Lewis Hamilton once again underlined his overwhelming class as Formula 1's wet-weather master as he stormed to a sensational pole position during qualifying for the Styrian Grand Prix. 

Hamilton was under pressure and in need of a response after losing early ground to Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in the title race following the Finn’s victory at the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix last time out, and he bounced back emphatically at the second consecutive race to be held in Spielberg

The six-times world champion charged to his first pole position of the delayed 2020 season - and the 89th of his F1 career - in a qualifying session which was initially delayed by 45 minutes due to the heavy rain and thunderstorms which hit the Red Bull Ring in Austria on Saturday.

Hamilton has topped nine of the previous 13 wet qualifying sessions but the dominant nature of his performance in Austria amid treacherous conditions might just make this his most impressive. 

The Briton looked untouchable throughout and utterly crushed his opposition. Max Verstappen, another driver who excels in the wet, ultimately had no answer and was a full 1.216s adrift in his Red Bull after spinning on his final flying lap in Q3.

Hamilton had already posted a lap good enough for pole by seven-tenths when he set about a further improvement on his last run, remarkably finding an additional four-tenths. 

Granted, car performance is a big factor behind success and Mercedes’ W11 challenger looks the class of the field this year in terms of grip of stability, but wet weather often takes away some of that performance advantage, placing greater emphasis on raw driver skill in the toughest of circumstances. 

Hamilton’s supreme display was emphasised further by the fact Bottas - in the same Mercedes machinery - wound up 1.428s slower in fourth place.  

Hamilton said he had his “heart in his mouth” on his final flying lap which he described as being “close to perfect”, while he drew comparisons to his much-lauded performance at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2008. 

"It was a fantastic lap, the last one," Hamilton explained.

"I think [it was] just the importance of managing your time out there, managing your battery pack, knowing when to use the few laps that you have on the qualifying modes, creating the gap, [and] not making a mistake when it counts.

"That last lap for me was really as close to perfect as I could really get in those conditions.

"Considering it was raining more, it makes me even happier knowing that we could go a bit quicker during that time.

"It definitely takes me back to times like Silverstone 2008, because when you're really at one with the car and not fazed at all, and just being very dynamic with your driving style from corner to corner.

"The wet patches arrive, and the puddles are shifting about with the cars that are driving ahead of you, which is a massive challenge.”

Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff heaped praise on Hamilton, calling his performance “not from this world”. 

"Very rarely do you see performances that are just not from this world," Wolff explained. 

"When you look at the onboard of his lap, he was balancing the car on the edge, aquaplaning, throttle control was incredible.

"I can't remember that I have seen 1.2 seconds between first and second.” 

Sainz, Ocon and Russell impress



Behind a dominant Hamilton, a number of drivers starred in the tricky conditions, often considered the ‘great leveller’ in F1. 

After his teammate’s Lando Norris’ heroics last weekend, it was Carlos Sainz’s turn to grab the headlines this time for McLaren. The Spaniard “risked everything” in order to secure his best-ever F1 starting position of third thanks to a brilliant lap that was just one-tenth shy of earning a spot on the front-row. 

McLaren’s MCL34 emerged as one of the strongest packages in the wet as both drivers qualified inside the top 10 (though Norris has a three-place grid drop looming), acting as yet more encouragement   for the Woking squad which has made a strong start to the season. 

Esteban Ocon made the most of the conditions to grab an excellent fifth for Renault as he outqualified teammate Daniel Ricciardo for the first time, and by a margin of three-tenths of a second to boot. P5 marks Ocon’s highest-starting position since he impressed with third place in a damp qualifying for the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix. 

Williams’ promising progress continued as George Russell gave the team its first Q2 appearance since Brazil 2018 with a fantastic effort. 

The Briton had already set the 12th-fastest time in Q1 and went even better in Q2, posting a lap that was just 0.009s slower than Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari. 

After Russell impressed with his virtual racing abilities during the enforced break, a much-improved Williams is now enabling him to show glimpses of his superstar potential in the real-world. 

Wet qualifying dampens Ferrari’s spirits

Ferrari had hoped for a better showing second time round in Austria after bringing forward an aerodynamic package upgrade which was originally intended for Hungary. 

But even the wet weather couldn’t help improve its prospects as the Scuderia’s struggles continued in qualifying. 

Sebastian Vettel just scraped through into the top-10 shootout but could only round out the Q3 runners in another disappointing performance, while Leclerc was frustrated to have only set the 11th-fastest time. 

The bad news continued for Ferrari after the session finished when Leclerc was slapped with a three-place grid penalty for impending AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat, dropping him to 14th for Sunday’s race. 

Asked if he expected Ferrari to perform better in the wet conditions, Vettel replied: “Honestly, yes.

"It was a difficult session for us. We struggled to get the tyres to work and now we have to have a good look to see why. I had lots of aquaplaning in particular at the end of Q2 and in Q3 as well.

"So not ideal. We need to make sure we learn the maximum we can from this session and take it into the next wet session. Tomorrow should be dry which is a bit different. We fight and try everything we can tomorrow.''

 

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