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F1: Lewis Hamilton takes pole position at rain-soaked Styrian GP

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Six-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton showed he’s still the best driver in wet conditions, keeping his composure on a rain-drenched track to take pole position Saturday for the Styrian Grand Prix.

It was the Mercedes driver’s record-extending 89th career pole in F1 and particularly impressive as he first beat Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s mark and then his own leading mark on his final lap.

“That was awesome,” Hamilton said after placing 1.216 seconds ahead of Verstappen (who led practice Friday) and 1.398 clear of McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr.

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Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified fourth after taking pole position and winning last Sunday’s Austrian GP.

It was another dismal day for Ferrari, with Sebastian Vettel 10th and Charles Leclerc 11th.

Driving rain washed out the third and final practice session at midday and threatened qualifying altogether. But the cars managed to finally get out onto the Red Bull Ring at around 3:45 p.m. local time (1345 GMT) even though rain was still lashing down.

In the event of a complete washout, qualifying would have been moved to Sunday morning.

With drivers told the rain would soon get heavier, they were advised to post a solid time quickly in order to get into the second part of qualifying.

Verstappen said, “I can’t see a thing,” and Romain Grosjean slid off track into gravel.

Some unexpected names popped up at the top of the F1 leaderboard, before order was restored as Lewis Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen swapped leading times.

“Leave me to it,” Hamilton said over radio, trying to keep his concentration with water spraying everywhere in front and around him.

With two minutes left in Q1, Italian driver Antonio Giovinazzi lost control of his Alfa Romeo, which swerved sideways and then backward into a crash barrier. His car had to be lifted off the track.

The rain fell so heavily throughout the morning that firefighters had to remove excess water from the roof of one empty hospitality building. The race is being held without fans because of the novel coronavirus (COVD-19) pandemic.

The race is changing names from last week but still is being held at the same track in Spielberg, which is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.

Sergio Perez still has coronavirus; will miss second consecutive F1 race

F1 Sergio Perez out
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SILVERSTONE, England — Sergio Perez will be out for a second F1 race at Silverstone this week after again testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Mexican driver had hoped to return to Formula One after spending seven days in quarantine, but his Racing Point team said this morning he had tested positive.

“He is physically well and recovering,” the team said. “The whole team wishes Sergio and his family well and we look forward to his return.”

That means German veteran Nico Hulkenberg again fills in for Sunday’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix after having also replaced Sergio Perez when he was out for the F1 British Grand Prix at the same venue last week. Hulkenberg did not start that race because of an engine problem.

There are two consecutive weekends of racing at Silverstone as Formula One tries to pack in races following the pandemic-delayed start to the season.

Perez became the first Formula One driver to test positive for coronavirus, and it had been unclear whether he would be available to drive after the period of quarantine was extended to 10 days.

Racing Point also was in the news Friday after being hit with a 15-point penalty in the Formula One constructors’ championship and fined 400,000 euros ($470,000) Friday for using brake ducts based on those from last year’s Mercedes cars.

The stewards ruled that Mercedes was the “principal designer” of the parts, and that Racing Point made only minor changes to computer design data it received from Mercedes.

Rival team Renault filed protests about the legality of the brake ducts, which were added to the “listed parts” under F1 rules for 2020. That means teams must design their own. Racing Point argued it was merely using information about the Mercedes parts to inform its own design.

Racing Point uses customer engines from Mercedes and has admitted basing its 2020 car design on photographs of last year’s Mercedes car. The similarities led to the Racing Point being nicknamed the “pink Mercedes” when it was first seen in testing ahead of the season.

Racing Point can appeal the ruling. The points deduction drops the team from fifth to sixth in the standings, below Renault. The ruling doesn’t affect the points totals for Racing Point’s drivers.