REUTERS: Six-times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton lived up to his rain master reputation with an astonishing lap to put his Mercedes on pole position for the first Styrian Grand Prix at Austria’s Red Bull Ring on Saturday.
In a session that started 46 minutes late after a washed out final practice, the Briton powered through the spray to go top with a time 1.216 seconds quicker than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The pole was a record-extending 89th of Hamilton’s F1 career.
McLaren’s Spaniard Carlos Sainz qualified third, a career best, with Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas – winner of the season-opener from pole at the same circuit last weekend – fourth fastest.
The Finn was 1.4 seconds slower than Hamilton, who will be seeking his 85th grand prix win on Sunday, but Mercedes said he had suffered glazing on his car’s front right brake disc that affected performance.
“What a tricky day,” said the champion after a performance that his team boss Toto Wolff hailed as simply out of this world.
“The weather was incredibly difficult out there for all of us. A lot of the time you couldn’t even see where you were going.
“I had a big aquaplane at one point – I definitely had my heart in my mouth – but I was able to improve and put in a nice, clean lap. I love these days.”
The battle was between Hamilton and Verstappen, with the Dutch 22-year-old – himself pretty handy in the wet – going fastest two minutes from the end but then losing control and sliding wide.
The champion, who can move a step closer to Michael Schumacher’s all-time record 91 wins on Sunday, made sure pole was his with an extraordinary final effort of one minute 19.273 seconds.
“Very rarely do you see performances that are just not from this world,” said Wolff.
“When you look at the onboard from his lap, he was balancing the car on the edge, aquaplaning, throttle control was incredible.
“And I can’t remember that we have seen 1.2 seconds between first and second,” added the Austrian.
Verstappen, a two times winner of his team’s home Austrian Grand Prix but the first retirement of the season last weekend, said visibility had been appalling.
Sunday promises better conditions, however.
“You can’t see a thing, it is hard to see the braking zones but that is the same for everyone. I think in the dry we can have a good shot at it,” said Verstappen.
Frenchman Esteban Ocon qualified fifth for Renault, with Alex Albon sixth for Red Bull and Pierre Gasly seventh for Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, suffering a sore knee after a crash in Friday practice, will line up eighth for Renault and McLaren’s Lando Norris ninth after a three place grid penalty incurred in Friday practice.
Four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel was the fastest of the struggling Ferraris, but last in the top 10 shootout, with team mate Charles Leclerc missing out altogether on the final phase.
Leclerc qualified 11th but was then handed a three place grid drop to 14th for impeding AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat.
British youngster George Russell moved up to 11th, his Williams team’s highest grid position since 2018 and his best qualifying yet.
“It is not quite the true pace of our car, but it’s a real boost for everyone in the team,” he said.
Sunday’s race, named after the southern Austrian state where the circuit is located, will be the first time a track has hosted two grands prix in the same season.