Bottas heads Mercedes front row lockout in Austria

Pole sitter Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W11 in parc ferme. 04.07.2020.
© XPB 

Valtteri Bottas claimed the first pole position of the 2020 F1 world championship season, beating his team mate Lewis Hamilton by a narrow advantage despite going off on his final qualifying lap at the Red Bull Ring.

It means Mercedes claim the first front row lockout of the season, miles ahead of Red Bull's Max Verstappen in third. A tremendous final effort by Lando Norris put the McLaren ahead of Alexander Albon on the grid for tomorrow's Austrian Grand Prix.

However it was a stormy afternoon for Ferrari, with Charles Leclerc only able to qualify in seventh place and Sebastian Vettel failing to make the cut at the end of Q2 leaving him starting from 11th place on the grid.

Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W11.

After a dull, grey and damp Friday, things were looking much brighter on Saturday afternoon with the sun playing peekaboo from blue skies overhead amid the picture postcard white clouds milling harmlessly around Spielberg.

Q1: Verstappen ahead of Bottas and Hamilton

First into action were the Alfa Romeos of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen, joined the repaired Williams of Nicholas Latifi following the rookie's accident in final practice. Giovinazzi set the initial benchmark of 1:05.478s, just a tenth ahead of his veteran team mate.

Before long the advance party was joined by the rest of the 20 runners and Lance Stroll put Racing Point at the top with a time of 1:04.678s ahead of AlphaTauri's Daniil Kvyat. Tha Canadian's time at the top was briefed before Max Verstappen put Red Bull in control with a lap clocking in at 1:04.326 follwoed by McLaren's Carlos Sainz and Racing Point's Sergio Perez. Sebastian Vettel's first foray was only good enough for fourth ahead of Lando Norris in the second McLaren.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were among of last of the drivers to join the fray, Mercedes having scrambled to fix an issue on Bottas' car that had been spotted at the last minute. The Finn's first tour wasn't one of the best, and he slotted into fourth ahead of Vettel, while Hamilton started tentatively but was soon up to second place just over a tenth shy of Verstappen's effort.

After the first runs, the teams looking in jeopardy of elimination were Haas, Alfa Romeo and Williams. George Russell's next push lap elevated the Williams into 15th place and temporary safety by just eight thousandths of a second from Giovinazzi, but with two minutes remaining in the session it was still far too early for anyone to consider themselves safely through to Q2.

Stroll demonstrated how volatile the situation was by taking the lead from Verstappen by 0.017s, only for the Dutch driver to respond with an even better 1:04.024s which was just enough to keep him ahead of improved efforts from Bottas and Hamilton. Not that Red Bull principal was feeling confident by the success: "You can see they haven’t wound up their engine yet," he told Sky Sports F1. "They’re still pacing themselves. They lull you into a false sense of hope at the moment."

By the time the chequered flag flew, Stroll was left in a very creditable fourth ahead of Charles Leclerc, Sainz, Perez and Vettel, with Daniel Ricciardo the best of the Renaults in ninth place ahead of AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly. At the other end, Russell's fine effort had nonetheless been pushed back down the order by improved times from the two Haas cars: Romain Grosjean edged his team mate to progress to the second round which left his team mate Kevin Magnussen joining Russell, Giovinazzi, Raikkonen and Latifi stuck in the elimination zone.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF1000 practices a pit stop.

Q2: Mercedes rise to the top as Vettel falters

Mercedes didn't hang around at the start of Q2 and both cars were quickly out on track on soft tyres along with Stroll and Sainz, while Verstappen was the exception to opt for the medium compound.

Hamilton immediately took charge with a lap of 1:03.325s a full two tenths clear of Bottas followed by Norris, Stroll, Perez, Sainz, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Leclerc and Vettel in the top ten, leaving Gasly, Kvyat, Esteban Ocon, Romain Grosjean. Alexander Albon was last to come out set a time, seemingly suffering an issue with the Red Bull which meant he was only fast enough for 13th after a messy first effort.

The second and final runs did see Hamilton improve his time, but not by enough to hold on to the top of the timesheets from his team mate who recorded a best lap of 1:03.015s. There was also very good news for Albon who got a much better run this time and jumped up to third place, while his team mate Verstappen did came back out on soft tyres this time but was able to abort his run secure in the knowledge he was safely through to Q3. That decision means he will start Sunday's race on the earlier set of mediums, a possible crucial strategic advantage.

However Albon's late improvement was an unequivocal disaster for Vettel, who was bumped out of the top ten and into elimination along with Gasly, Kvyat, Ocon and Grosjean. It was a shock for Ferrari, who had been braced for a weak start to the season but not quite as off the pace as this. "That's crazy," Leclerc said when told he'd only just scrapped through in tenth, a full second slower than the two Mercedes runners.

Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W11.

Q3: Bottas pips Hamilton, Norris splits the Bulls

Matters of tyre compounds for the start of the race now out of the way, it was time to get back to the simple question of who could punch in the fastest lap when it mattered.

First to post a time in Q3 was Bottas with a new lap record of 1:02.939s, too hot for Hamilton to match although he was still almost half a second quicker than Verstappen who was himself three tenths quicker than Albon, Perez, Sainz and Leclerc, with Norris aborting his first run due to a settings issue and Stroll and Ricciardo biding their time in the garage in preparation for a single do-or-die run at the end of the session.

Hamilton put everything into his final lap but still ended up 12 hundredths of a second slower than Bottas, who went off off into the gravel on his final flying lap - not that it did him any harm. Verstappen held on to third place, but the Red Bull grip on the second row of the grid was shattered by Norris punching the fourth best time of Q3 to push Albon down to fifth alongside Perez. Leclerc couldn't improve upon seventh one second off pole, with Sainz eighth and Stroll pulling into pit lane without completing a lap leaving him ninth ahead of Ricciardo who was among sveral drivers who got held up by the yellow flag for Bottas' brief excursion.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 and team mate Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 W11 in qualifying parc ferme.

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