Lewis Hamilton tiptoed his way to pole position for Sunday’s Styrian Grand Prix with one of the most emphatic single-lap performances in recent Formula One memory.
Hamilton has long been considered among the sport’s wet-weather maestros, but here in Austria, the six-time world champion moved to another level by crushing the opposition - his pole lap an astonishing 1.2 seconds faster than second-placed Max Verstappen and 1.4 sec quicker than Valtteri Bottas in identical Mercedes machinery.
By his own admission, Hamilton was off colour in last week’s season opener. He finished fourth after he was penalised for putting Red Bull’s Alexander Albon in the sand trap.
But following a 46-minute delay as heavy rain crashed down on the same Spielberg venue, Hamilton was in a class of one on Saturday, topping all three sessions en route to claiming his 89th career pole and his first in a year where he hopes to match Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles. It moved Jenson Button to describe his former team-mate’s display as “extraordinary”.
Verstappen will line up alongside Hamilton on the front row, with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz a career-best third. Bottas, the early championship leader after his win last Sunday, finished fourth.
“It was a fantastic lap,” said Hamilton. “It was really as close to perfect as I could manage out there. You cannot see it, but I am smiling under this face mask.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 11, 2020
“It was the worse conditions that we could get these cars round in and it was an incredible challenge. Once we got going it was fine, but the rain got heavier and it was definitely on the limit but that is racing. I am glad they didn’t take it away from us by cancelling qualifying because it was so special being out there.”
Hamilton is the sport’s single-lap master with 21 more poles than any man before him. At Monza’s rain-hit Cathedral of Speed in 2017, Hamilton secured top spot on the grid by 1.15 sec. A year later in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix, he dazzled under the lights with a moment of self-proclaimed “magic” to take pole. But was this his best yet?
“It has been a long, long journey, but I felt at home in the rain today,” he said. “It is difficult for an athlete to explain why they are good at something. I know how good I am and that is the belief that we all have to have inside all of us.
“It is down to focus, how you study the track, the ability to be dynamic and manage the trickiest of conditions. That is what the best athletes in the world do.”
Hamilton is again expected to “take a knee” before Sunday’s race. It is unclear how many of his fellow drivers will join him after six, including Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, opted to stand here last weekend.
Hamilton could yet choose to kneel alongside his car rather than at the front of the grid. He appeared to rule out performing the gesture on the podium should he win. "I can’t see myself doing that," he said. Sources have indicated to the PA news agency that all the drivers are likely to wear anti-racism T-shirts.
Lando Norris was sixth, but the McLaren driver will be pushed back three places on the grid following a yellow-flag infringement in practice.
Compatriot George Russell finished 12th in his uncompetitive Williams. This is a bothersome period for the British team - indeed, Russell’s display marked the first time one of their cars had progressed to Q2 since the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2018 - but the young Englishman is proving a shining light.
Russell, 22, a Mercedes junior driver is under contract with Williams until the end of 2021. But his performance on Saturday will provide a fresh reminder to Silver Arrows boss Toto Wolff that he must be considered for a seat at the sport’s all-conquering team next year.
Final Positions after Qualifying
Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1min 19.273secs
Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1:20.489
Carlos Sainz (Spa) McLaren 1:20.671
Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:20.701
Esteban Ocon (Fra) Renault 1:20.922
Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:20.925
Alexander Albon (Tha) Red Bull 1:20.011
Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:21.028
Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault 1:21.192
Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:21.651
Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:19.628
George Russell (Gbr) Williams 1:19.636
Lance Stroll (Can) Racing Point 1:19.645
Daniil Kyvat (Rus) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:19.717
Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:20.211
Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:21.372
Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1:21.607
Nicholas Latifi (Can) Williams 1:21.759
Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:21.831
Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 No Time
Thanks for joining me today
I'll be back for the race tomorrow. It might not be quite as exciting as that but if it's half as good as last week I'll be happy.
It will be dry tomorrow
And because qualifying was wet today they all get free tyre choices. Medium seemed to be the best strategy last week so I expect the top two will do that. Perhaps Bottas, who is a little out of position, will want soft tyres to make his way through the field. Will anyone bother with the hards? George Russell maybe?
I can't wait.
A major, major hat tip to the drivers for that session
Hardly any errors in the entire hour.
