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Valtteri Bottas upset the odds to beat Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix by just 12 hundredths of a second.
World champion Hamilton had dominated the weekend at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, topping every practice session.
But Bottas delivered when it mattered most to prevent his Mercedes team-mate from opening the defence of his title with top slot on the grid.
The Finn ran off the road on his final lap, but despite Hamilton improving with his last throw of the dice, it is Bottas who will line up first.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen finished third, with young Briton Lando Norris delivering the best performance of his career to qualify fourth for McLaren.
Ferrari headed into the new campaign fearing they would be trailing the big-hitting teams. And their dread was confirmed here when Sebastian Vettel was eliminated from the second phase of qualifying.
The four-time world champion, who will be moved on by the Scuderia at the end of the year, qualified only 11th, 1.2 seconds off the pace. His team-mate Charles Leclerc snuck through to the top-10 shootout but will line up only seventh.
Ferrari will bring a revised package to the third round in Hungary later this month, but this could be a long slog for the Italian team which last won a drivers' championship way back in 2007.
In contrast, the Mercedes cars, sporting an all-black livery this year in the team's defiant message against racism, continue to be the class of the field in the first global sporting event of the Covid-19 era.
There was drama late on, though, after Hamilton was called to the stewards for not slowing enough under waved yellow flags and also leaving the track at turn 10. He could face a grid penalty if found guilty.
The grid's all-conquering team were provided with a major boost in the early hours of Saturday morning after they survived a Red Bull protest against their car.
Following a six-hour stewards' investigation, Formula One's sporting federation, the FIA, gave Mercedes the green light to continue using their controversial Dual-Axis Steering (DAS) system.
Here, their two drivers finished an eye-watering half-a-second clear of anyone else.
McLaren emerged from the doldrums last season to finish fourth in the constructors' championship and the British team will be delighted with their start here.
Despite messing up his first lap in the shootout, the 20-year-old Norris, in just his second season in the sport, excelled to take fourth, four places ahead of his team-mate Carlos Sainz who is replacing Vettel at Ferrari in 2021. Alex Albon was fifth for Red Bull, with Racing Point's Sergio Perez sixth.
George Russell finished 17th of the 20 runners for Williams. His rookie team-mate Nicholas Latifi crashed out of the final practice session before qualifying last on his F1 debut.
Final times after qualifying
Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1min 02.939secs
Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:02.951
Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:03.477
Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:03.626
Alexander Albon (Tha) Red Bull 1:03.868
Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1:03.868
Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:03.923
Carlos Sainz (Spa) McLaren 1:03.971
Lance Stroll (Can) Racing Point 1:04.029
Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault 1:04.239
Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari Ferrari 1:04.206
Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia Alpha Tauri 1:04.305
Daniil Kyvat (Rus) Scuderia Alpha Tauri 1:04.431
Esteban Ocon (Fra) Renault 1:04.643
Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:04.691
Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:05.164
George Russell (Gbr) Williams 1:05.167
Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:05.175
Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:05.224
Nicholas Latifi (Can) Williams 1:05.757
I wonder if Ferrari have just given up on this iteration of the SF1000
Their big upgrade package — after a significant redesign of their car — will come in two weeks' time at Hungary. Perhaps they will just be content to get through the first two weekends' in any way they can.
They were slowest — by some 10km/h — in the speedtraps. Their customers, Alfa Romeo, were the two quickest. Something has gone seriously wrong, somewhere. And that's particularly strange given the 2020 cars are largely the same as the 2019 cars.
But anyway, thanks for joining me today. I'm off for now but will be back around 1pm tomorrow with all the build-up for the first race of the season.
I'll hold my hands up and say I didn't see this coming
I said it would clearly be Mercedes/Red Bull/Ferrari as the front three. That is not the case. And the midfield is pretty close behind Mercedes. It's such a shame that the Mercedes are so far ahead at the moment.
Ferrari have lost nearly a second at this track since 2019
It's hard to accurately convey how bad that is.
The masked pole man
Hamilton and Bottas can do the old hug/high five business as they are in the same "bubble", i.e. the Mercedes team.
Perez and Albon set exactly the same time
But Albon did his lap first, so has P5 ahead of Perez. Red Bull start 2020 as they started 2019, slowly and with one of their drivers miles behind the other. Racing Point will be hugely encouraged by this. Not the third quickest team here but not far off it and far better than they have been in recent seasons. It bodes well, though, after the troubles they have had in recent years.
Verstappen reacts to P3 behind the Mercedes'
I am happy first of all to be P3 but also, we have a different starting tyres so it's going to be interesting. I hope that's going to play in our advantage. Clearly today Mercedes was in a different level but let's see how we can do tomorrow.
