SPIELBERG, Austria: Finland’s Valtteri Bottas kept champions Mercedes on pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix yesterday after title-chasing team mate Lewis Hamilton was hit with a five-place grid penalty.
Hamilton, who is 14 points behind Ferrari’s championship leader Sebastian Vettel after eight races, qualified third fastest but will start in eighth place due to the automatic drop resulting from an unscheduled gearbox change.
Vettel will share the front row with Bottas, with Finnish team mate Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Australian Daniel Ricciardo on the second row.
“I really enjoy driving here. The car was getting better and better as the grip was coming,” said Bottas, who now has a golden opportunity to take a second career win.
“A decent lap at the end, it wasn’t perfect, but it was enough.”
Hopes of a crackling showdown between the Mercedes and Ferrari rivals in the final seconds were blown away when Romain Grosjean’s Haas broke down on track and brought out the warning flags.
The pole was the second of Bottas’s Formula One career after Bahrain in April. Vettel won that race but Mercedes have triumphed in Austria in every year since the Red Bull Ring returned to the calendar in 2014.
“Congratulations to Valtteri, he did a fantastic job and Sebastian has been very quick. It just wasn’t meant to be today,” said Hamilton, whose gearbox was swapped out after the team discovered a problem from the previous race in Azerbaijan.
“I’ll do the best job I can. I want to get up there and get a one-two with Valtteri.”
Hamilton won last year with now-retired team mate Nico Rosberg triumphant in 2014 and 2015.
The Briton’s grid penalty dispelled some of the tension from a weekend that started with continued rumblings from Baku and the ‘road rage’ controversy that has dominated the headlines over the past two weeks.
Vettel had to make a public apology after accusing his rival of ‘brake-testing’ him after the Ferrari driver drove into the back of the Mercedes and then banged wheels while they were behind the safety car