Up until FP3 this morning, Nico Rosberg was confident that he could grab Pole Position and hammer home his momentum advantage over teammate Lewis Hamilton, possibly extending his lead in the championship to 31 points. However, after a rear suspension breakage at T2, those thoughts were nullified. A gearbox change would mean he would drop five places.
In the end, a 1:07.922 for Hamilton, in wet-dry conditions was enough to see off the challenge from Nico Hulkenberg and the impressive Jenson Button, in McLaren's best result in qualifying since reuniting with Honda. The expected rain came at the end of Q2, meaning that the final shootout would be won whoever was bravest and switched to slicks - getting them up to temparatre first. Nico Rosberg actually qualified P2, but his penalty drops him to seventh. Sebastian Vettel's own gearbox penalty drops him to P9.
However, despite a front-row slot, Hulkenberg is under investigation for seemingly not slowing during a late yellow flag period in Q1, however, the team are confident that they have the data to prove otherwise.
Kvyat accident sparks debate:
Toward the end of Q1, under pressure in the drop-zone, Danill Kvyat - who immediately radioed in "sorry guys" to his mechanics, ran wide at the penaultimate corner, wrecking his Toro Rosso in the process. At points around the Red Bull Ring there are yellow kerbs or 'Baguettes' that are designed to keep the drivers from running out wide and gaining an advantage. However, in the four sessions of the weekend so far, there have been numerous rear-suspension failures. This raises the argument of driver and marshall safety versues track limits. Sergio Perez was kept from taking part in Q2 due to such a failure.
After a 15 minute delay, Q1 was restarted with 1.44 on the clock. Almost immediately, Toro Rosso's session went from bad to worse, with Carlos Sainz's engine detonating, leaving him unable to take part in Q2. Meanwhile up front, Rosberg was around 0.250 up on Hamilton, in his first lap of the session, with a completely new rear end on his W07.
The eliminees from Q1 were Renault duo Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer, as well as Kvyat, Manor's Rio Haryanto and the Sauber pair of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr.
Wehrlein grabs the Q2 headlines
For the first time since the 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix and the late Jules Bianchi, Manor made it through to Q2, Pascal Wehrlein qualifying his car a team equalling best P12.
The same rain that affected Q3 came in with around six minutes remaining and cost Fernando Alonso a probable appearance in it. On an old set of tyres, he struggled for grip and depsite warnings from the pitwall rebuked his team telling him rain was on the way. When he had the new tyres on, he couldn't maximise the performance and dropped out, finishing P14.
Mercedes despite being fastest in the session, will be at a disadvantage compared to Ferrari and Red Bull. As drivers start on the compound of tyres they set their fastest lap on in Q2, Ferrari sent Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen out for a second run on a more durable compound - the SuperSoft, Red Bull responded immediately. However, by the time the World Champions reacted, it was too late and they will start both cars of the faster but less durable Ultrasoft tyres.
Eliminated were Esteban Gutierrez by just 0.006 from P10 and Button, joined by Wehrlein and the former's Haas teammare Romain Grosjean, and Alonso. Perez and Sainz also dropped out.
Button stars in mixed Q3
Bernie Ecclestone was once lambasted in many quarters when he suggested that artifical sprinklers could be used to spice up qualifying and races. However, a mixed Q3 session between wet and dry conditions suggests the idea isn't as far-fetched as many thought.
The first laps were done on Intermediate tyres, but with just over half the session remaining, it was clear that slicks were the best tyre. Hulkenberg was the first ot make the change. After some uncertainty, Rosberg eventually followed the other nine runners.
Pole would go to whoever could get their tyres up to temparature, keep it and then push, and as the clock ticked down, no one had any idea of who would grab pole. Button is a master in the tricky conditions experienced, and Hulkenberg claimed his only pole in F1 in such conditions in Brazil 2010. They starred by qualifying P3 and P5, but would move up to P2 and P3.
At a track where they took pole in 2014, Williams will be dissapointed with a P8 and P10 finish, although Valtteri Bottas moves up to P6, due to the two penalties.
But in the end, for the fifth time this season, Hamilton claimed pole, his lap time 1.363 clear of promoted P2 man Hulkenberg. After the dismal starts he has had from pole in Australia, Bahrain, Spain and Canada, he'll be hoping that he can maximise the start.
Austrian Grand Prix - the grid
1. Lewis Hamilton - Mercedes
2. Nico Hulkenberg - Force India*
3. Jenson Button - McLaren
4. Kimi Raikkonen - Ferrari
5. Daniel Ricciardo - Red Bull
6. Valtteri Bottas - Williams
7. Nico Rosberg - Mercedes**
8. Max Verstappen - Red Bull
9. Sebastian Vettel - Ferrari***
10. Felipe Massa - Williams
11. Esteban Gutierrez - Haas
12. Pascal Wehrlein - Manor
13. Romain Grosjean - Haas
14. Fernando Alonso - McLaren
15. Carlos Sainz - Toro Rosso****
16. Sergio Perez - Force India
17. Kevin Magnussen - Renault
18. Jolyon Palmer - Renault
19. Rio Haryanto - Manor
20. Danill Kvyat - Toro Rosso*****
21. Marcus Ericsson - Sauber
22. Felipe Nasr - Sauber
*Hulkenberg is under investigation for not slowing down for yellow flags in Q1.
** Rosberg's five place grid penalty for a gearbox change applied
*** Vettel's five place grid penalty for a geabox change applied
**** Sainz may drop to the back of the field if a Power Unit change is required
***** Kvyat may drop to P22 or a pit-lane start if a gearbox change is required following his Q1 accident.