Spielberg, Austria - Valtteri Bottas has roared to his first pole position of the season, and the fifth of his Formula One career, ahead of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in a tense qualifying for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The softly-spoken Finn clocked a record fastest lap of 1m03.130 to outstrip Hamilton by 0.019s as Mercedes reeled off a third front row lockout of the season. It was a repeat, for Bottas, of his success in 2017 when he claimed pole at the picturesque Red Bull Ring and went on to win.
Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari claimed third with a late fast lap in the final minute to push team-mate Kimi Raikkonen down to fourth, while Max Verstappen was fifth for Red Bull ahead of Romain Grosjean of Haas, Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull and Kevin Magnussen in the second Ferrari-powered Haas.
Carlos Sainz, who claimed he was blocked by Vettel during Q2, was ninth ahead of his Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg.
'The car felt so good'
"Now I just need a good clean start," said Bottas afterwards. "Nothing amazing, no need to be a hero in Turn 1 and then I can go for it. I can guarantee I am more hungry to win than anyone now, so I am ready for it.
"I knew there was a tenth to improve in for the last run and I managed to find it and apparently I needed it!”
He did - as Hamilton pushed him to the limit.
"Not too bad," said Hamilton. "I am happy. Valtteri did a stunning lap with the first run and I made a bit of a mistake - I’m happy with the second run and it is a good result for the team."
Vettel said: "It wasn’t easy to put it together and I had a mistake on the first lap. I knew I had to put in a banker lap to make it safe and qualify in a proper position - and I think we have a good chance in the race."
On a near-perfect summer’s afternoon in the Styrian Alps, the air temperature was 24 degrees and the track 34 Celsius as qualifying began with forecasts warning of a 40 percent chance of rain.
After being outpaced by Vettel by 0.029 seconds in the morning’s final free session, Hamilton was keen to regain the initiative on a circuit where Mercedes has dominated, winning every one of the four races since it returned to the calendar.
In Q1, he led the way ahead of team-mate Bottas, Raikkonen and Grosjean with Vettel content to be fifth behind Verstappen. Out went Stoffel Vandoorne, Sergio Perez, Sergey Sirotkin, Brendon Hartley and Marcus Ericsson.
Bottas and Hamilton immediately posted record-breaking laps in Q2 to lead Vettel by almost two-tenths on their first runs. They all chose ultra-softs for their second runs, Vettel improving to go top, but Mercedes not troubling the scorer in second and third as Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc, who will be taking a grid penalty for a new gearbox in his Sauber, Fernando Alonso and Stroll missed the top-ten shootout.
As Ricciardo led the way in Q3, Vettel was reported to the stewards for an incident in Q2 in which it was claimed, by Sainz, that the German had baulked him dangerously.
On track, Bottas made the most of scruffy first laps by Hamilton and Vettel to go fastest early before the final drama.
1 Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Mercedes - 1m03.130s
2 Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes - 1:03.149
3 Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari - 1:03.464
4 Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari - 1:03.660
5 Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Red Bull - 1:03.840
6 Romain Grosjean (France) Haas - 1:03.892
7 Daniel Ricciardo (Austria) Red Bull - 1:03.996
8 Kevin Magnussen (Denmark) Haas - 1:04.051
9 Carlos Sainz (Spain) Renault - 1:04.725
10 Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Renault - 1:05.019
11 Esteban Ocon (France) Force India - 1:04.845
12 Pierre Gasly (France) Toro Rosso - 1:04.874
13 Charles Leclerc (Monaco) Sauber - 1:04.979
14 Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren - 1:05.058
15 Lance Stroll (Canada) Williams - 1:05.286
16 Stoffel Vandoorne (Belgium) McLaren - 1:05.271
17 Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India - 1:05.279
18 Sergey Sirotkin (Russia) Williams - 1:05.322
19 Brendon Hartley (New Zealand) Toro Rosso - 1:05.366
20 Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber - 1:05.479Reuters