Leclerc Takes Austrian Pole, Hamilton Penalized

Leclerc Takes Austrian
Charles Leclerc celebrates winning the pole for the Austrian Grand Prix on Saturday. (Ferrari photo)

SPIELBERG, Austria – If Ferrari is going to snap Mercedes’ eight-race winning streak to open the Formula One season, this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix marks the Prancing Horses’ best shot yet to do so.

Charles Leclerc rocketed to the pole position during qualifications on Saturday at the Red Bull Ring, while championship leader Lewis Hamilton incurred a three-place grid penalty for blocking Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen during the first knockout round.

Leclerc turned a track-record lap of 1:03.003 to earn the top spot on the grid, clear of Hamilton by a full quarter of a second in the third and final round.

Factoring in his grid drop, Hamilton will start Sunday’s 71-lap race around the 2.683-mile, 10-turn circuit from fifth place – his worst starting position of the season.

It marks some much-appreciated breathing room for Leclerc, who hopes to convert his second-career F-1 pole into his first Grand Prix victory come race time on Sunday.

“I am happy with qualifying today. It is satisfying to see that the work we did in preparation, especially in terms of the way we set up the car for Q3, has paid off so quickly,” said Leclerc. “Hopefully, we will have a good race tomorrow. I am happy about our tire choice with the soft compound. It will be the key to have a good start and keep competitors behind, especially at the beginning of the lap.

“Our race pace was quite strong this weekend, so I am confident that we can do a good job on Sunday.”

With second-quick Hamilton dropping three places, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will join Leclerc on the front row after a time of 1:03.439.

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas will start third, just ahead of the McLaren of Lando Norris, who qualified sixth but will start fourth after Hamilton’s grid penalty and a five-place drop for Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen – who timed in fifth-quick but had to change a gearbox.

Hamilton, the Alfa Romeo pair of Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, the second Red Bull of Pierre Gasly, Sebastian Vettel and Magnussen filled out the front five rows of the grid.

Vettel was unable to turn a lap during the final qualifying session due to an issue with an air pressure line to the engine, according to Ferrari team officials.