In a wet weather performance for the ages, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton further added to his Formula 1 legend in qualifying for the Styrian Grand Prix on Saturday.
Setting a fastest time of 1:19.273, Hamilton was an incredible 1.216 seconds clear of next-closest competitor Max Verstappen, with Carlos Sainz in third a further 0.182s back.
Body language oozing confidence, the World Champion said afterwards, “Honestly I am happy. What a tricky day, the weather is incredibly difficult. I had a big aquaplane at one point – I definitely had my heart in my mouth – but I was able to improve and put in a nice, clean lap.
“I love days like this. Racing like this feels like it used to. Yesterday was a difficult day. P1 was ok but then P2 there was an issue – but nothing major. It would be better for us if it was dry but I’m grateful the rain, as always, and we’ll prepare as a team for both conditions,” he added.
A session that looked like it might never get underway with the amount of rain passing through the Spielberg area, qualifying eventually began 46 minutes after its scheduled 15:00 start time, and while it provided plenty of ups and downs throughout, Hamilton’s performance was a constant.
Outqualified by Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas here a week ago, the Briton was able to comprehensively reverse his fortunes as he topped the timesheets in all three phases, constantly getting the most out of a track that lacked plenty in terms of both grip and visibility.
And while Verstappen will rue spinning out of a fast lap at the close of Q3 after coming-across a pitting Sebastian Vettel, it seemed unlikely he had the goods to challenge Hamilton.
The Dutchman said, “In Q3 it was raining a lot more. It was not easy. It could have been better but I don’t think it was enough to beat Lewis. You can’t see a thing, it is hard to see the braking zones but that is the same for everyone. I think in the dry we can have a good shot at it.”
For his part, Sainz was elated with P3, although his chances of replicating McLaren teammate Lando Norris’ podium from a week ago are set to come under immediate threat from Valtteri Bottas in fourth.
The Spaniard said, “Very happy to put in P3 for the first time in my career. It feels amazing especially that qualifying was one of the toughest I have done. There was so much aquaplaning it was crazy.
“The car on race trim has been better than we thought so we are kind of confidence going into tomorrow. I will have Alex and Valtteri behind so will be a tough first few laps but hopefully, I can settle into my pace,” added Sainz.
Esteban Ocon will be equally pleased with his 5th place, showing a marked improvement on his qualifying performance from a week ago, while Lando Norris came home a mere 0.003s behind the Frenchman in 6th.
Alexander Albon had a disappointing session in 7th, not so much for his 0.522s gap to teammate Verstappen as for the slim 0.017s margin that separated him from his predecessor at Red Bull, Pierre Gasly, in 8th.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo finished 9th, his performance not helped by constant issues with traffic, but still ahead of the Ferrari pairing of Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc in 10th and 11th respectively.
Williams’ George Russell was another prime beneficiary of the wet conditions as he managed P12 in his first-ever appearance in Q2, and the team’s first since the 2018 F1 season. The kid is good.
Conversely, Lance Stroll will feel he underachieved in 13th, although his effort was nowhere near as disappointing as Racing Point teammate Sergio Perez, who missed the cut in Q1 as he managed only the 17th-best time.
Daniil Kvyat and Kevin Magnussen rounded-out the last of the Q2 runners, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo, who was over a second off their pace.
Behind the aforementioned Perez, Nicholas Latifi’s first taste of wet-weather qualifying saw him finish 18th, while Antonio Giovinazzi ruined any chance of progressing as he spun out of his final lap in Q1, ending up in the barriers.
Last-placed Romain Grosjean endured a bizarre session, only completing his out-lap before sliding off the track and being recalled to the pits with a suspected water pump issue.
— FIA (@fia) July 11, 2020