Hamilton storms to Styrian GP pole; Renault chose Alonso over Vettel: Prost - GulfToday

Hamilton storms to Styrian GP pole; Renault chose Alonso over Vettel: Prost


Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton steers his car during the qualifying session for the Formula One Styrian Grand Prix in Spielberg on Saturday. Agence France-Presse

Defending six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton delivered one of his greatest qualifying performances in treacherous rain-swept conditions on Saturday when he stormed to pole position for the Styrian Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver, who struggled in practice on Friday, bounced back to his best with a fastest lap in one minute and 19.273 seconds, outpacing nearest rival Max Verstappen of Red Bull by a stunning 1.2 seconds.

His performance confirmed his enduring class on a day when heavy rainstorms had delayed the session by 45 minutes and forced the cancellation of third practice.

It was his third pole success at the Red Bull Ring circuit, the 89th of his career and confirmed his reputation as a great driver in the wettest conditions.

“What a tricky day,” said Hamilton.

“It was so difficult for all of us with this weather and some of the time you can’t see where you are going, but I loved it - though I did have a big aquaplane and had my heart in my mouth.”

Ferrari-bound Carlos Sainz was third for McLaren ahead of Valtteri Bottas, winner of last Sunday’s season-opening Austrian Grand Prix at the same circuit, in the second Mercedes, Esteban Ocon of Renault and Lando Norris in the second McLaren.

Norris, however, will drop three places on the grid after taking a penalty on Friday for ignoring yellow flags in opening practice.

That will elevate Alex Albon, who was seventh in the second Red Bull, Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri and Daniel Ricciardo, ninth in the second Renault, but leave Sebastian Vettel 10th in the leading Ferrari on another difficult day for the Italian team.

His team-mate Charles Leclerc qualified 11th.

Meanwhile, Renault signed Fernando Alonso rather than Vettel to succeed McLaren-bound Ricciardo next year because his level of motivation was more convincing, Alain Prost said on Saturday.

The four-time world champion, who is an advisor to the French team, said Renault also considered signing Valtteri Bottas, currently with Mercedes, but preferred Alonso, who will be 40 next year, for the same reasons.

“There were three great champions — Fernando Alonso, Vettel and Bottas,” he explained.

“It was a little less obvious for Sebastian, in the sense that his motivation was not very clear. It was also difficult for Valtteri in that he has the best car. We wanted someone who is not a replacement option, but someone who is fully motivated for the project.”

Both Alonso, who is leaving Ferrari at the end of this year, and Bottas, who won last weekend’s season-opening Austrian Grand Prix for Mercedes, are currently under contract with top Formula One teams while Alonso has no ties.

Prost said he had talked to Alonso regarding concerns about his age and his motivation, notably in relation to widespread reports of his negative attitude during his final period with McLaren before he left in 2018.

“Yes, that is a subject that I raised with him,” Prost told RMC Sport.

“Frankly, this is the risky side, but he talks about it openly.

“He says that he has changed a lot and that his sabbatical years have matured him. In a way, he knows that he has no right to disappoint on this level.”

Prost also rejected suggestions that Renault had signed Alonso for marketing objectives, rather than his racing talent — which brought him two titles, in 2005 and 2006, when he was previously with the team.

Prost admitted money was a factor, but added: “Making a choice only for marketing would be a mistake, but all the manufacturers in F1 want to reduce costs.

“It is normal that there is a marketing aspect, but that is not the main reason.”

Alonso last raced for McLaren in 2018 and Ricciardo was asked whether he would be happy to hand over his car for any Friday practice sessions this year. The answer was no.


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