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Hamilton pleased with Austria pole at weaker circuit

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Lewis Hamilton felt pleased to have capitalized on the damp conditions in qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix and captured pole position at the Red Bull Ring, one of his weaker circuits.

Hamilton entered the weekend trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 24 points in the drivers’ championship, with the German driver also having won the previous two races in Austria.

However, a sharp rain-shower during Q2 left the track wet for Q3, making the final session a matter of timing as drivers looked to get in a lap with the driest possible line.

Hamilton nailed his final lap to take pole, while Rosberg is set to start seventh on Sunday after being hit with a grid penalty for a gearbox change.

“This is definitely one of those tracks that I have to keep working at and I’ve been building up to today’s qualifying session,” Hamilton said after the session.

“It’s not an easy track to execute the perfect lap and admittedly it’s not my best circuit. As a driver I’m someone who brakes nice and deep and here you have to lift off the accelerator early, keeping your minimum speed high, which is not something I’m used to doing.

“The track dries up so quickly here – it’s a great feature of this circuit and made qualifying really interesting.

“Hopefully tomorrow will be a bit cooler which will help me in managing my tires and I can get off to a good start.

“The race will be interesting and I’m hoping it will be a good day.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff praised both Hamilton and Rosberg for their efforts in the damp conditions, having provisionally locked out the front row before his penalty.

“Qualifying was one of those sessions where it’s much easier to make mistakes than get everything right – and it was all about hitting that perfect window for the final lap on dry tires, because the conditions were changing so fast,” Wolff said.

“We managed to get both cars onto the right tires, then the drivers didn’t put a foot wrong to take the top two positions; both of them put in great laps right at the end.

“Looking at tomorrow, we have some different approaches at the front of the grid in terms of tire choice, plus Nico will be on a recovery strategy to make up ground after his penalty, so I think there’s still plenty of action to come.”

The Austrian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET on Sunday.

Valtteri Bottas wins chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas won a chaotic season-opening F1 Austrian Grand Prix while six-time series champion Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after getting a late time penalty Sunday.

The Formula One race was interrupted three times by a safety car, and nine of 20 drivers abandoned, including both Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon – who tried to overtake Hamilton on the outside with 10 laps left, touched wheels and flew off track.

Hamilton was given a 5-second time penalty for causing the collision, having earlier been hit with a three-place grid penalty after an incident in Saturday’s qualifying was reviewed by stewards.

SHOW OF SUPPORT: Drivers take knee before race

Bottas led all 71 laps in the eighth victory of his career. It was the second consecutive victory in the season opener for the Finn, though he won four months earlier in 2019 after this season’s start was delayed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Lando Norris of McLaren F1 celebrates after his first podium finish (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).

Bottas started from pole position and Hamilton from fifth, but it looked like a straight fight between the two Mercedes drivers as has been the case so often in recent years.

But late drama in Spielberg ensured otherwise and Hamilton’s time penalty meant Charles Leclerc took second place for Ferrari, and Lando Norris sent McLaren’s garage into raptures – and threw all social distancing rules out of the window amid the euphoria – with third place.

It was the 20-year-old British driver’s first career podium, and his superb final lap was the fastest of a dramatic season opener.

Norris became the youngest British driver to secure a podium finish and the third-youngest ever in Formula One.

Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton during the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria (Mark Thompson/Getty Images).