Vettel sets track record to lead Austrian GP final practice

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel of Germany takes a curve during the third free practice session for the Austrian Formula One Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring racetrack in Spielberg, southern Austria, Saturday June 30, 2018. The race will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton went 1-2 in qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix, restoring the pecking order hours after Ferrari led the final practice on Saturday.

Bottas edged Hamilton by 0.019 seconds for his first pole position of the season as Mercedes locked up the front row of the grid for the third time this year.

The Finnish driver also started in front last year and went on to win the race.

”I can guarantee I am more hungry for the win than anyone on the grid,” Bottas said. ”The whole weekend we’ve made good progress with the set-up. The car felt so good.”

Sebastian Vettel was fastest in the last practice, but finished qualifying more than three-tenths off the pace in third, followed by Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

However, the German will have to start the race from sixth position due to a three-place grid penalty for impeding Carlos Sainz in the second part of qualifying.

Having just finished a push lap, Vettel didn’t make way for when Sainz approached him at full speed, forcing the Renault driver to steer over the curbs to avoid a crash.

Stewards ruled Vettel ”should not have been so slow and on the racing line during a slowdown lap in qualification.”

Vettel said he ”couldn’t see him. I wasn’t told on the radio, so I can only apologize to him. There was no intention.”

In a duel of four-time world champions, Vettel trails leader Hamilton by 14 points going into Sunday’s ninth of 21 races.

The German’s fastest lap in practice suggested Ferrari caught up with the upgraded Mercedes cars.

Hamilton and Bottas dominated practice on Friday after the team applied aerodynamic changes to their cars, including a new side pod design and adapted front and rear wings.

Mercedes went back to lording over qualifying as Bottas took advantage of mistakes by Hamilton and Vettel, and neither could match the Finn’s speed in their final laps.

Missing out on his fourth pole of the season, which would have been his 50th for Mercedes and 76th overall, Hamilton still felt upbeat as he recovered in his final lap under pressure.

Hamilton said Bottas deserved to beat him.

”I am really happy. This is a great result for the team,” he said. ”It had gone relatively well through the weekend. The pace was good, it was quite good throughout qualifying, it was obviously very close between us all.”

Vettel was also aware he ”needed a banker to make safe I qualified in a good position” after his mistake, but acknowledged he had ”not enough to challenge Valtteri.”

The upgrades put Mercedes in a favorable position to extend its winning streak on the Austrian track. It has won all four races since the Austrian GP returned to the calendar in 2014, with Hamilton and Bottas triumphing in the past two seasons.

The team’s dominance over the years has been a result of its superior power unit and the layout of the track, at 4.3 kilometers (2.7 miles) among the shortest in Formula One with just nine turns and four long straights, favoring cars with good traction and straight-line speed.

Situated in Central Austria’s countryside, the track includes inclines of up to 12 percent.

Overtaking has always been tough on this track but, for the first time, Sunday’s race will feature a third DRS zone, a section where drivers are allowed to use a drag reduction system in order to get a speed boost while chasing the car in front.

Max Verstappen ended qualifying in fifth but his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo was beaten by Haas driver Romain Grosjean for sixth.

Underlining his potential, Charles Leclerc became the first Sauber driver since 2014 to reach the second qualifying round in six straight races. The Monaco-born driver posted the 13th quickest time but will have to start from 18th following a grid penalty.

Leclerc, who reportedly is a candidate to replace Raikkonen at Ferrari next season, ended practice with an engine issue, forcing his team to replace the gear box.

The race is the second of F1’s inaugural triple header, after last week’s French GP, and the British GP at Silverstone to follow next weekend.