SPIELBERG, Austria (Reuters) - Finland’s Valtteri Bottas seized his first pole position of the season in Austria on Saturday but Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton looks set to stretch his Formula One lead after Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was demoted to sixth.
Stewards handed Vettel a three-place grid penalty for impeding Renault’s Carlos Sainz, a punishment that dropped the German from third to sixth for the ninth race of the season.
Hamilton, who qualified second after missing out on pole by little more than a metre, leads his fellow four-times world champion and closest rival by 14 points, the pair having three victories apiece.
Bottas, who has had four second places so far in 2018, also qualified on pole at the scenic Red Bull Ring last year and went on to win.
“I can guarantee I’m more hungry for the win than anyone on the grid, so I’m really ready for it,” said the Finn, who has yet to be confirmed for 2019 at the reigning champions, even though he is expected to be kept on.
“The whole weekend we’ve been making good progress with the set-up. We’ve been working to get the car well-balanced with the new bits. We did, and the car felt so good,” he added.
Mercedes, unbeaten in Austria in the four years since the race returned to the calendar, had brought aerodynamic upgrades to Spielberg after the latest specification engine was introduced in France, and they clearly helped.
“Valtteri did a stunning lap on the first run and I had a bit of a mistake and that kind of ended the run,” said Hamilton. “I’m really happy with the second run and this is a great result for the team.”
Bottas had lagged Hamilton in practice and the first two phases of the qualifying session but then put down an impressive one minute 03.264 first flying lap in the final shootout.
He then went even faster with a track record 1:03.130 that Hamilton could not match, with his own best effort a mere 0.019 slower.
Mercedes said the gap was equal to 1.3 metres between the two at the line over a 4.318km lap.
Ferrari would have locked out the second row but Vettel’s demotion meant Kimi Raikkonen moved up to third, with Max Verstappen lining up fourth at Red Bull’s home circuit.
Romain Grosjean, yet to score a point so far this season, moved up to fifth for Ferrari-powered Haas with Red Bull’s Australian Daniel Ricciardo staying in seventh.
Ricciardo, who is rarely seen without a smile, was far from happy afterwards.
“I’m not too impressed,” he told Sky Sports television, questioning his team’s approach to the session.
The Australian was aggrieved to be running ahead of Verstappen and giving him a tow.
“We had three runs and I was just punching a hole for everyone. We could have been more fair,” he said. “It is a short lap here so obviously a chance for others, but Haas have been strong and Romain did a good job.”
Haas’s Kevin Magnussen was eighth and Sainz ninth, too far back for Vettel’s punishment to make any difference, with Renault team mate Nico Hulkenberg 10th.
Vettel had known he was in trouble even as he spoke to reporters afterwards.
“I passed him on my fast lap in turn seven or eight and then I was looking down and on the main straight I didn’t see him,” he explained.
“I was turning into turn one, trying again because I was thinking that he must be there somewhere. I don’t know if he was pitting or starting his lap but as it turned out, obviously, he was trying to go for a fast lap and I couldn’t see him.
“I wasn’t told on the radio, so I can only apologise to him. Obviously, there was no intention.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris, Neville Dalton