Charles Leclerc stayed cool in the heat to claim a convincing pole position for Ferrari with a track record lap on Saturday, outpacing Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes by two-tenths of a second at the Austrian Grand Prix.
The 21-year-old Monegasque clocked his best lap of one minute and 3.003 seconds in the final seconds of a dramatic session that saw his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel unable to run due to an air pressure problem.
Max Verstappen, backed by an ‘orange army’ of fans in the steaming Styrian Alps, was third for Red Bull ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas who had taken pole for the last two years.
Defending five-time champion Hamilton struggled for outright speed and faced a stewards’ inquiry after the session following an incident in Q1 when he appeared to obstruct Kimi Raikkonen.
Kevin Magnussen wound up in fifth place for Haas, but will take a five-place grid penalty for taking a new gearbox, ahead of British rookie Lando Norris of McLaren, Raikkonen and his Alfa Romeo team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi.
Frenchman Pierre Gasly was ninth in the second Red Bull and Vettel 10th, but he will start from ninth, at least, following the penalties.
“The car felt amazing,” said a delighted Leclerc, having claimed his second career pole – following his success in Bahrain.
“I struggled in P1, but after some changes we did well and I’m happy to bring pole home. Tomorrow, we have to finish the job.”
Ferrari are without a win this season or since the 2018 United States Grand Prix won by Raikkonen and seek to end Mercedes’ record run of eight season-opening triumphs and 10 victories in succession.
Hamilton said: “Congratulations to Charles. He’s been quick all weekend…. It’s cool to see three different teams as the top three and I get to fight the young ones tomorrow.”
Verstappen praised the support he received from his countrymen. “It’s so great and it brings a smile to my face… With our upgrades, the car seems to be working better and this is an amazing result for us.”
The session began in sweltering conditions with an air temperature of 30 degrees, and the track at 52.
Norris went top briefly before Leclerc and Ferrari flexed their muscles.
Unexpectedly, Red Bull soared. Verstappen split the Ferraris for second and the under-pressure Gasly took fourth, within two-tenths. Mercedes, feeling the heat, responded by re-joining the fray in the final minutes, a rarity.
Verstappen went top as Hamilton followed, just 0.011 behind, to take second ahead of Bottas, in third, and the two Ferraris.
Out went Sergio Perez and his Racing Point team-mate Lance Stroll along with Toro Rosso’s luckless Daniil Kvyat, who swerved wide when he met heavy traffic on his late flying lap at the blind Turn Nine, and the two Williams.
That incident, in which Kvyat avoided George Russell of Williams, required a post-session stewards’ inquiry.
Mercedes switched to mediums for Q2 while Ferrari went, unexpectedly, for softs – the tyres used for their best times in Q2 being those to be used for the start of Sunday’s race.
The times tumbled immediately, Bottas leading the way into the 1:03’s with Verstappen and the Ferraris doing the same as Leclerc rose to the top.
“Bono, we’re not quick on the straights,” said a frustrated Hamilton, looking for a tow. Eventually, he improved to third behind Leclerc and Vettel while Romain Grosjean, Nico Hulkenberg, Alex Albon, Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz missed the top-ten cut.
Before Q3 began, there was frantic activity at Ferrari where a side-pod of Vettel’s car was the centre of attention, including that of an FIA technical delegate.
After a slow start, Leclerc clocked 1.03:208 to top the first runs ahead of Bottas and Verstappen.
Hamilton, struggling by his high standards, was fourth as they re-emerged for the final showdown but could not overhaul Leclerc.