Events

Ferrari Takes Austrian Pole, Demotion for Mercedes.

There is a meme style picture doing the rounds of social media that has a tongue-in-cheek look at the rest of the 2019 F1 season. It states that the winner of all races is Lewis Hamilton. However, it doesn’t show that Charles Leclerc took pole for the Austrian Grand Prix and that Lewis Hamilton has befouled a pretty clean record. The championship leader has copped a penalty that seems to be causing some angst in F1 circles, with a grid place penalty applied due to apparently impeding the progress of another driver, in this case Kimi Raikkonen.

Hamilton was found to be in the way of Raikkonen who was on a hot lap which, as a result of Hamilton’s attempt to clear the way, was called off by the Finn. After qualifying was completed the stewards handed out their decision. This drops Hamilton from second to fourth on the grid. It in no way affected the pace of Leclerc however, with the young driver clearly setting the pace in the qualifying sessions.

Leclerc set a new track record with a blistering 1:03.003, a full two and a half tenths quicker than Hamilton. He’ll take pole for just the second time in his career, and will start on Sunday afternoon with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen alongside him, a starting position sure to energise the beginning of the race with the two youngsters both determined to capitalise on their positions. Third place on the grid will go to Valterri Bottas, with the top three being from three different teams for the first time in 2019.

Q1 brought a different form of drama for Daniil Kvyat. On a hot lap near the end of the session he entered turn 9 to find a slow moving George Russell, with the shaken Russian bellowing “I could have KILLED him!” to the Toro Rosso garage. It mattered little as both drivers failed to move into Q2, along with Lance Stroll, Sergio Perez, and Robert Kubica. Carlos Sainz and Alexander Albon will join them at the rear of the field after grid place penalties for engine component additions.

Q2 was a world of pain for Renault, with both Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo failing to make it through, plus Hulkenberg also falls back five places due to engine component penalties. However “The Hulk” will race with a newly updated engine and be on a par with his Australian team mate as Renault held over the update to this race. Romain Grosjean went out with a broken front wing but was fast enough to claim P11. Renault will start from P14 for Ricciardo and P12 for Hulkenberg.Q3 got underway without Sebastian Vettel.  An engine air pressure line had failed and between Q2 and Q3 Ferrari battled the FIA to allow the German to compete in Q3, to no avail.

Vettel said that a large amount of bodywork had to be removed to get to the failed part and time simply wasn’t there in the break. It was good news for Haas however, with Kevin Magnussen finding form. He would have started from P5 however he’ll drop five places after a gearbox change in FP3. and he’ll start from P5. His fastest lap time was a full second off Leclerc’s. Pace, too, for McLaren and Lando Norris. The Briton showed consistency while picking up incremental increases in pace through the three sessions, and P6 will be his starting position. A delighted Norris said: “I was behind the Alfas after the first run of Q3, so I didn’t have the best banker lap, let’s say, but I managed to make a few improvements. We made a little tweak to the front wing and we managed to do a better lap come the important lap.”

P7 and P8 goes to the surprise pairing of Alfa Romeo’s Raikkonen, inside the top ten for the first time in what must seem ages for the Finn, whilst Alexander Albon will start alongside him. There’s a sense of relief for Pierra Gasly as the embattled Red Bull driver will start from P9, whilst Ferrari and Vettel, with his times in Q1 and Q2 being in the 1:03s, rounding out the top ten. The German moves up a spot however after Magnussen’s place penalty.

Leclerc said after the final session: “It’s going to be very difficult physically first because in the car it’s very, very warm, but also for the car, so it’ll all be about management of everything and hopefully a good race tomorrow.”. The forecast for the race start time of 15:10 is for temperatures close to 30 degrees Celcius, meaning the track temperatures could be looking at 50 degrees. This also means tire conservation and management will be of critical importance for the teams.

Verstappen will ignore the heat though, with the Dutchman in his highest starting position since Mexico last year.

Plus he has a large contingent of fans that have made their way to the circuit to support their hero. “The support is great,” he said. “It puts a big smile on my face of course, it’s a good motivation to have and I can’t wait for tomorrow. Hopefully I can give them a great result.” Red Bull have brought some changes to the cars for what is essentially their home-town race, and Verstappen declared that they appear to have been spot on for the pace he showed. History is on his side too, as he started from fourth and won this race last year.

The Austrian F1 GP gets underway at 15:10 local time, Sunday June 30.

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David Conole

Dave Conole is the former long-term circuit commentator for Sydney Motorsport Park, has worked trackside at the Australian F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne and is self-employed as an automotive content producer.

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