Hamilton reacts to P2
Great job by Valtteri. This is a great start to the season, I'm happy to be here. I think we show year-on-year that we continue to be the best team. The guys that I work with are never too stubborn to admit that they might be wrong. We are constantly learning from each other. It's a united team that we push together.
It [Bottas's off] didn't really affect the lap.
Bottas reacts to pole
It feels really good. I have missed these feelings. I've got the qualifying shakes. It's something special. It feels so good, I can't say more than that. Our team — amazing job, we seem to be in our own league. It's very impressive to see. I am so impressed, so thanks everyone in the team. It's truly amazing car to drive.
Tomorrow's what matters.
Q3 - Classification
POLE POSITION FOR VALTTERI BOTTAS
He made a right mess of his second hot lap but it didn't cost him in the end. He ran right through the gravel in the middle of the lap, brought out the yellow flags, spun it on the grass and did a bit of rallycross... bizarre. Hamilton made a mess of the final turn on his hot lap which could have cost him that tenth that he needed...
Q3 - Hamilton not going to get pole here?
Or his he? No! He's 0.012s down! Norris improves to P4! Ahead of Albon by three tenths! That is tidy.
Perez P6, Leclerc P7, Sainz P8...
Q3 - The usual jostling going on at the end of the lap
Plenty of time for them all to get their laps in though. Verstappen not going to be on pole here, he's over a tenth down in S1, Norris is even quicker than him after one sector. Bottas sets his quickest time in S1...
YELLOW FLAG - It's Bottas, he won't improve. Will Hamilton improve?
Q3 - Stroll goes out in the middle of the session
For a clean run which will be his only go in Q3. How's he doing? He's six tenths down after the first two sectors, so could be in contention for P4 here.
Does he do it? No. P6 and a smidgen away from P5, where Sainz currently resides.
Q3 - Order after the first runs
NOR (no time)
STR (no time)
RIC (no time)
That was a scruffy lap from Leclerc, I think he ran wide there somewhere. That's good pace from Sainz, though. I think Norris aborted his first lap after making a mistake. It's a tight scrap for that P4 slot at the moment.
Q3 - Verstappen third, Albon fourth
Six tenths and nine tenths off respectively. Nobody is even in the same postcode as Mercedes here. Looks like the midfield consists of nine teams and then Mercedes at the head of the pack...
Q3 - Hamilton now two tenths down on Bottas
Bottas sets a 1.02.939, a new lap record — Hamilton can't beat it! +0.122 down. Sainz goes P3, a second off the pace but two tenths ahead of Perez! Interesting...
Q3 - Hamilton goes quickest in S1
Ahead of Bottas by a tenth or so. Bottas clawed back time in the final two sectors, so this will be interesting.
Was Leclerc's reply when he was told he was only in P10. Ouch. Anyway, out the drivers come for their first runs in Q3.
Q3 begins! 12 minutes to go
Which Mercedes will be on pole.... I wonder?
Verstappen will be starting on the mediums tomorrow
Which adds another dimension to the race. How much of a race for the win will it be? With the shortened season this looks like disaster for Ferrari.
Q2 - Classification
OUT: VET, GAS, KVY, OCO, GRO
Verstappen aborted his second run as he knew it would be good enough to get through. So he's nearly a second off but that was on the medium compound tyres. That would still leave him a few tenths off Mercedes, though. This is looking worrying for anyone who doesn't drive a Mercedes. That's appalling from Ferrari, though.
Q2 - Albon knocks Vettel out!
Few drivers improved there towards the end and it looked like Vettel would get through, fortunately... but no. Albon puts in a lap good enough for P3, shunting the German into P11 and out of Q3. Leclerc only managed P10 as well. Ferrari are so far off the pace here. So far. Drama.
Q2 - 1 minute remaining
Ocon improves in S1, a tenth up there. Hamilton and Bottas both set their best times, Hamilton look particularly rapid on this lap. Get ready for a rapid minute or so...
Ocon can't improve. Bottas goes P1, Norris doesn't improve, Hamilton doesn't improve either and stays second. Sainz does improve into P5...
Vettel stays 10th! He could be eliminated here...
Q2 - Out the drivers come for their second runs
Vettel in P9 and might be looking over his shoulder. Stroll doesn't manage to improve but he should be okay there, I think. Actually I am not sure. It could be close.
Q2 - That is a tidy lap from Norris
Just 0.615 from Hamilton and four tenths from Bottas. The best-of-the-rest spot.
