Bottas upstages teammate Hamilton to take pole for Austrian GP as Ferrari struggles

Valtteri Bottas grabbed pole position for the season opening Austrian Grand Prix, edging fancied teammate Lewis Hamilton by .012s as Mercedes dominated qualifying as expected.

Bottas went off the circuit in an attempt to better his time on his final qualifying run, but his 1m02.939s effort was enough for pole as Max Verstappen finished third for Red Bull, from Lando Norris, Alexander Albon and the Racing Point of Sergio Perez.

“It feels really good,” said Bottas after taking his 12th career pole. “I’ve missed these feelings after qualifying, the shakes. It’s something special when you push the car to the limit and I’ve obviously been preparing for this for a long time and it feels so good. I can’t say more than that. And the team, an amazing job, we seem to be in our own league. It’s very impressive to see, it’s only the first qualifying of the season but I’m so impressed so thanks everyone. Truly an amazing car to drive.”

A time of 1m.02.951s was plenty enough for the six-time world champion to start on the front row, but the real surprise of the eagerly anticipated season opener was the struggles of Ferrari, the departing Sebastian Vettel failing to make it through to Q3 and last year’s pole sitter Charles Leclerc only managing 7th on the grid. Carlos Sainz, Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo rounded off the top ten.

“A great job by Valtteri and this is a great start to the season,” said Hamilton after qualifying. “I think we show year on year that we continue to be the best team. I think it’s because we’re open minded, we’re current with the times, the guys I work with are never to stubborn to admit they might be wrong at stages and we’re constantly always learning from each other and always pushing the boundaries. There’s not much politics within the team, so it’s a united team.”

The only tangible threat now to what looks like another season of Mercedes dominance appears to be the lone figure of Verstappen, who successfully gambled on using the medium tyre in Q2, which could give him an advantage running a longer stint at the start of the race.

“I’m firstly happy to be P3 but also we have a different starting tyre, so it’s going to be interesting,” explained Verstappen. “It’s also going to be quite a but warmer tomorrow, so I hope it’s going to play to our advantage. But clearly today Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately, but let’s see what we can do tomorrow. I am the only one on a different tyre in the top ten so looking forward to it, nothing to lose so I will try and make it as difficult as possible for them.”

Yet for all the bravado and fighting talk of the Dutchman, it certainly looks to be a straight fight for the race victory between the Mercedes duo. And, despite a wait of four months for the opening grand prix of the season, the die already seems cast in what will be a curtailed calendar. Who can catch the new Black Arrows in their striking new revised livery? On the evidence of the last couple of days and a Ferrari-equalling 51st front row lock-out, it’s already difficult to see…

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.