An on-track flashpoint with Max Verstappen contributed to Lewis Hamilton’s elimination in the first part of sprint shootout qualifying at the Austrian Grand Prix, with the pair holding each other up on consecutive laps.
Hamilton ended SQ1 18th, meaning he will start this afternoon’s sprint race from the ninth row of the grid. He complained that the “timing [was] just not right” after the session.
However, it was a combination of the Verstappen incident, a laptime deleted for exceeding track limits, and a tyre strategy that Hamilton was unhappy with that led to him not advancing to the next stage of qualifying.
With the session starting with the track still damp, but with all drivers on slicks for their timed efforts, Hamilton headed out for a run on a set of softs that already had four laps on them.
It was always going to boil down to his second run, but on his way out of the pits he questioned the reasons for changing tyres.
“The tyres were still good so I don’t know why you changed,” he reported over the radio after being sent out on a different set of used softs that had three laps on them.
Mercedes will have opted for this strategy given that although the cool track conditions meant the softs were lasting better than they did in higher temperatures on Friday, there was degradation.
This meant either staying out for a single run, or another run on the first set of tyres, would likely have been considered too risky. Only one driver, Lando Norris, made it through to SQ2 using a single set of tyres.
Hamilton was told he had time for four full laps, with engineer Pete Bonington suggesting he do two push laps, then a cooldown lap, and then one final push. Hamilton set what was ultimately his best time on the first push lap, then improved to a time that would have been good enough for sixth place.
However, that was deleted because he exceeded track limits exiting the penultimate corner, the result of a small moment mid-corner. That meant he needed to improve on his final lap in order to advance.
Hamilton kept out of the way of traffic, letting Yuki Tsunoda past between Turns 9 and 10. He was told “Verstappen’s going to be coming through, so go now” and launched his lap. However, Verstappen ended up close behind him in Turn 10.
“He just blocked me in the last corner,” said Verstappen on his slowdown lap. “I had to back off. I lost so much time in that last corner.”
Verstappen exited Turn 10 with greater speed than Hamilton and needed to complete the lap, which earned him second. Verstappen pulled just ahead into the first corner, which he attacked despite being on the inside line, meaning Hamilton’s entry to Turn 1 was compromised.
Hamilton then backed off and had no more time to make another attempt. Verstappen went on to take pole position for the sprint race.
After the session, Hamilton blamed the timing rather than Verstappen – and it’s important to note that had he not made a small mistake and exceeded track limits on his second push lap of the final run he was plenty quick enough to advance.
“Timing [was] just not right,” said Hamilton after his elimination. “The sprint race doesn’t really matter, in a way, so today I’ll just have some fun from the back.
“It is what it is. I don’t really feel anything about it, to be honest. I wish I was still out there [in SQ2 and SQ3] but not today.
“We’ll just focus on our job today. We could have easily been much further up there, but I’ll just have a bit of fun at the back.”
Mercedes team-mate George Russell also had a disappointing qualifying despite advancing from SQ1 after setting the seventh-fastest time.
He was 15th and was unable to go out in the second phase of qualifying thanks to a hydraulic problem requiring a steering rack change that could not be done in the short time available.