Mercedes had things all its own way at Spielberg with a more than half-second advantage over Red Bull Racing, but it was Ferrari’s lack of performance that shocked most after the Italian team lost Sebastian Vettel in Q2 and Charles Leclerc qualified a lowly seventh.
The battle for pole was a private affair between Bottas and Hamilton, with the Finn taking a 0.122-second upper hand after the pair’s first laps.
But Bottas came perilously close to bottling his early advantage with trip through the gravel on his second attempt, seemingly handing the initiative to his teammate.
Hamilton, however, had already banked a slow first sector, and though he set personal best times in sectors two and three, it wasn’t enough to overhaul the sister car, falling short by just 0.012 seconds.
“It feels really good, I missed this feeling,” Bottas said. “It’s a truly amazing car to drive.
“It’s only the first qualifying of the season but I’m so impressed, so thank you to everyone in the team.
“Obviously a good result today, but tomorrow’s what matters.”
Hamilton was forced to settle for second, and the reigning six-time champion similarly paid tribute to his team for delivering a car seemingly out of the league of the rest of the field.
“This is a great start to the season,” he said. “I think we show year on year that we continue to the best team… we’re constantly learning from each other and constantly pushing the boundaries.”
With Ferrari very much out of the picture the way was clear for Max Verstappen to claim third on the grid for Red Bull Racing, albeit 0.538 seconds off the pace.
The Dutchman, however, will be the only driver in the top 10 to start the race on the more durable medium-compound tyre rather than the soft, which he hopes will give him an opportunity to take the fight to the Silver Arrows on Sunday.
“Clearly Mercedes today was on a different level unfortunately, but let’s see what we can do tomorrow,” he said. “It’ll be warmer tomorrow, that could play to our advantage.
“I expect we are a bit better in the race… I’m looking forward to it. We have nothing to lose.”
Lando Norris will start a career-high fourth in a strong result for McLaren, just 0.15 seconds behind Verstappen and a comfortable 0.24 seconds ahead of Alex Albon in the second Red Bull Racing machine.
Sergio Perez qualified sixth for Racing Point – the Mexican set an identical time to Albon ahead but logged his lap after the Thai driver – and in doing so relegated Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to his disappointing seventh on the grid.
The Monegasque was almost a second slower than pole man Bottas but in fact was lucky to make it into Q3 at all, having battled with teammate Vettel to avoid elimination in 11th.
Ferrari forecast a tough opening run to the season in anticipation of a major upgrade package due for round three in Hungary, but this result – a loss of 0.9 seconds on last year’s qualifying time at this venue – was worse than post-practice expectations.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz– signed to be Leclerc’s teammate next season – qualified ninth and just 0.05 seconds in arrears of the Ferrari, staving off Lance Stroll in the sister Racing Point car in the process. Daniel Ricciardo completed the top 10 for Renault.
Vettel’s surprise elimination in P11 was the story of qualifying, and though the German was surprised to find himself out of the car so early in the afternoon, he remained optimistic a better race was on the cards.
“Of course it’s a surprise,” he said. “I was not so happy with the car – quite a bit more oversteer on entry than I would like – but we’ll see.
“I think tomorrow is a different picture. It’s a long race. I think in race trim we are always better, and I think we’ll be there to make up some ground and score some good points.
Despite his relative positivity, the result could have been even worse for Vettel, who was closer to AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly in P12 than he was to the cut-off time for the top-10 shootout.
Daniil Kvyat followed in P13, while Esteban Ocon, making his F1 return after being dropped by Force India in 2018, staved off Romain Grosjean to take 14th ahead of the Haas driver.
Kevin Magnussen endured a difficult qualifying on his way to 16th, complaining of being “massively” blocked by Leclerc on his first flying lap and missing the cut for Q2 with his follow-up effort by a slender 0.07 seconds.
The Dane ought to have been pushed further down the order by George Russell and the improving Williams team, but the young Briton slid wide at turn four, costing him precious time on his final lap. The gap between him and Magnussen stood at just 0.003 seconds.
Antonio Giovinazzi led teammate Kimi Raikkonen for places 18 and 19 in a painful afternoon for Alfa Romeo. The Swiss team was more than a second quicker at the same circuit in 2019, when both drivers made the top 10 on the grid.
Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi qualified last on his debut outing as a full-time F1 driver. The Canadian was 0.6 seconds slower than teammate Russell, albeit having missed half of practice earlier in the day owing to a crash.