Q2 - Order after the first runs
Elimination zone: GAS, KVY, ALB, OCO, GRO
Q2 - Albon makes a mess of his hot lap
Especially in the middle sector. Guilty of overdriving it. He's only P13 and in serious danger of elimination. Meanwhile Verstappen is going for another lap on the mediums. He should have enough time to duck in to change to the softs after this run, but there will be a lot of traffic out there.
Q2 - Ricciardo goes P6
Setting the fastest first sector time in the process, decent stuff. A second between first and P11 at the moment. Tight. His team-mate, Ocon, in his first race back for 18 months, is eight tenths off the Aussie. Rusty.
Q2 - Hamilton goes quickest
A 1.03.325, and Bottas can't beat that, two tenths behind. Bottas goes fourth but Norris pips him to third, Leclerc some way behind there in P4 behind a McLaren and a Racing Point. That's...bad. Very bad. Verstappen makes a bit of a mess on the mediums, seven tenths away. He'll have to go onto the softs.
Q2 - The two Mercedes the first out
And they are both on the soft tyres. Not chancing the mediums, here, then.
Q2 - 12 minutes remaining
A little quiet out there at the moment.
We will lose another five cars here. 15 minutes to go...
Hamilton quickest in S1 and S3 there
Mercedes look mighty in the final bit of the lap. Verstappen quickest in S2 and also by a fair margin.
Q1 - Bit of a mistake from Russell
Which may have cost him a place in Q2. Huge mistake from Giovinazzi, though, who went into the gravel. Don't think he had the speed to get into Q2 but that would not have helped.
Q1 - Classification and times
Russell was just 0.074s away from getting into Q2. That's very encouraging for Williams. I think they'll be quietly pleased with that.
Seems Haas, Williams and Alfa Romeo are the three slowest teams then. Only Grosjean of that lot got through and he was in P15...
Q1 - Final runs being completed
Verstappen going well, Raikkonen and Magnussen can't get out of the bottom five and Russell is condemned to elimiation, too. Gasly goes into P9, Leclerc P4, Verstappen tops the list but Bottas cannot beat it, just 0.087 behind. Is Albon safe? I think he is. Yes, he is. Hamilton puts in a tidy-ish lap and improves to P3. That's okay. He was quickest in S1 there.
Q1 - Stroll improves to go P1
Just 0.017 ahead of Verstappen. The times will tumble now.
Raikkonen, Magnussen, Grosjean and Latifi in the danger zone. Latifi a few tenths off P19. Albon not out at the moment, is he safe in P10? I think so, but only just.
Q1 - Russell gets himself out of the danger zone
Albeit by just 0.008s. This could need another lap. Two minutes to go and the final runs are underway.
Fastest sectors so far
This is actually a little inaccurate as Hamilton improved his S3 time on his second run with a 19.369.
Q1 - 5 minutes left
Hamilton puts in another lap, and goes a tenth slower than Verstappen. Think Bottas dived into the pits, though. Everyone on the soft tyres, by the way. I can't make much of this order at the moment. I do predict that we will see at least one driver get done for blocking, though, on this short lap with a tricky final sector.
Q1 - What about the red cars?
Vettel P5, Leclerc P10. Magnussen complains that Leclerc held him up. Will have to take another look at that.
Who is currently in danger now we've had all 20 cars run?
Q1 - Mercedes on hot laps
Bottas goes only P4 0.227s off Verstappen's time, Hamilton only P12. That's curious. Curious indeed. They will both have to go again. Not sure what's happened there. Hamilton had a bit of a scruffy end to the lap but that won't have cost him seven tenths.
Q1 - 9 minutes left
No time/elimination zone: HAM, BOT, OCO, RIC
Q1 - Verstappen goes quickest
Lando Norris had just put in a decent time before him, but Max goes 0.280s quicker. Sainz splits them both with a 1.04.537. Decent stuff from McLaren. What can Perez do? It's only third, splitting the McLarens. Interesting. Albon not pulling up any trees down in P7.
Q1 - Stroll goes quickest
A 1.04.678 for him, eight tenths exactly ahead of Giovinazzi. Track is getting a bit busier now, the times will start flying in.
Q1 - 12 minutes left
It's okay from Russell, he's a couple of tenths down on Giovinazzi after two sectors. He gets some time back in the final sector, just over a tenth behind. Solid lap early on. Latifi's giving it another go but is still struggling. He improves to 0.685s off the pace.
Q1 - 14 minutes left
Giovinazzi is the quickest, by 0.091 over Raikkonen, his team-mate. Latifi's 1.730s off the pace, not great. What can Russell do in the other Williams, he's lining up a hot lap.
Not many other drivers out there at the moment, just those four, with Stroll on an out lap.
Latifi is the first driver out
Obviously Williams got that FW43 repaired in time. The Alfa Romeos out with him. Or at least on track at the same time.