Carlos Sainz reacts to his best career qualifying in F1
Very happy to come back and to put it into P3 for the first time in my career. This qualifying was one of the toughest - to put together in the last lap a really good lap. Something that I enjoy. The car in race trim has been better than we thought, so we are confident going into tomorrow. We saw on Friday, the race pace of the Ferraris and the Racing Points... it's going to be a tough first few laps but hopefully then I can settle into my own pace.
Hamilton reacts to his 89th pole position
What a tricky day. The weather was incredibly difficult for all of us. I had one big moment, the lap before the last. I was able to improve on the next lap. I love these days. Yesterday was a difficult day. I think today would have been better for us if it'd have been dry. I'm grateful for the rain, as always. I think we are prepared for both conditions.
Verstappen reacts to his front row start
I think overall it was a good qualifying. It seemed like we were struggling a bit more in the really wet conditions. I couldn't really put the power down. It was not easy. I think P2 is still good. The last lap would have been better; I don't think it was enough to beat Lewis.
That was astonishing from Hamilton
We've come to expect it from him, but in the rain he is something special. His 89th pole position.
*Three-place grid penalty for race start
LEWIS HAMILTON TAKES POLE POSITION FOR THE 2020 STYRIAN GRAND PRIX
HE IMPROVES MASSIVELY AT THE END! HOW DID HE DO THAT?
When everyone else was struggling to improve, he went several tenths quicker. He takes pole position by a whopping 1.2s ahead of Verstappen...
Q3 - Verstappen all over the place here...
But he's up on his previous best... but Verstappen spins at the final corner! That's his chance of pole position done...
Can Hamilton improve? He's massively up in the first two sectors...
Now Sainz in P3!
Q3 - One minute to go!
Ricciardo improves to seventh. Who is going well? Ocon! In third. But that will be his last lap. Verstappen quickest in the first sector!
Q3 - Top 10 with final laps underway
Q3 - Verstappen goes quickest!
But Hamilton is 0.5s up in the first two sectors! You will want to be the last man over the line here.
Now Hamilton goes fastest by 0.8s!
Q3 - Bottas improving...
But runs very wide at turn nine. He can't improve on P2. Can anyone dislodge Hamilton here? Sainz improving... and so is Hamilton. A man on a mission.
Sainz goes P4, 0.767 off Hamilton. Gasly goes third again!
Q3 - FIVE MINUTES TO GO
Hamilton half a second up with a mighty middle sector. Now he goes quickest, by nearly four tenths.
Might this be a case of who can get over the line last? Verstappen is struggling at the moment. He's in third but failing to improve his lap times. And now Albon is ahead of him. He's complaining of poor visibility.
Q3 - Now Bottas goes quickest
The lap times are tumbling. The visibility is poor. This is fascinating. That Mercedes is such a great all-round car, though.
Q3 - Top 10 so far
Q3 - Hamilton goes quickest!
By three tenths. Bottas can only go (or stay) P6...
Gasly goes third as Verstappen has a poor first sector.
Six minutes to go...
Q3 - Vettel P7
Verstappen takes another three tenths off his time, Norris goes second. Ocon third. What can Mercedes do?!
Q3 - Verstappen goes quickest
Norris 1.6s behind, Ocon can't beat it, a second down. Bottas and Hamilton aren't going to challenge it... Hamilton goes second ahead of Bottas, but two tenths down...
This is fantastic to watch. This is where the drivers earn their money. Verstappen on another quick lap...
Q3 - So much wheelspin for Verstappen
This is going to be fascinating. The first hot laps could be the most crucial, they could decide pole. Verstappen is looking twitchy but quick. He's ahead of both Mercedes so far...
Q3 - It definitely looks a lot wetter out there
Wetter than the end of Q2, anyway. Will that be a factor? Of course, it will. But how much? And who will it favour?
12 minutes to go.
Q2 - Drivers through
Only a tenth between Leclerc and Vettel. Ferrari in all sorts of bother, whatever the weather, it seems.
Drivers out: LEC, RUS, STR, KVY, MAG
Q2 - Can Stroll get out?
He gets onto the kerbs in turn nine and gets a bit nervous...no, he can't do it! Gasly goes P5!
Can Leclerc get into Q3? No! He can't. He's out. Vettel through in P10. Russell doesn't make it through but he's still P12. Brilliant work. Only 0.008s off Leclerc's time.
