Valtteri Bottas beat Lewis Hamilton to pole position as Mercedes dominated qualifying at the Austrian Grand Prix, while Ferrari had a shocking day.
Mercedes seemed unbeatable as the season re-started after a four-month delay as a result of the coronavirus.
The cars, painted black this year to reflect Mercedes’ support for anti-racism, were half a second clear.
The fastest Ferrari of Charles Leclerc was in seventh as the sheer scale of their lack of performance became clear.
Team-mate Sebastian Vettel did not even make it into the final part of qualifying and the four-time world champion will start 11th.
It was a toss-up as to which was the biggest shock – the size of Mercedes’ advantage over everyone else, or how badly wrong Ferrari have got it with this year’s car.
Wow, that Mercedes is quick
Mercedes have dominated the weekend, the cars quickest by a significant margin in every single session.
The Finn was quicker than Hamilton on the first runs by 0.122 seconds and then, running ahead of the Briton, went off at Turn Five on his final run.
Hamilton was ahead of Bottas on split times at that point. The world champion improved his time over the rest of the lap but lost out on pole position by 0.012secs.
Bottas said: “It feels really good. I have missed this feeling after qualifying, the shakes. It is something special when you push the car to the limit. It feels so good. Our team, amazing job – we seem to be in our own league.”
Hamilton said that the incident with Bottas “didn’t really affect the lap”, adding: “Great job by Valtteri. This is a great job by the team and I am happy to be here.”
Verstappen in third was 0.538secs off pole. The Dutchman will start the race on a different tyre than Mercedes, having chosen to run the medium in second qualifying, while Mercedes were on the soft, but on the face of it the world champions look to be unbeatable.
Verstappen said: “It is going to be quite a bit warmer tomorrow and that could play to our advantage, Mercedes were on a different level today but let’s see what we can do tomorrow.
“I suspect we are a little bit better off in the race. We have nothing to lose so I will try to make it as difficult as possible for them.”
As attention turns to the race on Sunday, there will be a question as to whether anyone can challenge Mercedes, and also a focus on F1’s stance against racism, in the wake of the focus on the issue created by protests around the world.
The drivers are to make a collective statement before the race by wearing “end racism” t-shirts, although there remains a question as to whether all of them will take a knee.
Ferrari in the doledrums
Even before arriving in Austria, Ferrari were downplaying expectations, saying that they had had to redesign their car after discovering problems following pre-season testing and that the first parts of that change would not appear until the Hungarian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.
But few expected them to be as far off the pace as they were.
Both drivers were in danger of being knocked out at the end of second qualifying but Leclerc managed to scrape through in 10th place.
Even he seemed surprised to be so slow.
“Are we safe?” the 22-year-old asked his engineer at the end of the second session.
“Yes,” he was told. “You are P10.”
“That’s crazy,” Leclerc replied.
In the end, Leclerc managed to make it into seventh on the grid by pulling out all the stops in the final session but the inquiry will be long and questing.
Norris stars for McLaren
The Racing Point – or ‘Pink Mercedes’ as it has become known for its likeness to last year’s Silver Arrow – had looked best of the rest behind Mercedes and Red Bull on Friday but McLaren pipped them thanks to a stellar performance from Lando Norris.
The Briton qualified a brilliant fourth, less than 0.2secs behind Verstappen and ahead of the second Red Bull of Alex Albon.
Albon set the same time as Racing Point’s Sergio Perez, but as the Anglo-Thai set it first, he will start ahead of the Mexican.
Behind Leclerc, the second McLaren of Carlos Sainz was eighth, ahead of Perez’s team-mate Lance Stroll and the lead Renault of Daniel Ricciardo.