Lewis Hamilton congratulates Charles Leclerc, who grabbed the pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

SPIELBERG – Lewis Hamilton was handed a three-place grid penalty for the Austrian Grand Prix after stewards ruled that he had impeded Kimi Raikkonen during qualifying on Saturday.

The sanction drops the Mercedes driver from second on the grid to fifth.

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari took pole position ahead of the defending five-time world champion and series leader, and he will now have fellow 21-year-old Max Verstappen of Red Bull alongside him on the front row of the grid.

The two young tyros will start ahead of a second row made up of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes and British rookie Lando Norris, 19, of McLaren.

Hamilton will start on the third row alongside 39-year-old Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo, who had lifted a single finger at him at the time of the incident in Q1.

Hamilton was caught out during a slower lap in Q1 when he said he was unaware of Raikkonen approaching him on a flying lap.

He attempted to drive out of the way by going off track, but it was not seen as sufficient by the stewards.

Hamilton’s grid penalty reduces his chances of extending Mercedes record season-opening run of eight successive triumphs and gives Ferrari a great opportunity to land their first win in 12 races since last year’s United States Grand – won, ironically, by Raikkonen. 

The Spielberg circuit was the scene of Mercedes ‘darkest hour’ in 2018, according to team chief Toto Wolff, recalling that they failed to score a point as both drivers failed to finish.

AFP