Massa secures shock pole in Austria at Mercedes’ expense

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Felipe Massa and Williams have stunned Mercedes by securing pole position for tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix.

The Brazilian driver scored his first pole position in over five years at the Red Bull Ring, and will have teammate Valtteri Bottas starting alongside him on the front row after the British team took advantage of Mercedes’ failure to improve its times.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamiltonwere expected to fight for pole once again, but both made mistakes in the final part of qualifying, meaning that they had to settle for P3 and P9 respectively.

Qualifying in Austria began in sunny and dry conditions, and the drivers were quick to head out on track to put in an early banker lap. In the early runs, the Toro Rosso drivers showed good pace early on with Daniil Kvyat leading Jean-Eric Vergne at the top of the timesheets. Fernando Alonso managed to displace them with his first serious effort, but Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg soon took Mercedes back to the top in first and second place.

After suffering a brake issue in FP3, Jenson Button was keen to make up for lost time during the first part of qualifying. However, his efforts were not helped when he was blocked by Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson at the first corner. Following prior warning from the FIA, a number of drivers had their lap times deleted after not adhering to track limit rules at turn eight, meaning that they had to rally and post a clean lap for it to count.

In the race to avoid elimination, a number of the drivers had to switch to the super-soft tire for the final five minutes of the session. Daniil Kvyat put in a good time to jump up into second place, whilst Kevin Magnussen went P4 to avoid an early exit. Adrian Sutil saw his time deleted, having been good enough for P13, and could only go P17 with his clean lap, meaning that he was knocked out of qualifying alongside teammate Esteban Gutierrez. The Caterhams and Marussias once again dropped out in Q1, with Jules Bianchi finishing as the best of the backmarkers ahead of Kamui Kobayashi, Max Chilton and Marcus Ericsson.

For Q2, all of the drivers opted to run on the option tire in order to give themselves the best possible chance of making it through to the top ten shoot-out. Nico Hulkenberg was the first to lay down a marker, and was soon joined by Sergio Perez, who fell just short of his teammate’s time. Kevin Magnussen managed to overhaul them, going three-tenths quicker, but he in turn was beaten by the Williams drivers.

Fernando Alonso was fortunate not to end his qualifying early after running wide at the final corner and narrowly missing the wall. Despite this scary moment, his lap time was still quicker than teammate Kimi Raikkonen’s.

Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton duly returned Mercedes to the top with their first lap times, but Red Bull appeared to be struggling. After his first run, Sebastian Vettel was languishing in the dropzone, and needed to find some time with his final lap of the session.

However, the defending world champion could not improve by enough with his final effort, and qualified in 12th place. Teammate Daniel Ricciardo managed to squeeze through in ninth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, whilst Sergio Perez and Jenson Button dropped out once again in Q2. Pastor Maldonado secured his best qualifying result of the season in 14th ahead of Jean-Eric Vergne and Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean.

Having run the Mercedes drivers close in Q2, Valtteri Bottas was looking to spring a surprise and try to hassle the Silver Arrows in the final session. The Finn was quick to get out on track, and even a slight lock-up on his first lap did not prevent him from going quickest of all at first. Hamilton looked set to beat his time, but ran wide at turn eight and had his time deleted for exceeding track limits. Rosberg could not come to the rescue either, going second and handing provisional pole to Bottas.

The Finn could not improve on his final run after running wide, but nor could Lewis Hamilton after a big spin. Nico Rosberg also failed to find any extra time, allowing Felipe Massa to secure his first pole position in over five years, securing an all Williams front row – the team’s first in over ten years.

Rosberg was forced to settle for third place, with Hamilton finishing down in ninth without posting a lap time. Fernando Alonso ran well for Ferrari to finish fourth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Kevin Magnussen. Daniil Kvyat performed admirably for Toro Rosso, qualifying seventh, whilst Kimi Raikkonen finished down in eighth ahead of Hamilton. Nico Hulkenberg also failed to post a time, and was classified tenth.

After a difficult few years in Formula 1, Massa’s return to the front of the field will certainly be a popular result in the paddock. The Brazilian driver managed to capitalize on Mercedes’ mistakes when it mattered, and will be hoping for a similar result in the race tomorrow.

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.