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Bottas pips Hamilton for pole at Austrian F1 GP

Last updated on: July 04, 2020 22:05 IST
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Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton wearing protective face masks during the press conference after qualifying of the Austrian F1 Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Styria, Austria on Saturday

IMAGE: Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton wearing protective face masks during the press conference after qualifying of the Austrian F1 Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Styria, Austria on Saturday. Photograph: Mario Renzi/Pool via Reuters

Finland's Valtteri Bottas will start the Formula One season on pole position after denying Mercedes teammate and six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton the top slot in Austria on Saturday.

The front-row lockout by Mercedes equalled Ferrari's record of 65, and the "Black Arrows" -- their new livery a statement against racism -- were in a private duel at the scenic Red Bull Ring.

Hamilton had started as favourite after dominating all three practice sessions but Bottas shifted up a gear just when it mattered.

"It feels really good, I've missed this feeling," said the Finn of a third career Austrian GP pole after 2017 and 2018, and one secured despite tracking across gravel and grass on his final flying lap.

 

"Our team have done an amazing job, we seem to be in our own league."

Hamilton was a mere 0.012 slower than the Finn's time of one minute 02.939 seconds, set on his first run, after lapping fastest on Friday and Saturday's final practice at the scenic Red Bull Ring.

"The car was great, I just didn't manage to put the greatest laps together," said the Briton.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen, winner of the past two races at his team's home circuit, qualified third -- half a second slower than Hamilton -- but as the sole driver in the top 10 on the medium tyres.

McLaren's Lando Norris, at 20 the youngest man in the race, will line up an impressive fourth.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during practice, as F1 resumes at the Austrian Grand Prix in Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Styria in Austria on Saturday

IMAGE: Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton during practice, as F1 resumes at the Austrian Grand Prix in Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Styria in Austria on Saturday. Photograph: Mark Thompson/Pool via Reuters

Ferrari, championship runners-up last season, had a nightmare afternoon.

Four-times champion Sebastian Vettel failed to reach the top 10 shootout, starting 11th, while Charles Leclerc qualified seventh after taking pole last year.

"Of course, it's a surprise, we thought we had a little bit more in hand but it seems the others were probably running a little bit more fuel or were more conservative in practice," Vettel said.

"I wasn't so happy with the car, more oversteer in entry than I would like. But we will see, I think tomorrow is a different picture."

Red Bull's Alexander Albon qualified fifth with Mexican Sergio Perez sixth for Racing Point, whose pink-liveried car is a lookalike of the title-winning 2019 Mercedes.

Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who is taking Vettel's place at Ferrari next year, qualified eighth for McLaren with Racing Point's Lance Stroll ninth and Australian Daniel Ricciardo 10th for Renault.

At the slower end of the grid, there was cheer for former champions Williams, last overall in 2019, with George Russell qualifying 17th and ahead of both Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeos as well as rookie teammate Nicholas Latifi.

"Today has exceeded my expectations, I knew we had made a step forward, but I didn’t think we would be in this position," said the Briton, who was just 0.003 slower than Haas's Kevin Magnussen.

"We have made a big step forward, and this is the closest we have been on pure pace."

Sunday's race is the first major global sporting event since the COVID-19 pandemic, with the 10 teams working in isolation and closely-controlled conditions for health and safety.

Williams' Nicholas Latifi after a crash during practice the Austrian Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Styria, Austria  

IMAGE: Williams' Nicholas Latifi after a crash during practice the Austrian Grand Prix at Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Styria, Austria. Photograph: Leonhard Foeger/Pool/Reuters

Earlier, six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton completed a sweep of Austrian Grand Prix practice on Saturday, with his Mercedes team again one-two on the timesheets while Canadian rookie Nicholas Latifi crashed his Williams.

Hamilton, who led team-mate Valtteri Bottas in both of Friday's sessions, resumed his position at the top with a fastest effort of one minute 04.130 seconds around the Red Bull Ring.

Bottas was 0.147 slower on a sunny day, with Mercedes given a boost overnight when stewards rejected a Red Bull protest against the champions' new Dual Axis Steering (DAS) system.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who will be chasing a hat-trick of Austrian wins on Sunday, was third fastest -- but 0.413 slower than Hamilton -- with Mexican Sergio Perez fourth for Racing Point whose pink car is a 2019 Mercedes lookalike.

"We've made progress with the car overnight, I think it's more representative of where we're at," said Red Bull boss Christian Horner, whose team have never started on pole at their home circuit.

"Mercedes look very strong."

Latifi, the only newcomer on the grid this season, brought out the red flags when he speared into the tyre wall at turn one and spun.

The Canadian reported he was fine but the car's medical light came on and his session was ended.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who started on pole at the Red Bull Ring last year, was fifth fastest and ahead of Verstappen's teammate Alexander Albon with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel in seventh place.

Ferrari have acknowledged design issues with their car but will not have performance upgrades ready until the third round in Hungary.

Leclerc said on Friday they were losing speed in the corners.

"The balance was quite good but the overall grip of the car -- I guess it’s not only one thing, it’s also the full package that we need to upgrade," he said.

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