Q2 - Hamilton goes quickest
Maybe there is some time out there! Leclerc told to push all the time. He has another two laps here. Can he improve into the top 10? Nope. Doesn't look like it...Nope. Stays in P11. He has one more go...
Q2 - Conditions worsening
Vettel is giving it another go — but it looks like Leclerc will not be making it through to Q3...
Russell is only a tenth away from getting through if he can improve in the final 90 seconds...
Q2 - Vettel runs wide...
On his hot lap. 1.8s down in sector one. McLaren looking fairly decent in the wet here.
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) July 11, 2020
Rain is getting heavier now. Will those in the drop zone be able to improve?
They are: LEC, RUS, STR, KVY, MAG
Magnussen is barely within half a second of the driver in front of him, so I'd be surprised if he could do anything.
Q2 - Six minutes to go
Stroll failing to improve. Norris pops up into P3. Wonder how annoyed he'll be at that needless three-place grid penalty. Don't think Russell has the pace to get through here, but he did very well to be in Q2 in the first place. He can only improve to 12th.
Verstappen still quickest. Incident involving Kvyat and Leclerc being looked at after the race. Not sure what that one is about.
Q2 - Ferrari struggling now
Down in P10 and P11.
Q2 - Top 10
Q2 - Hamilton goes quickest
For barely a moment — Verstappen beats him by over half-a-second. Albon is nowhere near, in P8, 1.521s down on his team-mate. Ricciardo P4, just ahead of Norris.
Q2 - Bottas goes quickest
He's two seconds quicker than Vettel and 2.474 ahead of Hamilton. Leclerc goes second, 1.5s adrift. It's still raining and not really drying out on track. Verstappen nips into second, 1.048s behind Bottas. Fine lap from the Finn.
Q2 - Think we'll see a few more spinners in this session
As the drivers get more comfortable and go for it a bit more. Not sure I fancy anyone but Mercedes taking pole position, whatever the weather.
More fun in the wet. Surprisingly few spins in that 18 minutes. Hamilton is told by his team that it's raining again. That's why they're champions.
Lance Stroll is a fairly poor qualifier in the dry
But in the wet... he's actually mighty fine. He ended that session in P8. Twice through to Q2 in a row for him. Nice work.
Q1 - Drivers through
Perez looked mighty yesterday in practice. But whatever the reason, he couldn't make it out of Q1 in the wet conditions. That is going to be irritating.
Q1 - RED FLAG
Not sure why, only 13 seconds left going. It's because Giovinazzi didn't manage to keep it going and pulled up at the side of the track at turn four. That'll be the end of the session...
Q1 - Giovinazzi into the barriers!
He spins and goes backwards at the final but one turn. He damages his rear wing but can carry on going. A bit of debris fell off onto the pit straight which I thought may require red flags or at least double waves yellows, but no. He keeps going but will surely be out...
Q1 - Perez REALLY struggling here
He just cannot find the time to get out of the drop zone. Grosjean suffered floor damage on his previous excursion and will not be coming out.
Q1 - Can Russell get out of the drop zone?
Yes he can, P12. How long is that going to last? Not very long, I suspect. Giovinazzi has dropped down, not sure if he dropped back in to change his tyres for fresh wets. He can't get out of the bottom five, though, he's P16. Perez not out of danger, either in P18. Four seconds off the pace. Stroll in P9.
Crikey. This is going to be pretty close.
— BWT Racing Point F1 Team (@RacingPointF1) July 11, 2020
Q1 - Drivers in the drop zone
Sainz goes quickest now! Displacing Hamilton, who just displaced Norris. We've taken about six seconds off the top lap time since the session started. Four minutes left and Russell is trying desperately to get out of the bottom five.
Q1 - Six minutes left
Bottas goes back to the top of the pack.
This could be a good opportunity for Williams.
— WILLIAMS RACING (@WilliamsRacing) July 11, 2020
And now Norris goes quickest by half a second!
Q1 - Mercedes 1-2 here
Wet or dry, they have pace. Ocon splits them in his Renault, though, with a very handy lap time. Just 0.023s off Hamilton's time. The Racing Points are struggling massively here. Perez improves his lap time but he's still 17th...
