Felipe Massa clinched his first pole position since 2008 to head a qualifying one-two Williams at the Red Bull Ring and end Mercedes streak of 2014 pole positions. It’s Williams’ first front-row lockout since Germany 2003, when Juan Pablo Montoya took pole ahead of Ralf Schumacher.
Valtteri Bottas was second and Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg third.
After a strong start to the season, the Williams squad have been unable to deliver a podium come Sunday afternoon. However, this weekend, and in particular on a single lap, their pace has been close to Mercedes.
However they will struggle in the opening stint of the race, judging from their tyre degradation in Friday practice. This will probably offer Rosberg his chance to get ahead of them, depending on how the start works out.
In the end in came down to drivers keeping their heads and not taking too many risks. Hamilton made mistakes on both his Q3 laps and set no time, ending up 9th, while Rosberg was very cautious on his “banker lap” in Q3 and then didn’t get the lap time in the second run, opening the door for Williams.
Massa and Bottas knew their pace was strong enough to be in with a shout of a front row, after Bottas held provisional pole following the first runs. He made a mistake on his second run, in turn leaving the door open for Massa.
Lewis Hamilton, though, was rapidly improving, with 0.4s in hand through the first two sectors of his first flyer and looking set to take his fifth pole of the season. However, a mistake in turn eight meant that the Briton went beyond the kerbing and into the run-off area. The FIA, after seeing many drivers gain an advantage from using the tarmac run-off in the penultimate corner, had prior to the session stated they would be strict in their application of the rule in regard to track limits and Hamilton’s transgression was clear cut. His time was deleted and he sat in 10th place.
As the final laps began Mercedes were under pressure then and it showed. With Bottas unable to improve on his time due to small error and Massa taking the top spot, Hamilton lost control of his W05 on the run to turn two. He spun off and that was it for his session. He will start in ninth place tomorrow as Nico Hulkenberg also had his fastest time deleted.
If you add together Hamilton’s fastest sector times, it give a lap of 1m08.658s – good enough for pole, even allowing for a poor final sector. It shows how hard he was pushing, but also the price he paid for two errors.
But the headlines today should be all about Williams and Massa. The Brazilian has not had a pole position since since his home Grand Prix in 2008 and after a life threatening crash the following year in Hungary he has been accused of losing pace.
The same can be said for Williams, whose 2012 Spanish Grand Prix victory with Pastor Maldonado remains the highlight of a lacklustre recent history. Bottas’s career-best qualifying puts Williams in very good stead heading in to tomorrow.
Their main threat will obviously come from Rosberg. The German will to some degree be satisfied with third place given Hamilton’s starting position and the German has a perfect opportunity to extend his Championship lead.
Heading the field behind Rosberg is Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who narrowly avoided an accident as he bounced across the grass on the exit of the final corner.
Daniel Ricciardo was once again the main man for Red Bull Racing, taking fifth place at the Red Bull Ring while Sebastian Vettel could only manage 13th, which will become 12th at the start once Sergio Perez’s five-place grid penalty is applied. The Force India driver qualified 11th.
Ricciardo will be joined on the third row by Kevin Magnussen, the young Dane also getting the better of his more experienced team-mate, while 22-year-old Daniil Kvyat continued to impress with seventh place.
Kimi Raikkonen will begin the race in eighth place, ahead of Hamilton and Hulkenberg.
It is likely to be a two-stop race tomorrow, with the soft, prime tyre giving good durability over a long run. Mercedes’ race pace was superior to all others during Free Practice and the victory should go to Rosberg. The interesting thing will be watching Hamilton try to find a way through the field on a narrow circuit with only two real overtaking opportunities.
Austrian Grand Prix, Spielberg, Qualifying
1. Felipe Massa Williams 1m 08.759s
2. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m 08.846s
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m 08.944s
4. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m 09.285s
5. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m 09.466s
6. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m 09.515s
7. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m 09.619s
8. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m 10.795s
9. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes No time
10. Nico Hulkenberg Force India No time
11. Sergio Perez Force India 1m 09.754s*
12. Jenson Button McLaren 1m 09.780s
13. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m 09.801s
14. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1m 09.939s
15. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m 10.073s
16. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m 10.642s
17. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m 10.825s
18. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m 11.349s
19. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m 11.412s
20. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m 11.673s
21. Max Chilton Marussia 1m 11.775s**
22. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m 12.673s