Valtteri Bottas claimed pole position for Formula 1’s season-opening Austrian Grand Prix as Mercedes crushed its rivals at the Red Bull Ring.
Having finished 1-2 through all three practice sessions Mercedes was the firm favourite for top spot but the three-part qualifying hour merely underlined the speed of the W11.
Lewis Hamilton had fronted the three sessions but when it came to Q3 Bottas turned the tables by clocking a time of 1:02.939s in the opening push laps.
Bottas’ hopes of finding an improvement went astray when he ran wide exiting Turn 4 and spun through the gravel and grass.
It opened the door for Hamilton to seize the initiative but he fell just 0.012s shy of demoting his team-mate.
It marked the 12th pole position of Bottas’ career and his third in the last four years in Austria.
Red Bull tops tight best-of-the-rest
Max Verstappen preserved Red Bull’s status from final practice as the fastest non-Mercedes driver as he finished third, though faced a chasm of over half a second to Bottas, emphasising the advantage of the W11.
Lando Norris impressed for McLaren as he captured his best-ever qualifying result in fourth, while Alexander Albon and Racing Point’s Sergio Perez logged identical times.
Albon and Perez will share the third row of the grid while Lance Stroll underlined Racing Point’s gains as he took ninth, narrowly behind Carlos Sainz Jr. a year on from a double Q1 elimination for the team.
Daniel Ricciardo capped the top 10 for Renault but his sole Q3 push lap was scuppered by yellow flags when Bottas went off.
Ferrari had played down its expectations pre-season and during the build-up to the delayed campaign revealed it had revised its development programme, with a raft of updates set for the third round in Hungary.
It was therefore braced for a struggle at the Red Bull Ring – but even so it surely did not anticipate being dragged into the thick of the midfield fight to such an extent.
At a circuit where he claimed pole position 12 months ago Charles Leclerc struggled to seventh, his best effort nine-tenths down on that Q3 lap from last year.
Team-mate Sebastian Vettel did not even make it as far as Q3.
Ferrari’s lack of pace, allied to a small mistake at Turn 1, left him down in 11th position in Q2, a session in which Leclerc scraped through.
Both AlphaTauri drivers joined Vettel in failing to make it through Q3, with Pierre Gasly in front of Daniil Kvyat, while Esteban Ocon was 14th, ahead of Haas pair Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen.
Russell ensures Williams not slowest team
Williams spent 2019 rooted to the rear of the grid and while it suffered another double Q1 elimination, its 23rd in succession, this was a far brighter showing.
Lead driver George Russell was within a tenth of a second of securing progression through to Q2 and managed to eclipse both Alfa Romeo drivers.
It was a poor result for the Switzerland-based team which struggled during pre-season testing after a decline through 2019.
It qualified as the slowest overall team with Antonio Giovinazzi edging ahead of Kimi Raikkonen despite scuppering his final Q1 push lap when he went into the Turn 4 gravel.
Debutant Nicholas Latifi finished as the slowest runner, half a second behind 2007 World Champion Raikkonen.
Sunday’s 71-lap Austrian Grand Prix is scheduled to begin at 15:10 local time (GMT +2)
|3||M. Verstappen||Red Bull||1:03.477||+0.538|
|5||A. Albon||Red Bull||1:03.868||+0.929|
|6||S. Perez||Racing Point||1:03.868||+0.929|
|9||L. Stroll||Racing Point||1:04.029||+1.090|
|18||A. Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:05.175|
|19||K. Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||1:05.224|