SPIELBERG, Austria (AP) — World champion Lewis Hamilton showed he’s still the best driver in wet conditions, keeping his composure on a rain-drenched track to take pole position Saturday for the Styrian Grand Prix.
It was the Mercedes driver’s record-extending 89th career pole and particularly impressive as he first beat Red Bull driver Max Verstappen’s mark and then his own leading mark on his final lap.
“That was awesome,” Hamilton said after placing 1.216 seconds ahead of Verstappen and 1.398 clear of McLaren driver Carlos Sainz Jr.
“I definitely had my heart in my mouth, but I was able to improve,” Hamilton said. “Honestly it was a fantastic lap, that lap was as close to perfect as I could get it in those conditions.”
Verstappen swerved a little on his final lap.
“It could have been better but I don’t think it was enough to beat Lewis,” the Dutch driver said. “You can’t see a thing, it is hard to see the braking zones but that is the same for everyone.”
It was the best career result in qualifying for Sainz — underlining how McLaren is improving after Lando Norris finished last weekend’s race in third place.
“It feels amazing, especially that qualifying was one of the toughest I have done. There was so much aquaplaning it was crazy,” the Spanish driver said. “We’re completely blind in the car, we don’t see what’s at the front, what’s at the back.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas could only qualify in fourth place after taking pole position and winning last Sunday’s Austrian GP.
It was another dismal day for Ferrari, with Sebastian Vettel 10th and Charles Leclerc 11th.
“The main problem was we were just not quick enough,” Leclerc said. “We’re just too slow.”
Driving rain washed out the third and final practice session at midday and threatened qualifying altogether. But the cars managed to finally get out onto the Red Bull Ring at around 3:45 p.m. local time (1345 GMT) even though rain was still lashing down.
In the event of a complete washout, qualifying would have been moved to Sunday morning.
With drivers told the rain would soon get heavier, they were advised to post a solid time quickly in order to get into the second part of qualifying.
Verstappen said “I can’t see a thing” and Romain Grosjean slid off track into gravel.
Some unexpected names popped up at the top of the leaderboard, before order was restored as Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen swapped leading times.
“Leave me to it,” Hamilton said over radio, trying to keep his concentration with water spraying everywhere in front and around him.
With two minutes left in Q1, Italian driver Antonio Giovinazzi lost control of his Alfa Romeo and it swerved sideways and then backward into a crash barrier. His car had to be lifted off the track.
The rain fell so heavily throughout the morning that firefighters had to remove excess water from the roof of one empty hospitality building. The race is being held without fans because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The race is changing names from last week but is still being held at the same track in Spielberg, which is surrounded by the Styrian mountains.
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