July 4, 2020 / 3:09 PM / a month ago

Bottas pips Hamilton to start F1 season on pole in Austria

SPIELBERG, Austria (Reuters) - Finland’s Valtteri Bottas will start the Formula One season on pole position after denying Mercedes team mate and six-times world champion Lewis Hamilton the top slot in Austria on Saturday.

Formula One F1 - Austrian Grand Prix - Red Bull Ring, Spielberg, Styria, Austria - July 4, 2020 Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton wearing protective face masks during the press conference after qualifying, as F1 resumes following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Mario Renzi/Pool via REUTERS

The front-row lockout by Mercedes equalled Ferrari’s record of 65, and the “Black Arrows” — their new livery a statement against racism - were in a private duel at the scenic Red Bull Ring.

Hamilton had started as favourite after dominating all three practice sessions but Bottas shifted up a gear just when it mattered.

“It feels really good, I’ve missed this feeling,” said the Finn of a third career Austrian GP pole after 2017 and 2018, and one secured despite tracking across gravel and grass on his final flying lap.

“Our team have done an amazing job, we seem to be in our own league.”

Hamilton was a mere 0.012 slower than the Finn’s time of one minute 02.939 seconds, set on his first run, after lapping fastest on Friday and Saturday’s final practice at the scenic Red Bull Ring.

“The car was great, I just didn’t manage to put the greatest laps together,” said the Briton.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, winner of the past two races at his team’s home circuit, qualified third — half a second slower than Hamilton — but as the sole driver in the top 10 on the medium tyres.

McLaren’s Lando Norris, at 20 the youngest man in the race, will line up an impressive fourth.

NIGHTMARE AFTERNOON

Ferrari, championship runners-up last season, had a nightmare afternoon.

Four-times champion Sebastian Vettel failed to reach the top 10 shootout, starting 11th, while Charles Leclerc qualified seventh after taking pole last year.

“Of course, it’s a surprise, we thought we had a little bit more in hand but it seems the others were probably running a little bit more fuel or were more conservative in practice,” Vettel said.

“I wasn’t so happy with the car, more oversteer in entry than I would like. But we will see, I think tomorrow is a different picture.”

Red Bull’s Alexander Albon qualified fifth with Mexican Sergio Perez sixth for Racing Point, whose pink-liveried car is a lookalike of the title-winning 2019 Mercedes.

Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who is taking Vettel’s place at Ferrari next year, qualified eighth for McLaren with Racing Point’s Lance Stroll ninth and Australian Daniel Ricciardo 10th for Renault.

At the slower end of the grid, there was cheer for former champions Williams, last overall in 2019, with George Russell qualifying 17th and ahead of both Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeos as well as rookie team mate Nicholas Latifi.

Slideshow (4 Images)

“Today has exceeded my expectations, I knew we had made a step forward, but I didn’t think we would be in this position,” said the Briton, who was just 0.003 slower than Haas’s Kevin Magnussen.

“We have made a big step forward, and this is the closest we have been on pure pace.”

Sunday’s race is the first major global sporting event since the COVID-19 pandemic, with the 10 teams working in isolation and closely-controlled conditions for health and safety.

Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, Editing by Ed Osmond

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