2019 Austrian Grand Prix, Qualifying - Charles Leclerc (image courtesy Ferrari Media Team)

White and red, with a hint of orange are the colours that left their mark on this Saturday at the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc Takes Pole in Austria

White and red are of course the colours of the Austrian flag but also, in a different order, those of Monaco and today’s pole man, Charles Leclerc is the sole representative of the Principality on the grid of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship.

“I am happy with qualifying today. It is satisfying to see that the work we did in preparation, especially in terms of the way we set up the car for Q3, has paid off so quickly. A great result for me, unfortunately not for the whole team with Seb having a problem in Q3. Hopefully, we will have a good race tomorrow. I am happy about our tyre choice with the soft compound. It will be the key to have a good start and keep competitors behind, especially at the beginning of the lap. Our race pace was quite strong this weekend so I am confident that we can do a good job,” said the pole sitter.

2019 Austrian Grand Prix, Qualifying - Lukas Lauda presents Charles Leclerc with the Pirelli Pole Position Award
2019 Austrian Grand Prix, Qualifying – Lukas Lauda presents Charles Leclerc with the Pirelli Pole Position Award

Verstappen Thrills Thousands of Dutch Fans

The orange belongs to the driver who will start alongside the Ferrari man, namely Aston Martin Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen. Tens of thousands of his fellow Dutchmen have flocked to the Red Bull Ring and this afternoon in the packed grandstands, they were dancing with delight.

“I’m really happy about qualifying. All weekend the car has felt competitive and also from the engine side we have worked really well with Honda to extract a little more power. To be third is great and I was smiling in the car when I finished the lap. We definitely got the most out of it today and through the corners we were really quick. To be closer to the pole time is also a great step forwards. As soon as I stopped the car and turned the engine off I could hear the crowd. There are so many Dutch and Austrian Red Bull fans here which gives me a lot of positive energy and motivation. I haven’t done a long run but normally we are a little stronger in the race than qualifying. There is a long way to go before we fight for victory but this is a really good start for the Team and we will give it everything we have tomorrow,” said the Dutchman.

Hamilton Handed Three Place Penalty

Once again today, events at the circuit produced a whole range of emotions, from excitement to surprise, from smiles to looks of disappointment. There was also the emotion of seeing Niki Lauda’s son Lukas, handing Leclerc the Pirelli Pole Position Award in a ceremony that takes place in parc ferme after every qualifying session. However, the biggest surprise is definitely the fact there’s not one Mercedes on the front row. Lewis Hamilton (1.03.262) did actually snatch second place in the last moments of the session, but he was later given a three grid position penalty for having impeded Kimi Raikkonen in Q1.

“Congratulations to Charles, he’s been quick all weekend and we’ve just not really been able to keep up with the Ferraris so far this weekend. They’ve got the power advantage on the straights, but also seem to have figured out the medium and high-speed corners. For us, the car has been feeling good, but we can’t do much more on the straights and that’s something we’ll continue to work towards. Obviously, there was the incident with Kimi in Q1. I got off the brakes to try and get out of the way, because I didn’t want to meet in the corner. I don’t think we did, but it probably did put him off. I wasn’t aware the car was coming, so it wasn’t the easiest. Positioning was difficult out there, I was always at the front so was never getting the slipstream. Luckily, I got an OK position for that last lap, but it was tight at the end. Still, I’m happy with the position and it’s cool to see three different teams in the first three positions. I’m excited to get out there tomorrow and race with these guys, fingers crossed we can put on a good show tomorrow,” said a remarkably upbeat Hamilton.

Combined with a penalty for fifth placed Kevin Magnussen in the Haas (1.04.072) who drops to tenth place on the grid for having changed a gearbox, the reigning world champion starts from fourth, with team-mate Valtteri Bottas alongside him. Having set the fourth fastest time (1.03.537) the Finn thus starts from the third place and behind the two Mercedes, we find Lando Norris (1.04.099) in the McLaren, proof that the Woking team is in great form, given that it already performed strongly last weekend in the French Grand Prix.

Alfa Romeo Enjoy Renaissance

Kimi Raikkonen for Alfa Romeo (1.04.166.) helped ensure it’s the first time the Italo-Swiss team has got both its drivers through to Q3, with Antonio Giovinazzi starting seventh in 1.04.179. Alongside him is a disappointed Pierre Gasly (1.04.199.) The Frenchman is once again a long way off (760 thousandths) his team-mate Verstappen, who won the Austrian Grand Prix last year.

Leclerc’s time of 1.03.003 is a new lap record. For Scuderia Ferrari this is pole number 222 and the third of the season, Leclerc’s second after Bahrain and the team’s eighth in Austria, the last one coming courtesy of Michael Schumacher in 2003. For the first time in the hybrid era there will not be a Mercedes engine starting this race from pole: Felipe Massa was on the top slot in 2014 with Williams and the other ones went to the factory team, twice with Hamilton and once with Bottas.

Disastrous Day for Vettel

With five Ferrari-powered cars in Q3, in theory this was a great day for the Maranello Power Unit, but there was bitter disappointment for the Prancing Horse, given that a problem with a loss of pneumatic air pressure to the engine, meant Sebastian Vettel was unable to take part in the top ten shoot-out. It was clear that the German could have been in the hunt for pole, but not he has to settle for starting from ninth on the grid.

“It’s obviously bitterly disappointing on a day like this, when you have the car to fight for pole and you are not even taking part. There was a problem with the car so we lost a part of Q2 and all of Q3. We fairly quickly made a decision but we had to take the bodywork off and it was not easy to get to the faulty bit. The guys did everything they could but we could not fix it in time. I knew that if we’d fixed it, most likely I would have had only one run, so I was trying to focus only on that but it didn’t happen. As much as this is a pain, it’s good to see that Charles came through and got pole. I am happy for the team, obviously not happy for my side. I think our car is quick this weekend, quicker than the people in front of us so I am looking forward to a good day and a good race tomorrow,” said a disappointed Vettel.

Multiple Penalties Shake Up Grid

The Stewards handed out no fewer than seven penalties in total to six drivers after qualifying: some because of events during the session, others down to changing components in excess of the maximum allowed by the sporting regulations. Apart from the aforementioned ones for Hamilton and Magnussen, Alex Albon is on the list because “multiple power unit elements have been used,” and Carlos Sainz for the same reason as the Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda driver, Hulkenberg (replacement engine) and Russell, for impeding another driver. It all meant that the final starting grid looks very different to qualifying classification. Outside the top five rows, this is how the others line up: Grosjean, Ricciardo, Perez, Stroll, Hulkenberg, Kvyat, Kubica, Russell, Albon, Sainz. Tomorrow’s race looks really hard to read, partly because of the different tyre choices made by the top teams. The two Ferraris ran the Soft compound in Q2 and therefore start on those, while the two Mercedes and Verstappen’s Red Bull got through to the final stage running the Mediums. In terms of strategy, a one stop looks to be the quickest for those starting on the Softs or the Mediums. From what we have seen over the past two days, the likelihood of a Safety Car period seems quite probable and the Red Bull Ring is definitely a track that lends itself to overtaking which suggests even more strongly that we could be in for an exciting time.

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