Q1 is go!
The 2020 F1 season is underway, properly. Ahhhhh
It's nearly time!
Hamilton, Bottas, Verstappen, Perez... could that Racing Point be the third quickest car here? That would be something. Especially as it looks like the 2019 Mercedes...
How much have Red Bull been holding back?
They had a scrappy day yesterday and this morning they did not exactly set the world alight. I cannot see Verstappen getting pole here. Would be a good result for them, from what we've seen, if he can get onto the front row. Still, I do think they were holding something back yesterday. I do not expect them to be half-a-second behind Mercedes.
You'd hope that Latifi will be ready for qualifying
After binning his Williams at turn one in final practice, causing a Red Flag. The impact at the rear didn't look to heavy. Hopefully Williams will be a little more competitive this year. Certainly what we've seen from Russell so far it looks like there is a reasonable chance of him getting out of Q2, which would be grand, considering they didn't manage it at all last year. That would be something to celebrate for them.
A lot of the talk has been of Mercedes' revolutionary new Dual Axis Steering system
Which was used for the first time in winter testing, and was then used again in practice yesterday. Red Bull protested the system to the FIA but to no avail. Mercedes will drive with it today. It's a very interesting device but we are not quite sure how it will be used in qualifying/race and or both. How much will it be worth? Not sure. But it certainly won't make the car slower.
What's the weather like?
Decent, a little light cloud around, but a tad under 20 degrees Celsius and almost no chance of rain.
Exclusive Verstappen interview: Drivers get too old and retire - it won't be that long for Lewis then it's my time
Even in Austria, the verdant hills around Spielberg would normally be carpeted with Verstappen disciples, courtesy of the canny group discounts negotiated by a Dutch promoter. In the fans’ absence, he can devote himself to the only mission that matters: namely, taking down Lewis Hamilton. “At the moment, I’m mainly looking towards Mercedes, because they have been the dominant team,” he says. “They are the ones we want to beat, Lewis is the leading driver, so I want to take the fight to them.”
Drivers to show support for fight against racism
Zero positive Covid-19 tests for F1
The FIA and Formula 1 can today confirm that between Friday 26th June and Thursday 2nd July, 4,032 drivers, teams and personnel were tested for Covid-19," said a joint statement.
Of these, zero people have tested positive.
Meanwhile, here's Sergio Perez getting his test done...
That does not look fun.
Latifi had a bit of a 'moment' in final practice
Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:04.130
Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:04.277
Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:04.413
Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1:04.605
Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:04.703
Alexander Albon (Tha) Red Bull 1:04.725
Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:04.851
Lance Stroll (Can) Racing Point 1:04.918
Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:04.949
Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:04.950
Esteban Ocon (Fra) Renault 1:05.037
Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault 1:05.088
Carlos Sainz (Spa) McLaren 1:05.177
Daniil Kyvat (Rus) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:05.290
Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:05.363
George Russell (Gbr) Williams 1:05.565
Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:05.648
Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:05.654
Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:05.773
Nicholas Latifi (Can) Williams 1:07.049
Good afternoon F1 fans
After a tremendously long wait — nearly seven months since the final Grand Prix of 2019 and almost four months since the 2020 F1 season was supposed to start in Australia — we are finally ready to get the first competitive and meaningful action of the year.
The Austrian Grand Prix will kick off a strange and unusual season. We are still unaware of its length but the Red Bull Ring will host the first two rounds, and qualifying for that will begin in just over an hour's time. It was incredibly heartening to see cars on track yesterday and today. It was less heartening to see that Mercedes look the class of the field by a fair margin already. FP2, FP2 and FP3 earlier this morning were all Lewis Hamilton leading Valtteri Bottas. Ominous.
We have had just three practice sessions but it is difficult to think that Red Bull are hiding several tenths of a second. Ferrari, unfortunately, seem to be miles away and are even at danger of being eclipsed by the Racing Points. The good news, I suppose, is that the midfield appears to have become even tighter and Williams, in particular, look hugely improved on last year's effort. Mind you, it would be hard to match that. Still, we won't really know what's going on until Q3 is finished.
Another interesting development is that Red Bull decided to protest Mercedes' dual revolutionary Dual Axis Steering system after second practice yesterday. A little before 1am Austrian time the FIA decided that their objections had no grounds and the system was permitted to be used.
So, expect Mercedes to continue to use it throughout the weekend and season. Not that they'll need it, looking at the times so far. There is plenty of speculation about what advantage the system gives Mercedes — it could be a variety of factors — but it will certainly not make them any slower.
Qualifying begins in just over an hour, and I'll be here for all of it; the build-up, live updates and reaction.