Q1 - Drivers in the drop zone with nine minutes left
Q1 - Bottas jumps to the top
For a bit, anyway. Verstappen knocks him off by a tenth or two.
Q1 - 12 minutes remaining
The plan for most drivers is to keep circulating and keep improving their times. No yellow flags yet and whilst it looks absolutely appalling out there, there have been very few spins so far. Not too many cars even running wide...
Leclerc jumps ahead of Vettel, Verstappen goes to second, Ocon third.
Q1 - Top 10
Drop zone: OCO, RIC, KVY, HAM, GRO
Q1 - George Russell goes quickest!
A 1.24.3. Nice. I think the key to a good lap time is finding a gap where you are not directly behind another car and thus tones of spray. The times are tumbling quickly now...
Q1 - Vettel quickest at the moment
Ahead of Giovinazzi, Leclerc and Latifi. Tonnes of drivers setting times now, I'll update you all in a minute.
Q1 - Vettel will be the first driver to set a time
Followed by Leclerc and then about 18 others. The huge amount of downforce that these cars have creates a lot of spray. Grosjean goes into the gravel to avoid getting in the way of Vettel's hot lap. Unusual, but it worked. And they didn't even get the yellow flags out...?
Q1 - 17 minutes to go
As you'd expect, nobody is out on the intermediate tyres. All on extremes or full wets (those are the same thing). These cars will clear a lot of water in a short space of time. But it's pretty poor visibility out there, with 19 cars on the track at the same time.
Yes! This could be brilliant. I expect a yellow flag within the first minute.
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) July 11, 2020
Vettel told the forecast is to get heavier...
A queue of cars forms at the end of the pit lane
There will be a rush to make the best of the conditions, which could of course, worsen. Vettel is at the front of that line and there's still time on the clock before it all starts.
Q1 to begin in 10 minutes time
Great news. If no more rain falls.
It looks a little better now
As if the rain has eased. The track is obviously still incredibly damp and the rain is falling, just about, but the water is draining away quite well at the moment.
The Safety Car returns to the track and does another lap, which is encouraging. I think there's a chance we could be going racing (qualifying), soon.
What did we learn last weekend?
Well, we don't know absolutely everything, but I had a deep dive into the data and tried to work out who has made the most — and least — progress since last year. It is not good reading for Ferrari or Alfa Romeo.
I don't think much has changed since last weekend.
The medical car is currently out on track
A nice looking motor it is, too. We are nowhere near close to getting F1 cars on track, though. Not in these conditions.
The rain isn't getting any lighter out there at the moment. Plenty of time to play with at the moment, though. There will be a 10-minute warning before it all kicks off, by the way.
I cannot believe how much Sky Sports have banged on about not running qualifying tomorrow
Questions about starting the race on Monday, using FP2 times to set the grid etc. There is literally 0mm of rain predicted for tomorrow here. Nothing. Zip. Not a drop.
START OF Q1 DELAYED
Yeah, that must have been the feedback from the Safety Car driver, who was out on the track a few minutes ago. Oh well. This will be interesting, that gap in the clouds was not taken advantage of.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 11, 2020
Oh, er...maybe not...
Ted Kravitz on Sky Sports F1 makes a very good point. It has not been raining for the last 90 minutes and it is now raining fairly steadily again. In that time there was no running from other series. Could they have moved qualifying forward an hour to get the best chance of qualifying done?
Seeing the Safety Car going around right now I think we could be in with a "Q1 start delayed by 15 minutes..." type situation...
We'll find out in five minutes.
I think it's safe to say that qualifying can start in these conditions
15 minutes to go until it starts, although the rain has started again. That said, F1 cars can run in rain. Rain =/= no running. It's not IndyCar. Still, the amount of torque these cars have it can be quite treacherous.
In other F1 news this week, Fernando Alonso announced his return
He'll be joining Renault alongside Esteban Ocon for 2021. Can he rekindle the success that he had with the team in the early-mid 2000s? That will require a big improvement from the team, but it is possible as I argued here. Here you can read my column: Fernando Alonso's F1 return is a long shot, but there is just a glimmer of hope at glory.
You have to admit it would be pretty funny if Q1 started with drivers on slicks
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 11, 2020
Could F1 fans be allowed back to races by September?
