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2018 F1

Bottas clinch Austrian GP pole with record lap in Mercedes lockout

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Valtteri Bottas claimed his maiden pole position of the season and becomes the second Finnish driver to claim a pole position at this circuit after Mika Hakkinen. The Finn post a time of 1 minute 03:130 seconds, edging his team-mate Lewis Hamilton by a narrow margin of 0.019 seconds. This is Mercedes second consecutive front row lockout after Paul Ricard last weekend. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel clocked the third fastest time to complete the top three podium positions on the grid.

Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen qualified fourth to complete a second-row lockout for the Maranello team. Ferrari had an odd strategy at this circuit where they used a set of supersoft tyres in the first qualifying session, and switched to ultra-soft tyres for the last two sessions. This is a circuit where the team has brought the least number of super soft and soft compounds.

The German has an extra set of the yellow tyre to use for the longer stint of the race, but the Finn has only one set left. As far as the supersoft compound goes, Raikkonen has one set left and Vettel probably doesn’t have any extra sets after using them in the qualifying session. So its interesting to see how their strategies play out in the race from the third and fourth position on the grid.

Red Bull Racing drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo had a hard time in the Q1 and Q2 and almost got edged out by the Haas drivers. While Verstappen qualified fifth, Ricciardo had to settle for a seventh place on the grid. The two Red Bull drivers were split by the Haas of Romain Grosjean who qualified sixth, the same place he qualified at in Australia, however the Frenchman is still to score points this season.

Haas driver Kevin Magnussen clocked the eighth fastest lap and was followed by Renault drivers Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg who qualified ninth and tenth respectively on the grid.

The first session of qualifying saw Stoffel Vandoorne (16th), Sergio Perez (17th), Sergie Sirotkin (18th), Brendon Hartley (19th), and Marcus Ericsson (20th) get eliminated. Vandoorne and Hartley damaged their front wings when they spun of-track in the third free practice session, earlier in the day.

In the second session of qualifying the drivers eliminated were Esteban Ocon (11th), Pierre Gasly (12th), Charles Leclerc (13th), Fernando Alonso (14th), Lance Stroll (15th). Leclerc however has a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change, after he suffered engine problems in the practice session earlier in the day.

In the mid-field, while Haas team have had a strong weekend, Force India have been eliminated in Q3 and Q2 which comes as a surprise and the team has been struggling at this circuit. Renault have managed sealing fifth row on the grid but Sainz has out-qualified Hulkenberg who has had a history of strong performances around this circuit.

It will be a close fight between the top four in the race, where Ferrari might have an edge over the Mercedes with their pace on the soft tyre. Red Bull Racing might have looked dull today, but in race trims they should be closer in the fight. The first lap will be an interesting one given that neither Hamilton or Vettel are on pole, and Bottas will probably have to work hard in keeping that pole since the two title contenders, will be thirsty to snatch the lead from him.

While the Austrian circuit can be rewarding if you get everything right, it can be unforgiving for the smallest of errors. Some of the kerbs can be driven over but some can be brutal, as seen in the practice and qualifying sessions where a lot of the drivers damaged their front wings running over them.

With the dry weather on forecast for race day, it will all come down to the least number of errors, maximising performance on used compounds, tyre degradation and strategies. Therefore, this second race of the first triple header in F1 history might unfold to be an interesting weekend. The race starts at 6:40 pm IST and 3:10 pm local Austrian time.

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