Austrian Grand Prix: Valtteri Bottas takes pole position ahead of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton

The Finn will start on the front row alongside his teammate with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel back in sixth after incurring a penalty

David Treymayne
Red Bull Ring
Saturday 30 June 2018 17:29
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Bottas took pole in Austria
Bottas took pole in Austria

Valtteri Bottas ahead of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the front of the grid; Sebastian Vettel, like Hamilton, recovering from a mistake on his first run and starting on a softer tyre; the Red Bull drivers getting into a spat; and a final grid place drop for Vettel, the Austrian Grand Prix looks to have all the ingredients for fun tomorrow. That's before Romain Grosjean, who has recently been reprising his enfant terrible persona from 2012, put his Haas sixth on the grid between Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo.

The Red Bull Ring is a funny little track, nestling between the bumpy old Zeltweg airfield where the race used to be run and the majestic Osterreichring which succeeded it. There are only seven corners, but as both Hamilton and Vettel attested, it’s easy to make mistakes. Having set the pace – Hamilton in yesterday’s practice sessions and Q1, Vettel in this morning final practice and Q2, both found themselves upstaged by Bottas. The Finn is fast approaching Chris Amon levels of bad luck; in the late Sixties and early Seventies the New Zealander lost numerous races due to misfortune and unreliability, and this year Bottas might justly have felt robbed of three potential victories.

As he recalled his narrow victory here over Vettel after a super getaway that the FIA judged to be legal but which Vettel rather churlishly insisted was not – coming so soon after his behaviour in Baku that was hard to stomach – Hamilton’s team-mate insisted, “I just need a good clean start, nothing amazing, no need to be a hero in Turn 1 and then go for it." And maybe he looked at Vettel as he said this, remembering how the German spun him out of contention last Sunday at Paul Ricard. Then he added: "I can guarantee I'm more hungry for the win than anyone on the grid now, so I'm ready for it.”

It would indeed by just were he to win, but Hamilton gave a clear indication that they will be racing one another regardless of their status as team-mates.

“Valtteri deserves this,” he insisted, but added: “Obviously if you are on the front row and first, you get a clear view, but if you are second or third or fourth it makes no difference whether it’s a team-mate or a rival ahead of you, you’re still racing.”

Both Mercedes drivers have been happy all weekend with upgrades that the team bought here, their biggest thus far in a season in which Ferrari have led development; the package comprised revised sidepods and barge boards to enhance aerodynamics and rear-end stability and thus tyre wear, and complemented the new spec 2.1 engines introduced last weekend.

Bottas will start from pole on Sunday 

“The initial feeling is they really worked well,” Bottas reported of the changes, “so the team have done a really good job on that. The rear end of the car especially felt really stable.”

This afternoon he said that the balance was exceptional too, which helped him to vault ahead of Hamilton and Vettel.

"The car felt so good. In the last run I knew there was a tenth to improve from the first run – I managed to find it, and apparently I needed it."

Hamilton said in practice that his car was even better than the one in which he won last weekend in France, but cursed the mistake that cost him dear on his first run in Q3. As Bottas lapped in 1m 03.264s, Hamilton left himself a big recovery job to do with 1m 03.797s after getting sideways in turn 1 and messing up Turn 3.

Hamilton trailed his teammate 

“I wasn’t too happy with that, and Valtteri did a stunning lap,” he admitted. “But I was really happy with the second one. My car was quite good all through qualifying and it was obviously very close between all of us, but then I made that mistake. When you don’t have that first run as a banker you have to scratch on the second one, so it always helps to get the first one in. But my second one was pretty good, and it’s still a 1-2 for the team.”

As Bottas found the tenth he needed to keep pole, with a super lap of 1m 03.130s, Hamilton likewise did a great job to slice six-tenths off his previous best with 1m 03.149s, losing out by 0.019s or the equivalent of 1.3 metres over the lap. It was Mercedes’ 175th pole position.

Ferrari were left a little breathless. Vettel’s first-run mistake cost him dear and left him momentarily down in seventh place, but he too recovered well as 1m 03.464s lifted him to third.

“I think my time was representative of our pace,” he admitted. “There was a little bit more in me but it was a tough start to Q3 after my error because I knew I had to put a lap in otherwise I would start far back, but we didn’t have enough pace in hand to be a threat today. But we have a stronger pace for the race, and I’ll start on a different tyre compound, so we’ll see what happens.”

Vettel will start from sixth 

Unfortunately, what happened before that was a three grid place drop after the session, when he was adjudged to have impeded Carlos Sainz’s Renault during the Spaniard’s second run. That shuffled the order to Bottas, Hamilton; Kimi Raikkonen, Max Verstappen; Romain Grosjean, Daniel Ricciardo; Vettel, Kevin Magnussen.

Where Bottas, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Verstappen will start the race on Pirelli’s supersoft tyres, Vettel and Ricciardo will use the ultrasofts, and should thus have a potential advantage initially.

There was dissent due to miscommunication in the Red Bull camp as Verstappen and Ricciardo began their final runs, especially as they were separated by interloper Grosjean, whom cynics might accuse of finding some much-needed pace after talk that his ride with Haas is in jeopardy for 2019.

Each driver in each team takes a turn race by race to be the one ahead or the follower. Verstappen was the one ahead last weekend, and now it was Ricciardo’s turn. But the latter had done two runs initially, to Verstappen’s one, and was now attempting a third. That situation had not previously been discussed within the team, so there was confusion. Ricciardo was going slowly, wanting to follow Verstappen, who wasn’t playing.

Bottas will start from pole

“What’s going on?” the Dutchman demanded to know. He was told to overtake Ricciardo, who himself was told to get on with it but replied that he didn’t want to be the one “punching a hole” through the air.

Both refused to do as instructed. "No,” the Dutchman said, “last weekend I was in front, now he's in front. Come on, man."

Told once again to pass Ricciardo, he said, “"No. It's discipline."

In the end Verstappen did go ahead and improved his lap time but not his fifth place on the grid. Ricciardo did not improve, and only Vettel was less happy afterwards.

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