Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton achieved pole position for Formula 1’s first Styrian Grand Prix ahead of Max Verstappen in a wet and wild qualifying session at the Red Bull Ring.
Carlos Sainz Jr will start in third position for McLaren, with last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix winner Valtteri Bottas finishing fourth.
Despite fears heavy rain would lead to a washout on Saturday after the cancellation of FP3, qualifying got going 46 minutes later than scheduled as a break in the weather meant the action could take place on the extreme wet-weather tyres.
The fluctuations in the weathers’ intensity meant Q2 had the fastest times of the three segments, but still came down to the final runs in Q3 as the water cleared from a late-Q2 rain surge.
Hamilton held the top position ahead of the final runs but was under significant pressure from Verstappen, who saved two big snaps of oversteer at Turns 6 and 8 on his final flying lap but could not save a slide exiting the penultimate corner.
Although the Red Bull Racing driver managed to avoid a full 360 his chances of pole were dashed and Hamilton in any case improved his best Q3 time to a one minute, 19.273 seconds to end up 1.216 seconds clear.
Sainz popped into third to take his best Formula 1 career starting position, with Bottas taking fourth despite setting his best Q3 time right at the end.
Esteban Ocon took fifth for Renault ahead of Lando Norris, who will drop three grid spots for his FP1 penalty for overtaking under yellow flags.
Alex Albon was seventh for Red Bull ahead of the sister team’s of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, with Daniel Ricciardo ninth.
Sebastian Vettel rounded out the Q3 runners in another disappointing qualifying showing for Ferrari.
Behind the top ten, Charles Leclerc became the second Ferrari driver in a week to be knocked out in Q2 as he could not improve on his final laps in the middle segment.
Leclerc had indicated he wanted to stay out on his initial Q2 wets when it came to putting a fresh set on for the final runs, but when he did come in the rain intensified and few drivers managed to improve their times late on.
Leclerc was told to push all through his final runs, but his final lap was 1.3 seconds down on his Q2 best and he will start P11 – as Vettel did a week ago.
George Russell will start in an impressive P12 – his best ever qualifying position – and in doing so, got Williams into Q2.
Russell then posted a strong early Q2 effort, which helped him hold onto his high grid spot as the rain that harmed Leclerc also frustrated Lance Stroll, Daniil Kvyat and Kevin Magnussen.
Stroll did look like he might be able to improve on his final run, but after a strong start his last lap got slower as it went on and then running wide at the exit of Turn 9 cost him and he will line up P13.
When Q1 did get underway, Vettel headed the queue to get out of the pitlane when the delayed session finally started and it was an ever-changing order as the drivers explored the soaking track.
Hamilton ended up quickest in the first segment, which was ended early after Antonio Giovinazzi spun as he ran across the kerbs at the exit of penultimate corner, spearing off into the barriers at the final turn.
He was able to drive clear by dropped debris on the pit straight and eventually stopped on the approach to Turn 4 – where Hamilton and Albon clashed in the closing stages of last weekend’s Austrian GP – which meant the red flags were shown.
That meant few drivers were able to improve on fresh wets, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez heading those knocked out in Q1 – with the latter the most high-profile exit after finishing Friday with the day’s third fastest time.
Unlike Russell, Nicholas Latifi, who skated across the Turn 6 gravel mid-way through Q1, was unable to improve on his new wets as the red flags came out as he approached the final corners and he will start P18 as a result, ahead of Giovinazzi.
Romain Grosjean did not set a time in Q1 after going off at Turn 4 on his out-lap – just in front of Vettel’s opening lap in the segment – and he did reappear after returning to the pits after that incident.
So congratulations Lewis Hamilton with this fine pole position for Mercedes. A pure masterclass in the tricky wet conditions. Going to be an exciting race at the Red Bull Ring.
Qualifying positions, Styrian Grand Prix
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:19.273
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:20.489
3 Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren-Renault 1:20.671
4 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:20.701
5 Esteban Ocon Renault 1:20.922
6 Alex Albon Red Bull-Honda 1:21.011
7 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:21.028
8 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1:21.192
9 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 1:20.925
10 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:21.651
11 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:19.628
12 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:19.636
13 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 1:19.645
14 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri-Honda 1:19.717
15 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1:20.211
16 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:21.372
17 Sergio Perez Racing Point-Mercedes 1:21.607
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:21.759 2.486
19 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:21.831
20 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari