Bottas beats the field in final Austrian GP practice

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Valtteri Bottas has finished fastest in the final practice session ahead of qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix, beating Lewis Hamilton into second place with his final lap.

The Finn posted a late time on the option tire to edge out Hamilton and Williams teammate Felipe Massa, whilst Nico Rosberg was forced to settle for fifth place behind Toro Rosso rookie Daniil Kvyat.

FP3 gave the drivers one final chance to get to grips with the Red Bull Ring circuit ahead of qualifying, and the majority of them headed out early in the one hour session in order to make the most of the running time. The early benchmark was set by McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen, and the Dane remained at the top of the timesheets to begin with with a good lap of 1:10.998. His teammate, Jenson Button, was less fortunate, suffering a problem with his brakes that ended his session early.

Felipe Massa was the first driver to displace Magnussen at the top of the timesheets, and his example was soon followed by Valtteri Bottas and Daniil Kvyat at the front of the field. Bottas soon got the upper hand on his teammate, finishing three-hundredths of a second faster than his teammate after the first set of runs.

Fernando Alonso bided his time before heading out, and slotted into third place with his first time. Mercedes, however, opted to take it easy to begin with, as neither Hamilton nor Rosberg challenged the drivers at the head of the standings at first. With 23 minutes remaining, though, the German driver ascended to P1 by a full three-tenths of a second.

For the final part of the session, the drivers made the switch to the super-soft tire compound in order to perform a simulation qualifying run ahead of this afternoon’s pole position shoot-out. Alonso was one of the first to make the switch, and moved up into first place as a result, with Rosberg remaining in second place with his initial effort on the red-ringed tires. Hamilton and Massa both had enjoyed spates of time at the top of the timesheets, but it was Bottas who stole the show with his final lap time to finish just 0.050 seconds ahead of the Briton.

Will Williams’ good form continue in qualifying? Find out by watching the session live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET today.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.