Austrian GP | Hamilton takes pole as Hulkenberg, Button and Wehrlein shine

Lewis Hamilton secures pole position at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Qualifying at the Austrian Grand Prix highlighted the skills of the field as Wehrlein secured his first Q2 appearance of the season. And with rain in the second stage of qualifying, the pole-position shoot-out became a lap-by-lap joust with Hulkenberg pushing the Mercedes all the way to the flag. Where Lewis Hamilton claimed pole ahead of Nico Rosberg.

Rosberg may have ended his qualifying session second best to his team-mate, but with a gearbox penalty for his crash in final practice he will start the race further down the grid. While Hulkenberg will replace his fellow-German on the front-row of the grid after blistering Q3 pace saw the Force India challenge all around him.

After Rosberg’s rear left lower and upper wishbones broke in practice, the baguette kerbs remained a controversial point going into qualifying as well. With the session doing the kerbs no favours as two more drivers suffered suspension damage, to add to Verstappen’s in FP1.

Q1

The first stage of qualifying saw Palmer lead the pack out of the pits, after no drivers showed an immediate rush to leave the garages as the session went green.

As the first man across the line, Palmer took first place on the leaderboard as he crossed the line with a 1:09.156. But the Renault’s time was instantly pushed down by Wehrlein as he lapped four tenths faster than the Briton.

Hamilton on the other hand was straight out the blocks with a flyer in the low 1:07s, lapping one and a half seconds faster than the Renaults, Manors, and  Saubers.

But when Rosberg emerged from the pits, following his FP3 suspension damage, he instantly moved top on a 1:06.690 – two-tenths faster than Hamilton.

As he lapped the Red Bull Ring, Sergio Perez was forced to crawl back to the pits after suffering suspension damage. Perez had been running in fifth place at the time, but the damage would end his session shortly before a red flag waved.

The red flag was not due to Perez’s suspension failure, but rather the suspension failure of Daniil Kvyat as the Russian ran wide at turn eight before crashing out of the session.

Kvyat had a kick of oversteer as he kept his foot flat to the floor through the exit of turn 8, but as the car ran wide over the baguette kerbs his rear right suspension snapped – sending him into a spin across turn 9 before coming to a rest in the gravel after bouncing off the wall.

Under the red flags, Wehrlein sat inside the top 10 after showing great pace again to match his speed from final practice. With the Manor driving moving into the second stage of qualifying for the first time in his career as no drivers were able to improve in the final stages.

The field did return to action after the red flag with one flying lap available to most. But upon the restart, Sainz was forced to pull to the side with an engine failure as soon as he left the pits. Leaving a yellow flag in the first sector and forcing other drivers to lift off.

Q2

With the session being delayed from Q1’s red flag, Q2 began with McLaren warning Fernando Alonso about the threat of rain. Alonso however refuted the claims as he began his run.

For Ferrari’s first run of the session, both drivers were sent out onto the cooling track with supersoft tyres rather than the ultrasofts. And despite being on the supposedly slower compound, the gap between Vettel and the pace-setting Hamilton was just three tenths of a second. With Hamilton lowering the benchmark to 1:06.228.

After seeing what Ferrari were capable of with their first runs, Red Bull’s second runs began on the red marked supersoft tyres as well. With Verstappen using the fresh rubber to move from seventh to fourth despite a slight lock up in the middle sector. Likewise Ricciardo found gains on the supersoft tyres as he replaced Verstappen in fourth place.

But as rain began to spit, Mercedes left the garages to follow Red Bull and Ferrari’s thinking. But having left it too late, Rosberg and Hamilton were not able to complete any flying laps on the supersoft tyres. As Button locked up through turn 3.

With rain beginning to fall however, Button’s slight off at turn three did not cost him a Q3 position as he had been running in tenth prior to the rain. Albeit only by one-hundredth of a second to 11th placed Gutierrez.

Q3

After the light downpour at the end of Q2, the track remained damp for the pole position shoot-out. With Ferrari first out the pits with intermediate tyres fitted to their cars. But as the track dried throughout, times tumbled to leave pole position up for grabs until the end.

With Vettel first out the pits, his first flyer of 1:20.798 left him in P1. With Hamilton edging in behind on a 1:21.294, as their team-mates set about extra warm-up laps.

As more times hit the board, Ricciardo, Rosberg and Hulkenberg took turns in topping the timesheet with the benchmark ever lowering. And with the track drying, Hamilton went top on a 1:16.232 as Button put his McLaren into second by three-tenths.

But as Hamilton took provisional pole, Hulkenberg was first to pit for slicks and take the risk of coming out on ultrasoft tyres. All the while Rosberg did not feel it was yet suitable for drys, despite Hamilton pitting. Although Nico followed the flow of the field and returned to the track on dry tyres.

Now with slick tyres, the benchmark began to tumble with Hulkenberg replacing Hamilton in P1 with a 1:14.996. However, Hamilton was already six-tenths up through the first sector – although Hulkenberg would again demote Lewis by two-seconds.

Rosberg now was up second place as he ended his lap eight-tenths down to Hulkenberg. But with cars continuing to circulate, the flag fell to mark the start of the final flying laps.

Massa, after pitting for slicks, being given fresh inters, and then new ultras, was first to take the chequered flag as he crept up to third place. But Verstappen came across the line for second, Vettel for first, then Raikkonen for second and Ricciardo for third as the order continued to change with every car crossing the line.

One more car to cross the line was Lewis Hamilton as he stormed to P1, by 1.8-seconds to Vettel. With Hulkenberg and Rosberg crossing the line to demote the Ferrari even further, as Rosberg ended the session half a second down on Hamilton.

Rosberg though will not start the race from second-place with his gearbox penalty, meaning Nico Hulkenberg should start the race from P2 in his Force India. Hulkenberg is, however, under investigation for improving his personal best Q2 lap under yellow flags. Although the team feel confident they have the data to prove he lifted sufficiently.

Should Hulkenberg receive any form of penalty, Jenson Button will be promoted onto the front row of the grid alongside his former McLaren team-mate. As the current McLaren driver ended qualifying in fifth place and will start from at-least third with Vettel and Rosberg going backwards with penalties.

Pos Driver Time
1 Lewis Hamilton 1’07.922
2 Nico Rosberg 1’08.465
3 Nico Hulkenberg 1’09.285
4 Sebastian Vettel 1’09.781
5 Jenson Button 1’09.900
6 Kimi Raikkonen 1’09.901
7 Daniel Ricciardo 1’09.980
8 Valtteri Bottas 1’10.440
9 Max Verstappen 1’11.153
10 Felipe Massa 1’11.977
11 Esteban Gutierrez 1’07.578
12 Pascal Wehrlein 1’07.700
13 Romain Grosjean 1’07.850
14 Fernando Alonso 1’08.154
15 Carlos Sainz Jr. No time set in Q2
16 Sergio Perez No time set in Q2
17 Kevin Magnussen 1’07.941
18 Jolyon Palmer 1’07.965
19 Rio Haryanto 1’08.362
20 Daniil Kvyat 1’08.409
21 Marcus Ericsson 1’08.418
22 Felipe Nasr 1’08.521