Photo: Sauber F1 Team

Charles Leclerc to run No. 16 for F1 career

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The lone full-time rookie confirmed for the 2018 Formula 1 season, this year’s Formula 2 champion Charles Leclerc of Monaco, has selected No. 16 as his car number for his F1 career.

Leclerc’s No. 16 was listed on the car Alfa Romeo and Sauber revealed over the weekend. He is the first driver to have selected the number since drivers were allowed to pick their number for their career starting in 2014.

The significance is also notable because it’s only one number away from the late Jules Bianchi, one of Leclerc’s longtime friends coming up the junior open wheel ladder. Bianchi’s No. 17 was retired after he died in July 2015; the Nice, France-born driver has a street named after him in Nice, which Leclerc paid homage to earlier this year.

Leclerc is already fitting in nicely at Sauber and is fresh off testing with the team last week.

With this selection, at least one driver has selected each number from 2 to 22 with the exception of 15 since drivers could first pick their own numbers. The No. 1 is available for the reigning World Champion, though Lewis Hamilton has opted not to use it, and Nico Rosberg retired when he had the chance.

Only a handful of numbers from 23 and higher have been selected, notably Hamilton at 44, Valtteri Bottas at 77 and Max Verstappen at 33 among others.

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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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.