worrying moment for Max Verstappen:

While on a hot lap, his Red Bull inexplicably lost power, meaning his run was brought to a premature end. It will now be a challenge for his mechanics to get the Dutchman's car ready for qualifying later in the day.  

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