Hamilton nails timing, conditions, pace for Austrian GP pole


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:

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.”