Styrian GP Qualifying: Lewis Hamilton claims wet-weather pole position

11 July 2020, 14:13 | Updated: 11 July 2020, 22:04

Lewis Hamilton claimed a brilliant first pole of the 2020 Formula 1 season with a wet-weather masterclass in treacherous track conditions at the Styrian GP.

A week on from being beaten to pole by team-mate Valtteri Bottas in Austria and then finishing a penalised fourth in the race, Hamilton was in breathtaking form and claimed pole at Spielberg by a massive 1.2-second margin from Red Bull's Max Verstappen in a delayed qualifying hour.

Verstappen was challenging his Mercedes rival on the final lap but a half-spin at Turn Nine put paid to the Dutchman's ambitions. In any case, Hamilton was going significantly faster on his own lap in behind and uncorked a stunning 1:19.273 pole-securing time.

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"It was looking like a really good lap by Max, but Lewis' lap was extraordinary," said Sky F1's Jenson Button.

Hamilton, maintaining his record of claiming at least one pole in every season of his career, said: "What a tricky day, the weather's obviously incredibly difficult out there for all of us. A lot of the time you can't even see where you're going.

"I had one big moment the lap before the last, which definitely had my heart in my mouth, but I was able to improve on the last lap which was nice and clean."

McLaren will start third for the second week in succession - this time with Carlos Sainz - as they took the scalp of Bottas, the early championship leader.

The Finn lapped 1.4s slower than Hamilton in Q3 and pointed to glazed brakes on his Mercedes for his struggle.

Esteban Ocon shone for Renault as he out-qualified Daniel Ricciardo at the second attempt to take fifth on the grid ahead of Lando Norris - who carries a three-place grid penalty into the race - and the other Red Bull of Alex Albon.

But the big change in conditions compared to last weekend did not change the fortunes of struggling Ferrari.

Sebastian Vettel was 10th and slowest of all in Q3, while Charles Leclerc missed out in Q2 this weekend after his team-mate fell at the same second hurdle last week.

"However we look at it, we're just too slow at the moment," said Leclerc.

Leclerc was due to start in 11th place but was handed a three-place grid penalty for impeding Daniil Kvyat. He therefore drops to 14th, with George Russell up into 11th after he claimed improved Williams' best qualifying result since 2018 and the highest grid placing of his bourgeoning career.

Styrian GP Qualifying: Top 10
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
3. Carlos Sainz, McLaren
4. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
5. Esteban Ocon, Renault
6. Lando Norris*, McLaren
7. Alex Albon, Red Bull
8. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
9. Daniel Ricciardo, Renault,
10. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari

*three-place grid penalty

Hamilton shines on track after Saturday deluge

Heavy rain had played havoc with Saturday's initial track running at a saturated Red Bull Ring.

The F3 race in the morning started on schedule but a series of crashes and spins saw it red-flagged soon after and eventually called off, while F1's Practice Three session did not begin at all.

And although the weather did improve in the hour before qualifying, the heavens heavily opened once more in the minutes before Q1 was due to begin and the session was duly put on hold.

It was another 46 minutes before Race Control deemed the track safe for running and, with forecasts continuing to be uncertain into the late afternoon, a frenetic qualifying hour began.

Hamilton topped Q1 and Q2, but Verstappen finished within two tenths of him in both sessions.

By that stage, Sergio Perez in the highly-fancied Racing Point - which would likely have been challenging for the top six in the dry - had dropped out in Q1, followed by team-mate Lance Stroll and Ferrari's Leclerc in the second stage.

Q3 began amid intensifying rain and Hamilton upped the ante relative to his would-be challengers, outpacing Verstappen by 0.8s and the rest of the field by more than a second ahead of the final runs.

"This is outstanding driving. In these conditions, absolutely outstanding through the field," said Brundle, with a number of other drivers such as Sainz and Ocon playing starring roles alongside the front two.

On the final laps, Verstappen was within 0.078s of Hamilton's benchmark time before his Turn Nine spin - but, it was largely academic, as the Mercedes was already lighting up the timesheet behind him on the track to further put pole out of reach.

"I think overall it was a good qualifying but in Q3 it was raining a lot more," said Verstappen, who dropped out of last week's season-opener with reliability trouble. "It seems we were struggling a bit more in the really wet conditions. I was aquaplaning a lot more.

"But I think P2 is still good. It was just very tricky out there. The last lap was a bit better but I don't think it was enough to beat Lewis."

Indeed as Hamilton, F1's long-established wet-weather master, readily admitted: "I love these days."

The new Formula 1 season is underway in dramatic style on Sky Sports F1 and continues this week with the second race at the Red Bull Ring - the Styrian GP. Find out more & subscribe.