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Bottas upstages Hamilton to take opening pole of season

Verstappen gambling on alternative strategy to upset Mercedes

By AFP - Jul 04,2020 - Last updated at Jul 04,2020

Mercedes’ Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas at the Austrian Grand Prix on Saturday (AFP photo)

SPIELBERG BEI KNITTELFELD, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton with a sizzling display to claim pole position ahead of the Briton for Sunday’s delayed season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

The Finnish driver outpaced the six-time champion with a best lap in qualifying in one minute and 2.939 seconds and then survived an ‘off’ into the gravel and a spin on his final lap to emerge 0.012 seconds clear of Hamilton.

It was Bottas’ third pole at the Austrian Grand Prix and the 12th of his career, a feat that followed Hamilton’s cleansweep of the three practice sessions on Friday and Saturday morning.

“It feels really good— I’ve missed this feeling,” said Bottas.

“The qualifying shakes! It’s something special when you push the car to the limit and I’ve been waiting for a long time— we seem to be in our own league.”

Hamilton added: “A great job by Valtteri and it’s a great start to the season and I’m happy to be here.

“I think we show year on year that we are the best team — because we are open-minded, keep with the times and nobody is too stubborn to admit they are wrong.”

Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull, half a second adrift of the two newly-painted ‘black arrows’ cars whose dominating performance delivered a 65th front row lock out for the team, equalling Ferrari’s record.

Lando Norris was an impressive fourth for McLaren ahead of Alex Albon in the second Red Bull and Sergio Perez, who was sixth in Racing Point’s ‘pink Mercedes’.

Charles Leclerc was a disappointed seventh for Ferrari ahead of his future teammate Carlos Sainz in the second McLaren, Lance Stroll in the second Racing Point and Daniel Ricciardo of Renault.

The Austrian race is the opening event of the 2020 season after the traditional season-opener in Australia was cancelled in March before the global lockdown over the COVID-19 crisis.

Max Verstappen admitted Mercedes are “on a different level” to his Red Bull team, but stressed he will race to complete a hat-trick of wins in Sunday’s season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

The Dutchman wound up third behind pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas and six-time champion Lewis Hamilton in Saturday’s (July 4) qualifying at his team’s Red Bull Ring home track.

But he hopes that his team’s decision to go for an alternative strategy by starting on harder tyres can give him a chance to add to his wins in 2018 and 2019.

Verstappen conceded his RB16 car could not match the pace of the ‘black arrows’.

But, he said, he hoped his decision to use the harder ‘medium’ compound tyres in Q2 — and therefore start the race on them — would give him a different strategy and a chance to take control.

“I am happy, first of all, to be P3, but also we’ve a different starting tyre. It’s going to be interesting...

“It’s going to be quite a bit warmer tomorrow so I hope it plays in our advantage. Today, Mercedes was on a different level unfortunately, but let’s see what we can do tomorrow.

“Last year, we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we’re a bit better in the race. Now I am the only one on a different tyre in the top ten, so I am just looking forward to it.

“We have nothing to lose so I will try to make it as difficult as possible for them.”

His Red Bull teammate Alex Albon will start from fifth behind the McLaren of Lando Norris, but ahead of Sergio Perez in Racing Point’s fast ‘pink Mercedes’ and Charles Leclerc of Ferrari.

Sebastian Vettel qualified in 11th sport and called Ferrari’s disappointing performance in qualifying for the Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix “a surprise” after being eliminated in Q2.


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