Lewis Hamilton admits Mercedes underestimated Ferrari pace
Polesitter Charles Leclerc anxious to avoid Bahrain repeat; Max Verstappen finally 'smiling' after securing front row start
By Sam Johnston
Last Updated: 30/06/19 2:38pm
Lewis Hamilton has admitted that Mercedes underestimated Ferrari's pace as Charles Leclerc took pole position in Austrian GP qualifying on Saturday.
Leclerc produced a dominant display at the Red Bull Ring to finished two tenths ahead of Hamilton, who was later demoted to fourth for impeding the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Raikkonen during Q1, with Mercedes missing out on pole for only the third time in nine races this season.
Ferrari may well have locked out the front row if it were not for a mechanical issue ending Sebastian Vettel's participation midway through Q2, with the team describing it as "a problem with the air pressure line to the engine".
"We've been chipping away at it but right from the get-go we noticed a bit of a deficit to the Ferraris," Hamilton said, speaking before his later penalty.
"We thought it would be a bit closer than it was, but they eked out some more time in P3 and then going into qualifying.
"We definitely underestimated how fast they would be, I would say and I think ultimately on the straights... they really kill us on the straights."
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After what was an uncharacteristically scrappy session for the Silver Arrows, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted that Ferrari's success was down to more than just straight-line speed.
"We are losing it on the straight, but I also must say that Ferrari have done a decent job with their cornering performance," Wolff said.
"High-speed performance looks good, and if you're able to put it all together that puts you on pole.
"I just think the way we packaged our car, we are a bit marginal on cooling. If you add those two factors of altitude and heat together, that puts us in a compromised situation that we just have to open up more than we would like to. Ferrari have done a better job in that area."
Leclerc hopeful over strategy
Leclerc was near-faultless throughout qualifying and would have likely topped the timings in all three sessions if it was not for the fact his first run in Q1 ensured he didn't have to go out on track again, unlike Mercedes and Red Bull.
The 21-year-old secured the first pole position of his career earlier this season in Bahrain, but was denied a maiden victory by an engine problem in a race he was dominating.
Leclerc will be on a different strategy to his rivals at the front of the grid, with Ferrari opting to put both drivers on soft tyres, as opposed to the medium that Verstappen and the Mercedes will start the race on.
"I just really hope that tomorrow everything will be fine, and a clean race and hopefully the first victory at the end of it," Leclerc said.
"We are pretty happy with our strategy. It's obviously different to Mercedes and Red Bull.
"Only time will tell whether we made the right choice but I'm happy with it."
Verstappen finally smiling
With Hamilton demoted, Max Verstappen will start alongside his fellow 21-year-old Leclerc on the front row in a result Red Bull couldn't have expected at the start of qualifying.
The Dutchman, roared on by an army of orange-clad supporters who have made their way to Austria, grew into the session to set a time four tenths off of Leclerc, but notably a tenth fast than the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas.
With Red Bull struggling to keep up with Mercedes and Ferrari, Verstappen has only secured two podium finishes this season, and will start a race on the front row for the first time in 2019.
"It's clearly not the circuit that suits us," Verstappen said. "It's a bit tricky for us but with the upgrades we brought here and also squeezing a bit more out the engine it was actually a really good qualifying.
"The whole weekend I've been very happy with the car, so I think this is one of the first qualifyings this year where I'm actually smiling, because we definitely extracted the most out of it and also that we are then so close is a good step forward.
"We need a bit of luck like last year, but we'll give it everything we have."
When's the Austrian GP on Sky F1?
All the key TV times you need - and how and where to watch - for the Austrian GP weekend.
The whole Austrian GP weekend is live only on Sky Sports F1. Sunday's race begins at 2.10pm with build-up from 12.30pm. Find out more about Formula 1 on Sky Sports