Hamilton takes Austria pole as both Mercedes drivers spin off in Q3

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Lewis Hamilton will start tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix from the front of the grid after securing pole position during Saturday’s qualifying session at the Red Bull Ring.

Hamilton posted a fastest lap time of 1:08.455 to finish two-tenths ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg in second place as Mercedes once again dominated proceedings in Austria.

WATCH REPLAY: Austrian GP Qualifying

The Briton appeared to have blown his chance of scoring pole position when he spun off during his final qualifying run, only for Rosberg to do the same and miss his opportunity to snatch it away.

The result also completed a perfect year of pole positions for Mercedes, with the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix being the last race at which one of the German marque’s cars did not start from first place on the grid.

Following a sharp rain shower towards the end of FP3 on Saturday morning, Q1 got underway in damp conditions, forcing the drivers to complete their initial runs on intermediate tires. However, as a dry line began to emerge, Felipe Nasr, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were the first to make the switch to soft tires, with their pace then prompting the rest of the field to do the same.

As the track continued to improve, avoiding elimination quickly became a question of timing and running as late as possible. A mistimed lap by Ferrari caused Kimi Raikkonen to drop out in Q1, finishing 18th ahead of Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens. McLaren’s miserable weekend continued as Jenson Button was left 17th, although Fernando Alonso did squeeze through in P15 ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez.

Q2 saw the track become far drier, allowing Mercedes to resume normal service at the head of the field as Rosberg and Hamilton finished first and second respectively. However, Hamilton still struggled to find much rhythm, much as he had in practice, suggesting that the advantage remained with Rosberg heading into Q3.

Daniel Ricciardo was the biggest name to be eliminated in Q2, marking the first time that he has failed to reach Q3 in 2015 as he qualified 14th ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. Pastor Maldonado was unable to keep up his good qualifying form, finishing 11th ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

The Mercedes drivers once again exchanged blows at the start of Q3, with Rosberg laying down the first benchmark of 1:08.850 to claim provisional pole position. Hamilton could only slot into second place with his initial effort, going three-tenths of a second slower, but he bounced back with a scintillating second lap to edge out the improving Rosberg by two-tenths of a second ahead of the final runs.

When Hamilton spun off at turn two in his final qualifying lap after the checkered flag had been shown, pole position appeared to be there for Rosberg to take. Despite setting personal bests in the first two sectors, Rosberg made an error at the final corner to leave his Mercedes in the gravel, meaning that Hamilton’s time for provisional pole ultimately stood.

Sebastian Vettel qualified third for Ferrari ahead of Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg, with the latter splitting the two Williams drivers by finishing ahead of Valtteri Bottas.

Max Verstappen finished seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Daniil Kvyat, whilst Felipe Nasr and Romain Grosjean rounded out the top ten.

The Austrian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET on Sunday.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”