SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) — Championship leader Lewis Hamilton found a bit of extra speed when it mattered most to secure pole position for Formula One’s Austrian Grand Prix, where the British driver starts from the front for the seventh time in eight races this season and 45th in his career.
After edging his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in a spectacular end to qualifying on Saturday, Hamilton said “when it counted I did what I need to do.”
The defending champion left it very late to clock a best lap of 1 minute, 8.455 seconds to beat Rosberg’s leading mark by 0.20, and his latest pole put him in all-time equal third place alongside four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, who was third fastest for Ferrari.
“I’d much rather have his championships than the pole positions,” said Hamilton, who is eyeing a third F1 title. “I’m working on that.”
It also completed a calendar year of poles for Mercedes, who were last beaten to pole here last year by Williams driver Felipe Massa.
After finishing quickest in the second and third practice runs, Vettel was hopeful but he qualified .355 behind Hamilton, while Massa was .737 adrift in fourth.
Vettel joked that he was trying to find new ways to catch Mercedes — right down to changing his music selection.
Asked what he was listening to on his headphones, the 27-year-old German quipped that it was ‘Help’ from the Beatles.
“I need help, they’re too quick,” he said.
After beating Rosberg’s time — but with Rosberg still having time for another lap — Hamilton went out again with only one minute left. It went wrong as he locked his rear tires, span his car backward and flew into gravel.
“Afterwards I was like ‘I’ve probably lost it there,'” Hamilton said. “It was a bad qualifying session for me generally. I’m grateful.”
Rosberg was hoping to beat Hamilton in qualifying for only the second time this season after securing pole at last month’s Spanish GP.
However, having gone faster in sector two, Rosberg then lost it on the final turn of his last lap, veering too wide left and skidding up a bank before halting in the gravel.
“Maybe it was a little bit wet or I overdid it there,” Rosberg said. “I knew I had to go for it because it was very, very close with Lewis.”
The German driver looked furious when he climbed out of his car, shaking his head in disbelief before walking back to the pit lane.
“This track is generally very difficult because you have to get the braking right and attack to get a lap time here,” said Rosberg, who had topped Q2 ahead of Hamilton. “A lot of humidity on the tires, so maybe that caused the spin, not so sure.”
Rosberg, who has won two races this season to Hamilton’s four, trails him by 17 points overall.
Vettel, who is third overall, still thinks Mercedes has too much in reserve.
“Generally Mercedes seem to be able to turn up the performance quite a bit,” he said. “There’s some work for us to do.”
It was a much more frustrating day for his teammate Kimi Raikkonen, however, as he failed to even make the second part of qualifying, despite posting the third quickest times in all three practice runs.
Meanwhile, home fans around the Red Bull Ring in Austria hoping to see a strong performance were left feeling disappointed.
Both running with new engines, Daniil Kvyat was eighth quickest and Daniel Ricciardo 14th.
They will tumble further down the grid, having both been given 10-place penalties for taking their fifth engines of the season — one more than each driver is allocated per season.
That is also the case for McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, who were already demoted to the back of the grid for the new engines and for further element changes on their power units.
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