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Wehrlein feeling ‘well prepared’ for Sauber debut despite winter injury

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Pascal Wehrlein says he feels “ready and well prepared” for his first Formula 1 outing with Sauber in Australia next weekend despite suffering a neck and back injury over the winter break.

Mercedes junior driver Wehrlein made his first F1 start in Australia last year with Manor, spending a full season with the minnow team and scoring just its second top-10 finish in seven years in Austria.

Wehrlein was linked with drives at both Mercedes and Force India for 2017, but ultimately landed at Sauber following Manor’s closure.

Wehrlein was forced to miss half of pre-season testing due to injuries sustained in a roll at the Race of Champions in Miami, but despite having just two days in the new-style 2017 Sauber F1 car, the German feels ready to go in Australia.

“The Australian Grand Prix will be very special for me and also for the Sauber F1 Team,” Wehrlein said.

“It is the beginning of my new role as a Formula One race driver in the Swiss team, and I am sure when those five lights go out it will be a unique moment on the race day.

“During the second week of pre-season testing I had productive days, where I was able to get quite familiar with the Sauber C36-Ferrari procedures.

“After intense physical preparations in the last few weeks I am excited about going to Melbourne, and I feel ready and well-prepared for the challenging season opener.

“It looks promising at the moment for me, but we never know until we get to Melbourne. I have full trust in our teamwork.”

After spending much of 2016 battling with financial troubles, Sauber will be aiming to move up the grid this year following its takeover by Swiss investment firm Longbow Finance.

The team finished 10th in the constructors’ championship last year, beating only Manor, and will now be looking to make up early ground with 2016-spec Ferrari power units.

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.