Austrian GP: Charles Leclerc powers to pole as Lewis Hamilton demoted

f1
*Revised top three following Hamilton penalty. Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix starts at 14:10 BST. Follow all the build-up and action with the BBC both online and on Radio 5 Live, starting with our live page from 12:30

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc took pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix as world champion Lewis Hamilton was hit with a three-place grid penalty.

Leclerc, 21, set two laps quick enough for pole and ended the session 0.259 seconds clear of Hamilton.

The Mercedes driver was subsequently penalised for "unnecessarily impeding" Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen is promoted to second place and the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas to third.

Hamilton will line up in fourth place rather than fifth after other grid penalties are taken into account.

Britain's Lando Norris will start in fifth, the McLaren rookie initially having qualified in sixth but the beneficiary of a five-place drop for Haas' Kevin Magnussen, who requires a gearbox change.

Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel failed to go out in the final part of qualifying because of problem with the air-pressure line to his engine and his team had to withdraw him after failing to fix it in time. He will start ninth.

Hamilton falls foul of stewards

The incident involving Hamilton and Raikkonen came early in the first part of qualifying, as the Finn was on a quick lap and encountered the cruising Briton at the top of the hill on the approach to Turn Three.

Hamilton appeared to see Raikkonen late and went straight on at the corner, forcing the Alfa Romeo to back off. Raikkonen gestured at the Mercedes driver as he passed and came on the radio to report that he had been "completely blocked".

In explaining the penalty, governing body the FIA's race stewards said that Hamilton had "just come out of the pits and was informed of the cars approaching, including car #7 [Raikkonen]".

The statement added: "Although car 44 tried to take evasive action when he became aware of car 7 approaching on a fast lap, it was not sufficient to avoid impeding car 7, which then had to abort the lap."

Hamilton, who also received one penalty point on his licence, pre-empted the official announcement of his grid drop by several minutes by writing "3 place penalty..." on an Instagram post.

In a separate post, he conceded that he "totally deserved the penalty today and have no problem accepting it".

He added: "Was a mistake on my behalf and I take full responsibility for it. It wasn't intentional. Anyway, tomorrow is another day and an opportunity to rise. These things are sent to try us."

Leclerc in imperious form

Hamilton sounded on edge throughout qualifying and looked to be struggling, but pulled a lap out of the bag in the end for a place on the front row, albeit one he would later lose.

"Charles has been quick all weekend," Hamilton said. "We have not really been able to keep up with him."

Leclerc has looked the faster Ferrari driver for much of the weekend and delivered on his potential to take his second pole.

After his first, in Bahrain earlier this season, he went on to dominate the race before an engine problem in the closing laps cost him victory.

Charles Leclerc
Austria is Leclerc's second pole position of the season

"I'm extremely happy," Leclerc said. "We have been competitive since second practice but it is always difficult to do the lap at the time. It is just a shame for Seb. We should have two cars close to one and two."

Hamilton's edginess in the car was down to a lack of pace for Mercedes - particularly on the straights - and his engineers failing to put him out behind other cars so he could benefit from a slipstream.

"Positioning was so difficult," he said. "I was always at the front and never getting the slipstream. Luckily on the last run I got a decent position."

Getting a tow from another car was key for Mercedes in Austria to minimise Ferrari's advantage on the straights. It has also a key part of qualifying at some races in 2019, after regulation changes to make the front and rear wings bigger significantly increased drag.

Hamilton nervous but excited for race

Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc
"I've got to fight the young'uns!" Hamilton didn't manage to take pole number 87 at the Red Bull Ring

Speaking before his penalty was confirmed, Hamilton said he was looking forward to the race - the front row for which boasts arguably the two brightest talents of the new generation in Leclerc and Verstappen.

Three drivers from three different teams in the first three positions sets up a tantalising prospect, especially as Leclerc will start on the faster, soft tyres, and Verstappen and Bottas - as well as Hamilton - will be on the slower but more durable mediums.

Hamilton added: "The Ferraris are quick on the long runs, not only the short runs. I'll give it everything I have. If I can stay in the tow, maybe we will be able to offset each other [on strategy].

"If they start on that tyre, I tend to think they are going for a two unless that tyre goes longer than we anticipate. A one- and two-stop is very close and how you work them will be interesting."

Encouraging signs for Red Bull

Verstappen, who won this race last year, praised developments brought to the Red Bull at this race for their improved performance.

The team have struggled in recent races but have made a step forward and have looked close to Mercedes and Ferrari all weekend.

Elsewhere, Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi both beat Red Bull's Pierre Gasly as the Alfa Romeos secured strong top-10 positions.

Fans shelter from the heat at the Red Bull Ring
Thousands of fans enjoy the sunshine in Spielberg
Max Verstappen has a special yellow helmet design for Red Bull's home race in Austria
Max Verstappen has a special yellow helmet design for Red Bull's home race in Austria

Top Stories

Also in Sport