Ferrari secured its third pole position of the year thanks to the faultless and impressing performance of Charles Leclerc. The young Monegasque beat Lewis Hamilton by just over two tenths of a second on his march to the pole position, but Ferrari’s advantage was even bigger than the final results suggested.
259 thousands of a second. That was the gap which separated the first and second fastest lap time in yesterday’s qualifying session. Salvaging his qualifying after a less promising Q1 and Q2 session, Lewis Hamilton explained that the gap between Mercedes and Ferrari is down to the top-speed advantage of the Scuderia on the long straights just as it was in Bahrain and Canada, the two other places where the Italians beat their rival. “They have power advantage on the straights, we can do nothing about it and have to work on that,” – said the Briton.
In the first sector, Leclerc set a time of 15.952 on the first lap in Q3 which proved to be the fastest in the entire qualifying session. His team-mate Sebastian Vettel was behind him despite to the fact that he sidelined after his first run in Q2 due to technical problems related to the air pressure in his power unit. Hamilton was third fastest in the first part of the track with 0.119 second clear of the Monegasque driver.
In the second sector of the Red Bull Ring, it was once again Leclerc who dictated the pace. Ferrari’s newcomer registered his best S2 time (27.961) on his last qualifying lap. Hamilton was 143 thousands of a second adrift in the middle part of track track, featuring two fast bends.
The biggest surprise was Ferrari’s impressive performance in the last segment of the 4318-meter-long circuit. This sector includes two tricky medium-speed corners where a perfect aerodynamic balance is required. While Mercedes killed Ferrari in this part in last year’s qualifying, the Italians managed to beat their rival this time. Even if only by the tiniest of margins, Leclerc was 37 thousands of a second faster than Hamilton in Sector 3.
Hamilton with slipstream
Leclerc did not only set the fastest times in all three sectors of the track, but he was the fastest on all four speed traps. Ferrari’s straightline advantage is obvious on the fast and flowing Red Bull Ring. According to the GPS data, Hamilton lost three tenths of a second to Vettel on the straights while the loss of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas was six tenths. The difference was connected to differing setup directions between the two Mercedes drivers, but it was the result of Hamilton’s slipstream on his fastest qualifying lap. The five-time world champion found a perfect place for his last lap as he had an ideal gap to Lando Norris whose McLaren gave a tow to Mercedes, but the gap was big enough for the turbulence air to escape, meaning that it did not disturb Hamilton’s car in the corners.
However, what left Mercedes puzzled was Ferrari’s improving cornering speed. The W10 has been killing the SF90 in all types of corners in the first eight rounds of the season, but the Red Bull Ring brought a change to that trend. In the medium- and high-speed corners of the rollercoaster circuit, Ferrari and Mercedes were neck on neck, the Italians’ car was losing ground only in the three slow-speed bends.
The improvement in the corners is the result of Ferrari’s recent development push. The Maranello-based outfit introduced a raft of updates in France a week ago, including a new front wing, modified brake ducts and an upgraded floor. Despite to the problems related to the floor, the two other updates worked as expected. In Austria, the squad introduced new turning vanes beneath the nose which also brought a small step in the right direction. The floor was also tested during Friday practices again and the engineers could figure out what kind of fine-tuning it requires to get it to work properly. In the post-qualifying press conference, Leclerc confirmed that Ferrari managed to improve the front grip of its car which has been one of its weaknesses so far this season.