Forced to carry Ferrari’s hopes by his lonesome, Charles Leclerc stepped-up with an unassailable performance to take pole position for the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix.
Driving the only Ferrari on track in Q3, Leclerc finished top of the timesheets with a track record 1:03.003 at the Red Bull Ring, as Sebastian Vettel was denied the opportunity to set a time due to an issue with the air pressure line on his SF90’s engine.
Already the fastest man on track by the end of Q2, the Monegasque maintained his advantage throughout the decider, taking full advantage of one of the few tracks that suits his car to beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton by 0.259 seconds, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen third, a further 0.177 seconds back.
His second career pole, Leclerc was clearly thrilled with his performance, saying, “the car felt amazing. In P1 I struggled a little bit and then from P2 it was quite good and a big pleasure to drive this car on the limit.”
Unfortunately for Ferrari, Leclerc’s performance will be somewhat overshadowed by the misfortune befallen by Vettel, his mechanics not able to get him back on track, relegating him to tenth on the grid.
A disappointed Vettel said afterwards: “The guys did everything they could, but we couldn’t do it in time. Obviously it’s frustrating, but there’s nothing you can do inside the car. Nobody’s fault. For sure we need to understand what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
However, the German won’t be the only driver out of position on the grid tomorrow, with Hamilton taking a three-place penalty for blocking Kimi Raikkonen in Q2, moving him to fifth on the grid. Valtteri Bottas, whose 1:03.537 was only good enough for fourth fastest, will now start in the top three.
Sure to add some spice with Vettel and Hamilton having to come through the field, Sunday could also benefit from the top teams’ differing tyre strategies in Q2. Both Ferraris opted to set their fastest times on soft tyres in the session, while both Mercedes’ and the Red Bull of Verstappen stayed on mediums, choosing to sacrifice grip off the line for a longer initial stint length.
Behind in the battle for “best of the rest”, Kevin Magnussen was the surprise of the day, a looming gearbox change penalty not deterring him from getting his Haas into P5, albeit over half a second off the top four.
McLaren’s Lando Norris finished sixth, only 0.027 seconds behind Magnussen in another strong showing for the resurgent team.
Taking seventh and eighth were the Alfa Romeo’s of Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, delivering the team’s best qualifying result of 2019.
Ahead of Vettel in ninth, Pierre Gasly endured another dismal session with a performance that will only further incite the rumour mill.
Just missing Q3 was the other Haas of Romain Grosjean, losing out to his teammate by 0.024 seconds. Nico Hulkenberg starts alongside him in 12th, beating his teammate for the first time in qualifying since the opening round in Australia.
Alexander Albon was 13th for Toro Rosso, with Daniel Ricciardo alongside him in 14th.
Carlos Sainz was the final man to reach Q2, although not setting a competitive lap time with penalties looming.
The Racing Points of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll were 16th and 17th, once again looking very un-competitive.
Daniil Kvyat’s day was over before it really began with George Russell compromising his final lap in Q1, the Russian only managing P18 as a result.
Occupying their regular spots on the grid, the Williams’ of Russell and Robert Kubica were 19th and 20th, although the former will start behind his teammate with the stewards deeming him worthy of a three-place grid drop for the Kvyat incident.
FIA Blow-By-Blow Report
Ferrari led the way in the opening stages of Q1, with both Leclerc and Vettel using medium tyres. Leclerc topped the order in the early exchanges, setting a time of 1:04.138. Verstappen, on soft tyres, then split the red cars with a lap of 1:04.339.
After a quiet opening, Mercedes were forced into final runs for both Hamilton and teammate Bottas and both eventually jumped to P2 and P3 respectively. Verstappen too, opted for a final outing in the segment and the Dutch driver rose to P1 with a time of 1:03.807, 0.011 ahead of Hamilton and two tenths clear of Bottas. Behind them, Leclerc and Vettel stayed with their medium times to progress in P4 and P5 respectively.
At the bottom of the order Racing Point’s Pérez and Stroll were eliminated in P16 and P17 ahead of Toro Rosso’s Kvyat, though the stewards also reported that after the session they would investigate whether the Russian driver had been impeded by 19th-placed Williams driver George Russell who was joined on the Q2 sidelines by team-mate Kubica.
In the second session, Verstappen was first on track, and with medium tyres on board the Dutchman powered to good lap of 1:03.835. The benchmark was swiftly passed by Leclerc and Vettel, with the Monegasque driver in P1, though both set their times on soft tyres.
Hamilton, also on mediums, then crossed the line to edge Verstappen out to P4 by three hundredths of a second. Bottas took fifth place behind the Red Bull, and the Finn was the only other driver to progress to Q3 on mediums.
Gasly made it into Q3 on a time of 1:03.988 set on soft tyres and the Frenchman took sixth place ahead of Räikkönen, the second Alfa of Giovinazzi, McLaren’s Norris and 10th-placed Magnussen of Haas.
Eliminated at this stage were Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Albon, Ricciardo and Sainz.
And there was no moving Leclerc from top spot in the final session. The Ferrari driver set a commanding pace in the first runs to take P1 three tenths of a second clear of Bottas, with Verstappen in P3. And despite improvements from Hamilton and Max, Leclerc found more pace again in the final runs to take his second career pole position with a time of 1:03.003, 0.259 ahead of Hamilton and four tenths ahead of Verstappen.
Bottas was left with fourth place, while Magnussen was an impressive fifth for Haas ahead of Norris and the Alfa Romeo of Räikkönen and Giovinazzi. Magnussen, though, will drop back due to a grid penalty.
Gasly was unable to improve on his first run time of 1:04.199 and was forced to settle for ninth place. Tenth place went to Vettel, who failed to get out in Q3 due to a mechanical issue.