Lewis Hamilton took pole position in what was a frantic qualifying session for the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix, after rain began to fall at the end of Q2, before a drying track emerged for the conclusion of Q3.
The Brit took the honours, with a stunning final lap in Q3 of 1:07.922, as perfect timing allowed him to be one of the last men over the line at the end of the session, on a drying circuit. Mercedes AMG PETRONAS team-mate Nico Rosberg was second, five tenths down on the Brit’s scorching pole lap, but the German will also take a five place grid penalty for the race, after changing his gearbox following his FP3 shunt.
It was drama from the off in qualifying when Daniil Kvyat had a huge crash in the Scuderia Toro Rosso with two minutes of the Q1 session remaining. The Russian got onto the kerb on the inside of the final corner, sustaining a right rear suspension failure. The former Red Bull man was flung across the track and into the barriers, after hitting the tyre wall on the exit of the penultimate corner. He emerged unhurt following the shunt, and was able to scramble free of his now smoking Toro Rosso. Three corners of the STR were damaged, and the red flags came out whilst it was removed from the circuit.
That was the third suspension failure experienced so far today, after Rosberg went out in FP3 and Perez had the same problem earlier in this session. Could the new kerbs be proving an issue here in Austria?
That incident hindered the end of Q1 for many drivers, before the rain began to fall towards the end of Q2, and whilst it continued to rain, a short delay ensued before the shower was over, and it became clear that the track was drying out extremely quickly in the high temperatures.
Nico Hulkenberg was one of the big beneficiaries of the weather conditions, taking a brilliant third position for Sahara Force India, when he was the first man to brave it on the dry tyre in Q3. The German’s risk paid off, and with Rosberg taking a penalty, the 2015 Le Mans winner will start the race from second on the grid.
Sebastian Vettel was fourth in the first of the Scuderia Ferrari machines, after hesitating over when to switch to the dry tyre during Q3. The German will also receive a five place grid penalty ahead of the race, after a gearbox change prior to the start of the weekend. One thing that may work in Vettel’s favour, is that he set his fastest time in Q2 on the super-soft tyre, which will be the tyre he now starts the race on, as opposed to the Mercedes drivers who will start Sunday’s race on the ultra-soft tyre.
A phenomenal final lap from Jenson Button, who was the last man across the line as the track dried out, allowed him to take fifth place for the McLaren-Honda F1 team, undoubtedly his and the team’s best performance this year. The Brit timed it perfectly to switch to the slicks as the track dried out in the final moments of Q3 and capitalised in the difficult conditions, in which the 2009 world champion still thrives. This is the first time since Abu Dhabi in 2014, that Button has made it through to Q2.
Kimi Raikkonen was sixth in the second Ferrari, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo for Red Bull Racing, who also, along with team-mate Max Verstappen, made the decision to run on the super-soft tyre in Q2. The Australian will move up the order on race day, as Rosberg and Vettel have their penalties applied.
Valtteri Bottas was the first of the Williams Martini Racing drivers in eighth, ahead of Verstappen, and team-mate Felipe Massa who rounded out the top ten. Both Williams and Red Bull expected to perform well at the Spielberg track, and so both teams maybe a little disappointed with where they have ended up in the order.
Esteban Gutierrez qualified in eleventh place, two places up on Haas F1 team-mate Romain Grosjean who was back in thirteenth, behind the Manor Racing Team car of Pascal Wehrlein. The German had a lucky break in Q1 after improving his time just prior to the accident of Kvyat, pushing him up the order before the red flags stopped running. With just two minutes of Q1 remaining when the green flags waved, it made it extremely difficult for those in the drop zone to improve, seeing the German and the Manor Racing team advance through to Q2 for the first time this season and claim a fantastic result.
McLaren F1 driver Fernando Alonso took fourteenth place, after a mix up with tyres. On removing the tyre warmer blankets for the Spaniards final run in Q2, they turned out to be an old set, rather than the new set mechanics and Alonso were expecting. By the time the new tyres had been retrieved and the double world champion got back out onto track, yellow flags came out causing Alonso to abort his lap. When rain then began to fall, the Spaniard was left with no time to improve further.
The session went from bad to worse for Toro Rosso, when Carlos Sainz experienced an engine blow out in the final moments of Q1. The Spaniard qualified in fifteenth place, but will no doubt take a penalty for an engine change ahead of the race.
Sergio Perez was thirteenth fastest for Force India in Q1, however a right rear suspension failure for the Mexican, when getting onto the kerbs put an end to his qualifying session early, eventually finishing down the order in sixteenth place, but he too is likely to receive a grid penalty following repairs to the VJM09.
Renault Sport F1 team-mates Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer finished in seventeenth and eighteenth position, the French team once again knocked out of the qualifying session early, ahead of the second Manor of Rio Haryanto.
Kvyat was twentieth following his early crash, with the two Sauber F1 cars of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr bringing up the rear, in what is becoming a somewhat familiar sight this season,
In the end, the weather played a key role in the outcome of qualifying, and with a somewhat shaken up grid and different tyre strategies already being seen in terms of which rubber teams will start the grand prix on, it should be a fascinating race on Sunday.
2016 Austrian Grand Prix – Qualifying Results
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