Hamilton nails timing, conditions, pace for Austrian GP pole

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Lewis Hamilton has captured the pole position for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix (7:30 a.m., CNBC) following a chaotic, rain and crash-interrupted qualifying session.

It’s the fifth pole position of the season for the Mercedes driver, with a blistering lap of 1:06.228 in Q2 the fastest lap of the session before rains came before Q3. That forced the field onto Pirelli’s green intermediate tires to start, before anyone started switching to dries.

Ultimately that fast time wouldn’t be threatened with rain coming to the Red Bull Ring circuit before Q3, and threatening to create a similar rain-affected quali in Austria like the 1998 race. In that session, Giancarlo Fisichella took pole in a Benetton over Jean Alesi in a Sauber.

A similar-ish shock result wasn’t on the cards for pole today, but it still features a couple big surprises up front!

Nico Hulkenberg of Sahara Force India nearly emulated his 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix pole for Williams on a drying track.

The “Hulk” will start second tomorrow although he qualified third behind Nico Rosberg, who will take a five-spot grid drop for a gearbox change.

Also moving forward is McLaren’s Jenson Button, who will start third in the McLaren Honda for his best start in years and the best start yet for the McLaren Honda package since Honda’s return to the sport at the start of last year.

Things were more straightforward at the start of qualifying but got crazier as the session went on.

Hamilton immediately served notice of his pole intentions by going first in the 1:06 bracket in Q1, with a lap of 1:06.947.

But then things got a little bit crazy elsewhere in the field.

A suspension failure hampered Sahara Force India’s Sergio Perez and Hamilton’s teammate, Rosberg, was late out in the session with only nine minutes to go after his Mercedes mechanics repaired the car following his rare accident in Q3.

On cue, Rosberg promptly delivered a lap a quarter-second faster than Hamilton at 1:06.690.

He got it in mere moments before the Q1 session came to a truncated end, with Daniil Kvyat sustaining a heavy crash for Scuderia Toro Rosso at the final corner with a suspension failure. He was OK, but the car was not and it was the beginning of what would become a nightmare qualifying session for the Franz Tost-led team.

Kvyat was the only surprise drop from Q1 along with the two Renaults in 17th and 18th (Kevin Magnussen ahead of Jolyon Palmer on this occasion), Rio Haryanto’s MRT in 19th, and the two Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr on the final row.

The surprise driver getting through to Q2 was Mercedes’ protege and star-in-waiting, Pascal Wehrlein, in the second of the Manors. He was 10th of 16 drivers that advanced to Q2.

In Q2, Hamilton struck back, lowering the mark once more to a blistering 1:06.228, one of the fastest lap times in F1 history albeit one aided by the Red Bull Ring’s short layout.

Behind him, Jenson Button advanced through to Q3 for the first time since Abu Dhabi 2014 – a race many pondered as potentially his last for McLaren – while the six drivers knocked out were Esteban Gutierrez (Haas), Wehrlein in a career-best 12th in qualifying, Gutierrez’s teammate Romain Grosjean, Fernando Alonso in the second McLaren, then Carlos Sainz Jr. and Perez.

Sainz Jr. had an engine issue and will need an engine change.

Q3 saw drivers start on intermediates before the track began drying and teams switched over to slicks. Times dropped by more than 10 seconds as a result.

Hamilton got down to a 1:07.922 ahead of Rosberg’s 1:08.465 with Hulkenberg third – net second – at 1:09.285. Sebastian Vettel, who qualified fourth, will also drop five spots.

So although the Hamilton and Rosberg 1-2 was normal up front, it was far from that behind them, as noted.

Here’s the Q3 classification and unofficial grid below: