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Hamilton Reigns In Rain In Austrian Qualifying

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 2 2016
Lewis Hamilton was fastest in qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix. Penalties to key drivers altered the rest of the grid.

Lewis Hamilton was fastest in a wet qualifying session for the Austrian Grand Prix. (File photo)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG will start Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix from pole position after a dramatic wet/dry qualifying session at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg.

Hamilton turned a hot lap of 1 minute, 07.922-seconds around the 2.688-mile/4.326-formula1logokilometer/nine-turn Red Bull Ring to beat Mercedes teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg by 0.543-seconds in Q3. It was the 54th career pole for the three-time/reigning World Driving Champion, his fifth this season and second at the Red Bull Ring.

However, five-place grid penalties for Rosberg  and Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel  in fourth mean Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg will join Hamilton on the front row, with McLaren’s Jenson Button third.

While Rosberg ended up second in Q3, he will take a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, necessitated after his crash earlier in the day during final practice. Rosberg has won the past two Formula One races at the Red Bull Ring.

Meanwhile, Esteban Gutierrez of American-based Haas F1 Team will start a season-best 11th, on the outside of Row 6, while teammate Romain Grosjean qualified 13th, the outside of Row 7.

The race, set for 71 laps/190.773-miles/307.020-kilometers, will be televised by NBC Sports Network Sunday at noon (EDT).

“I’m pretty happy as I made my best qualifying run of the season,” said Gutierrez, driver of the No. 21 Ferrari-powered Haas VF-16. “It was fun to get the maximum out there on track. It wasn’t easy coming from Friday, where we had very limited running. Going into final practice, I was not completely comfortable with how the tires were working, so it was quite a challenge to head directly into qualifying.

“In the end, it was pretty fun putting in some good laps in Q1 and Q2. I’ll be aiming for points (Sunday). This is our target and I’ll be fighting all the way.”

Both Haas F1 drivers moved to Q2 for the fourth straight time, where only the top-16 drivers from Q1 advance. Gutiérrez scored the 14th-fastest time (1:07.660) in Q1 during his second stint on a new set of Pirelli Purple ultra softs. Grosjean was just behind his Mexican teammate with the 15th-fastest time (1:07.662), also earned on his second run with a fresh set of ultra softs.

The session was interrupted with a red flag for Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kyvat, who crashed at the second corner, leaving just 1:44 on the clock at the end of Q1.

Q2 began dry, but rain hit the circuit at the end of the 15-minute session. Gutiérrez got in two runs before weather became a factor, setting his best time (1:07.578) on his third lap using the ultra soft tire. Grosjean also utilized the ultra softs in Q2 before rain engulfed the track, scoring his fastest time (1:07.850) on his 19th lap to place him 13th.

It was a solid comeback for Grosjean, who spun into the Turn 6 gravel at the beginning of Q2. The off-track excursion damaged the floor of his VF-16, but crew members quickly repaired the car to allow the Frenchman to turn some fast laps prior to the rain.

“I had hoped for better,” said Grosjean, driver of the No. 8 Haas F1 entry. “On my first run in Q2 on scrubbed tires, the rear end completely went into Turn 6 and I went into the gravel. I damaged quite a bit of the floor. By the time we repaired it to go out, some of the rain had started, which impacted my fastest lap time. We could’ve done better. It’s a bit of a shame, but we’re not in a bad place for the race. I think we have a good balance for Sunday. We’ve been working well on that.”

Guenther Steiner, team principal, Haas F1 Team, said his drivers did an excellent job of adapting to the conditions. We were six-thousandths-of-a-second out of P10, so we’re getting close,” Steiner said. “The weather is very temperamental here. As we saw today, it can start sunny and then quickly change, but we are happy with the circuit and I think everything is out there for us tomorrow. We would’ve liked to have been in Q3. However, we’re looking forward to the race and hopefully getting back in the points.” 

Earlier, the fastest driver in FP3 was Vettel, whose lap of 1:07.098 set a new track record _ bettering the mark set just a day before when Rosberg turned a lap of 1:07.373 in FP1. Coming into Austria, the existing track record was 1:07.908, set by seven-time World Driving Champion Michael Schumacher in 2003 with Ferrari. The top-seven drivers in FP3 were faster than Schumacher’s time and 16 drivers shot past Schumacher’s 13-year-old mark in qualifying.

Rosberg, who topped both practice sessions on Friday and was looking to continue his stand atop the charts, crashed in Turn 2 with just over 20 minutes remaining in FP3, resulting in a 10-minute red-flag stoppage.

Among the 16 drivers who broke Schumacher’s old record during qualifying were Gutiérrez and Grosjean.

Q3 started on a wet track which required intermediate tires, but ended on a rapidly drying one, forcing drivers to switch back to slick rubber. Kimi Raikkonen ended up fifth for Ferrari, ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Williams’ Felipe Massa.

Charles Leclerc, a 2016 member of the Ferrari Driver Academy currently competing in the GP3 Series for ART Grand Prix, will get his first taste of a Formula One car when he drives the VF-16 for Haas F1 Team on July 8 during the first practice (FP1) for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Haas F1’s Esteban Gutiérrez _ himself a Ferrari Driver Academy alum _ has relinquished his seat to allow Leclerc to obtain valuable Formula One experience. Following Silverstone, the 18-year-old Leclerc will reappear in FP1 sessions July 22 at the Hungarian Grand Prix, July 29 at the German Grand Prix, Sept. 30 at the Malaysian Grand Prix and Nov. 25 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. In each session, Leclerc will drive Haas F1 Team’s No. 21 car.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to get seat time in a Formula One car and I can’t thank Haas F1 Team and Esteban enough,” said Leclerc, who won the season-opening GP3 Series race May 14 at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya in Spain. “I’m honored by the faith Haas F1 Team and Ferrari have in me. This is an important step toward my ultimate goal of becoming a Formula One driver.”

Leclerc quickly has risen through the karting ranks and into single-seat, open-wheel machines. After winning 11 karting championships between 2005 and 2013, including an outright title in the 2012 WSK Euro Series Championship, Leclerc graduated to Formula Renault 2.0 in 2014, collecting a pole, two wins and nine podiums in 14 races. In 2015, Leclerc moved to the FIA Formula 3 EuroSeries, earning three poles, four wins and 13 podiums in 33 races.

“Charles Leclerc is highly regarded by Ferrari and his record speaks for itself,” said Guenther Steiner, team principal, Haas F1 Team. “We’re happy to provide this opportunity and help develop the next generation of Formula One drivers. Credit also goes to Esteban for sharing his race car and serving as a mentor to Charles.”


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, July 2 2016
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