Austrian Grand Prix 2015: Lewis Hamilton on the front foot after bizarre ending to qualifying

Both Hamilton and Mercedes rival Nico Rosberg went off on their final runs

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The Independent Online

Lewis Hamilton secured pole position for Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg despite both drivers coming off the track in qualifying. On a short, nine-corner track where the gaps between teams tend to close up and much had been expected of Ferrari and Williams, the Mercedes drivers came closest to beating themselves.

Rosberg had the upper hand in the first two parts of qualifying heading Hamilton comfortably in the first, and by almost four tenths of a second in the second. But in the first runs in the final session Hamilton narrowly beat Rosberg, setting up a shoot-out for pole position on their final runs. Hamilton did enough but as he braked for Turn 1 on the final lap,his car snapped sideways and spun off the road.

“It was really quite a bad qualifying session all around for me,” said Hamilton, relieved to have another pole that brought him equal on 45 with Sebastian Vettel. “I was off Nico by three or four tenths each session and just didn’t have the confidence. So, I’m really grateful that I at least got that first decent lap in Q3 and that the third one was then much better. Then I don’t know exactly what went on but obviously I locked the rears and it snapped around… I definitely do that quite often in this car. Not sure why. Got big feet I think!”

 

Rosberg thought he was on a decent final lap until he got to the penultimate corner, where he lost the back end of his car and left long black lines of rubber. “I knew the gap to Lewis was two-tenths before that,” he said, “and I was exactly two-tenths up, so I was equal with his lap time until two corners from the end. So, that meant that I had to take a little bit more risk and I just overdid it.”

As Mercedes tweeted, it was a bizarre way in which to lock-out the front row. “Unfortunately they were a bit too quick,”  said Ferrari’s Vettel, who was third ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa. “We tried everything. It looked good throughout practice, but I guess generally the Mercedes-powered cars seem to be able to turn up the performance quite a bit in qualifying. Overall, I’m happy with third, but I would have loved to be a bit closer.”

Vettel was, however, only four-tenths off Hamilton, while last year’s surprise pole-sitter Massa took fourth ahead of Le Mans winner Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India and Massa’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Teenage rookie Max Verstappen continued his hugely impressive progress by taking seventh place.

The race should be closer as Ferrari generally seem to have better pace than in qualifying. Hamilton is certainly expecting a fight. “Ferrari have really shown some great pace this weekend, as have the Williams,” he said. “So that means that it’s going to be a tough race. I don’t think the tyres are going to be too much of a problem, but every little bit of time will count.”

Red Bull were once setting all the benchmarks, but as both of Dietrich Mateschitz’s cars got 10 grid place penalties on the circuit he owns after needing their fifth new Renault engines of the year, the energy drink magnate could not stop his frustration and anger boiling over.

“Last year we at least could secure second in the world championship and score three wins, but this season we are nowhere,” he said.

Red Bull’s problems were minor compared to McLaren’s as Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso each received 25 grid place penalties for using more than four Honda engines so far. Each will start from the back of the grid, then take time penalties in the race in lieu of the places they still ‘owe’ in a race of 20 drivers.

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