The Italian Grand Prix could be the first to allow spectators in to watch.
The news that spectators may return within two months will provide a boost to the sport as Hamilton prepares to get his title defence back on track in front of scores of empty grandstands again in Austria. It is among 10 to have now been confirmed by the sport’s bosses.
However, for your information, here are the times from FP2...
Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1min 03.660secs
Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes GP 1:03.703
Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point 1:03.877
Lance Stroll (Can) Racing Point 1:04.241
Carlos Sainz (Spa) McLaren 1:04.333
Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:04.348
Alexander Albon (Tha) Red Bull 1:04.437
Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:04.541
Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:04.706
Esteban Ocon (Fra) Renault 1:04.746
Pierre Gasly (Fra) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:04.757
Daniil Kyvat (Rus) Scuderia AlphaTauri 1:05.050
Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:05.152
Antonio Giovinazzi (Ita) Alfa Romeo Racing 1:05.365
George Russell (Gbr) Williams 1:05.588
Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1:05.613
Nicholas Latifi (Can) Williams 1:05.655
Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:05.790
Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas F1 1:06.096
Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Renault No Time
Our man on the ground with updates from trackside
Good news. It’s stopped raining here. If it stays this way, qualifying will be on. #StyrianGP
— Philip Duncan (@PhilDuncanF1) July 11, 2020
Have to say I have had it up to here with the talk about FP2 times setting the grid if qualifying doesn't take place today. The forecast for tomorrow is absolutely fine. They will just run qualifying in the morning. It'll be early but it's easily done.
I know it's a way to make the fifth practice session on the same track within a week interesting. But no, just no. The TV coverage is showing interviews with seven or eight drivers giving their thoughts on this entirely theoretical situation which has about as much chance of happening as Williams winning this race.
FIA Race Director on the various scenarios...
Michael Masi on the different ways the grid for Sunday's race could be decided, should rain wash out Saturday
This includes the possibility of using the FP2 times set on Friday#AustrianGP 🇦🇹 #F1 pic.twitter.com/WeX1luR7Pi
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 11, 2020
I think it actually still is raining but fairly lightly.
Well, it looks fairly dry in from the TV pictures at the moment
So that's a positive. It definitely looks brighter than it did a couple of hours ago. It still looks pretty gloomy, though, but I think the rain has stopped.
Qualifying is due to start in an hour
— Mercedes-AMG F1 (@MercedesAMGF1) July 11, 2020
The dry race was fairly interesting last week, although with the intervention of numerous safety cars. A mixed-up grid would be excellent (as it always is). Guess the two things we need more of in F1 is unreliability and rain...
What does the forecast look like?
This looks a bit more optimistic, right?
Good afternoon F1 fans
And welcome to what we hope will be our coverage of qualifying for the 2020 Styrian Grand Prix. As opposed to our coverage on updates every now and them from a very wet Red Bull Ring, where a decision is kicked down the road at regular intervals being called off eventually about three hours later, whilst the rain continues to fall very heavily at the circuit.
Yes, it's wet at the Red Bull Ring. Final practice this morning was initially delayed "indefinitely" and then red flagged altogether. The forecast is for pretty heavy and steady rain throughout the entire day. It being July 11 and everything means that it's light until quite late, so the delay could be quite long. However, looking at the potential for the next few hours and seeing it's unlikely might mean it all gets called off a little before time.
Earlier today F1's Ross Brawn said that there could be a window where running is possible towards the end of the day. Let's hope that is the case. I'd much rather have a late but damp qualifying today than a dry one tomorrow. Which is most likely what would happen, repeating the feat of Super Sunday (if you want to call it that) at the Japanese Grand Prix last year.
What did we learn from practice yesterday? I am struggling to think it's a great deal other than an underlining of what we already knew — Mercedes are quick, Red Bull are a little behind them, Racing Point seem to be leading the midfield in raw pace terms, McLaren look good, Ferrari are in loads of trouble and Haas, Alfa Romeo and Williams are all adrift at the back. Oh, and Lando Norris got a three place grid penalty for tomorrow's race after overtaking two cars under yellow flags. We definitely learned that.
So, will we have any action? When will it happen? At the moment I haven't a clue. But I'll be here for the duration of the time that qualifying today remains a possibility (and as distant as it seems now, things can change quite quickly). Hopefully we'll get some running.