SPIELBERG: Valtteri Bottas (pix) on Saturday pipped Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to pole position at the season-opening Austrian Formula One Grand Prix while rivals Ferrari came close to total disaster in qualifying.
Finn Bottas clocked 1 minute 2.939 seconds behind closed doors on the 4.318-kilometre Red Bull Ring for his 12th career pole.
He finished .012 of a second ahead of world champion Hamilton, who had topped all three practice sessions but fell just short when it mattered.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who won the last two Austrian races, was third, more than half a second back. McLaren’s Lando Norris will start alongside him on row two by qualifying an impressive fourth for McLaren.
Ferrari meanwhile saw Sebastian Vettel, in his last season with the Scuderia, go out in Q2 in 11th place. Their misery was complete when Charles Leclerc managed only seventh.
“I thought we would be a little faster but the others were able to improve. I had some problems with the rear axle,” Vettel told Sky TV.
But he added defiantly that Ferrari should be able to rely on their race pace on Sunday, saying: "Tomorrow is another day. Things will look very different. It is not a good result but we have to look ahead."
Bottas could meanwhile afford to ride through the gravel in his final fast lap as Hamilton in the dying seconds did not quite manage to better his time from earlier in Q3.
“I’m so impressed. It's truly an amazing car to drive,” Bottas said, speaking with a face mask on the home straight owing to a strict hygiene protocol.
“I have missed this feeling. I’ve obviously been preparing for this for a long time and it feels so good. Our team have done an amazing job, we seem to be in our own league.”
Hamilton said: “This is a great start to the season. I think we show year on year that we continue to be the best team, we're constantly pushing the boundaries and there's not really any politics within the team.”
Hamilton and Bottas were using Mercedes' innovative Dual Assistant Steering (DAS) system as an appeal from Red Bull was rejected in Spielberg and the system can be used until the end of the season before being outlawed from 2021.
Red Bull suggested that the DAS system was more than just a steering system but stewards ruled against them late Friday, allowing Mercedes to continue with the system which reduces tyre wear in straights and helps cars in turns.
Verstappen acknowledged that Mercedes were “on another level” but with a different tyre choice he could make things interesting.
“I expect we are a bit better in the race. I'm the only one on a different tyre, I’m looking forward to it and we have nothing to lose. I’ll try to make it as difficult as possible for them,” Verstappen said.
The Austrian GP is the first in a calendar shaken up by the coronavirus pandemic. The season was originally due to start in mid-March in Australia.
Eight races in Europe have been scheduled to date, all behind closed doors and subject to strict health protocols. F1 officials hope to stage at least 15 races this season.
Jean Todt, president of ruling body the FIA, called the start of the season amid the pandemic “an extraordinary achievement.”
On Sunday, drivers will also show their support in the fight against racism as their association the GPDA said that they "stand united with their teams against racism and prejudice, at the same time embracing the principles of diversity, equality and inclusion and supporting F1’s commitment to these."
The BBC reported that all drivers will wear t-shirts with the writing "end racism" but it remains unclear whether all drivers would also take a knee before the race as each man is "free to choose" in which way to show his support for ending racism, according to the GPDA. – dpa