The superlative driving spectacle almost didn’t happen, with heavy rain at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, cancelling Saturday practice and threatening to write off qualifying in the deluge.
But fortunately the rain eased enough to allow the track to drain sufficient to get the session underway after only a 46-minute delay, allowing Hamilton to put on a show of wet-weather excellence.
Only Max Verstappen rose to the challenge, but ultimately the Red Bull Racing driver was no match for the reigning world champion. Though he topped the time sheet early in the top-10 shootout, Hamilton set a series of blisteringly quick laps until his advantage stood at a substantial 0.7s with enough time for one lap apiece.
Verstappen was first on track, but he was struggling to keep his head above water. He set a session-best time in the first sector and a personal best time in the second, but his car slide from under him at the final corner, sending him off track and putting him out of contention.
Hamilton, however, wasn’t content to cruise to pole, and he strung together three session-best sectors to extend his advantage to a massive 1.2 seconds.
“I love these days,” he said. “What a tricky day.
“The weather is obviously incredibly difficult out there for all of us – a lot of the time you can’t even see where you’re going.
“I think today would’ve been better for us if it had been dry, but I’m grateful for the rain – always.”
Verstappen was happy to qualify on the front row, writing off the deficit as feature of his RB16 struggling in the worst of the weather.
“I think overall it was a good qualifying,” he said. “In Q3 it was raining a lot more – it seemed like we were struggling a bit more in the really wet conditions.
“I think in the dry we can have a good shot at [Mercedes]. We’ll see how it’s going to go. I think the car in general is better than last week, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Carlos Sainz perfectly times his final lap to claim a career-best third on the grid for McLaren.
“It feels amazing, especially because this qualifying was probably the toughest I have ever done as a Formula 1 driver,” he said. “So much aquaplaning, it was crazy – putting your foot down and just sliding on the straights.”
Valtteri Bottas in the sister Mercedes will line up alongside the Spaniard in fourth, the Finn blaming a glazed brake and trouble getting temperature into his wet tyres for the 1.428-second deficit to Hamilton.
Renault’s Esteban Ocon outqualified Lando Norris by only 0.003 seconds, but Norris will start ninth after serving a three-place grid penalty for passing under yellow flags during Friday morning practice.
The McLaren driver’s penalty will promote Thai driver Alex Albon to sixth, with Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo moving up to seventh and eighth on the grid.
Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc qualified 10th and 11th on another dispiriting day for the Italian team. Leclerc’s elimination in Q2 made it two weeks in a row Ferrari got only one driver into the top-10 shootout, and the Monegasque complained that he was “struggling to drive” the SF1000 in the soaking conditions.
Part of the blame for his lowly elimination falls to his decision to delay a tyre change until deep into Q2, by which time the rain intensified and negated the benefit of fresh rubber – but even if he had improved, it would have been Vettel who was in turn knocked out in exchange.
George Russell qualified a career-best 12th for Williams, marking the first time the young Briton has made it through to Q2 in his 18-month career as a Formula 1 driver. He beat Racing Point’s Lance Stroll to the place by just 0.009 seconds.
Daniil Kvyat qualified 14th ahead of Haas driver Kevin Magnussen in 15th.
Kimi Raikkonen was unfortunate to be the first driver eliminated in Q1, doubly so because it was in part thanks to a red flag triggered by his teammate, Antonio Giovinazzi, who was the only driver to crash in the slippery conditions.
The mistake sent Giovinazzi sliding backwards into the barrier at the final turn, and though he was able to rejoin the track, he dropped debris along the circuit until parking at turn four, necessitating the truncation of the session.
Sergio Perez qualified a disappointing 17th for Racing Point just a week after qualifying sixth at the Austrian Grand prix, leading only Nicholas Latifi and Antonio Giovinazzi on the qualifying time sheet.
Romain Grosjean will start last for Haas after a water pump problem prevented him from setting a time.