Leclerc on Austria pole after Hamilton penalised

Charles Leclerc for Ferrari flashes to Austrian Grand Prix pole with a new track record (AFP Photo/JOE KLAMAR) (AFP)

Spielberg (Austria) (AFP) - Charles Leclerc claimed pole position for Ferrari in Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix with a track record lap on Saturday as Lewis Hamilton was hit with a three-place grid penalty, demoting the world champion from the first to the third row.

Hamilton was due to share the front row with Leclerc but the stewards found the Mercedes driver guilty of impeding Kimi Raikkonen.

Leclerc will now have fellow-21-year-old Max Verstappen of Red Bull alongside him.

The two young tyros will start ahead of a second row made up of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes and British rookie Lando Norris, 19, of McLaren.

Hamilton will start on the third row alongside 39-year-old Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo, who had lifted a single finger at him at the time of the incident in the first qualifying session.

Hamilton was caught out during a slower lap in the session when he said he was unaware of Raikkonen approaching him on a flying lap.

He attempted to drive out of the way by going off track, but his actions were viewed as insufficient by the stewards.

Hamilton’s grid penalty reduces his chances of extending Mercedes record season-opening run of eight successive triumphs and gives Ferrari a great opportunity to land their first win in 12 races since last year's United States Grand –- won, ironically, by Raikkonen.

The Spielberg circuit was the scene of Mercedes' 'darkest hour' in 2018, according to team chief Toto Wolff, recalling that they failed to score a point as both drivers failed to finish.

Leclerc had secured his second career pole when clocking his best lap of one minute and 3.003 seconds in the final seconds of a dramatic session that saw his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel unable to run due to an air pressure problem.

- 'Finish the job' -

"The car felt amazing," said a delighted Leclerc.

"I struggled in P1, but after some changes we did well and I'm happy to bring pole home.

"Tomorrow, we have to finish the job."

Hamilton said he was not made aware by his Mercedes team that Raikkonen was approaching him on a flying lap in his Alfa Romeo.

"One of the team’s cars came by and I was braking for the hairpin, Turn 3, and I saw the other one coming," said Hamilton.

"So I just got off the brakes and tried to go straight on to try and get out of the way, because I didn't want to meet them in the corner."

Raikkonen said he was baffled by the champion's actions.

"I've seen enough of the stewards lately," said Raikkonen, who is set to make his 300th Grand Prix start on Sunday.

"I don't know why he didn't slow down or let me pass. He kind of slowed down and sped up and went over the racing line."

Ferrari are without a win this season or since the 2018 United States Grand Prix won by Raikkonen and are desperate to end Mercedes' record run of eight season-opening triumphs and 10 victories in succession.

Verstappen praised the support he received from his countrymen. "It's so great and it brings a smile to my face... With our upgrades, the car seems to be working better and this is an amazing result for us."

The session began in sweltering conditions with an air temperature of 30 degrees Celsius, and the track at 52 amid a heatwave sweeping Europe.

Before Q3 began, there was frantic activity at Ferrari where a side-pod of Vettel's car was the centre of attention. An FIA technical delegate was among those taking a keen interest.

After a slow start, Leclerc clocked 1.03:208 to top the first runs ahead of Bottas and Verstappen.

Hamilton, struggling by his high standards, was fourth as they re-emerged for the final showdown but could not overhaul Leclerc.