Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc blitzed qualifying to take pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix.
The 21-year-old set two laps quick enough for pole and ended the session 0.259 seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton.
Vettel’s car had a problem with the air-pressure line to the engine and Ferrari had to withdraw him from qualifying after failing to fix it in time.
Leclerc in imperious form
Hamilton sounded on edge throughout qualifying and looked to be struggling, but pulled a lap out of the bag in the end for a place on the front row.
“Charles has been quick all weekend,” Hamilton said. “We have not really been able to keep up with him.”
Leclerc has looked the faster Ferrari driver for much of the weekend and delivered on his potential to take his second pole.
After his first, in Bahrain earlier this season, he went on to dominate the race before an engine problem in the closing laps cost him victory.
“I’m extremely happy,” Leclerc said. “We have been competitive since second practice but it is always difficult to do the lap at the time. It is just a shame for Seb. We should have two cars close to one and two.”
Hamilton’s edginess in the car was down to a lack of pace for Mercedes – particularly on the straights – and his engineers failing to put him out behind other cars so he could benefit from a slipstream.
“Positioning was so difficult,” he said. “I was always at the front and never getting the slipstream. Luckily on the last run I got a decent position.”
Getting a tow from another car has become a vital part of qualifying in 2019, after regulation changes to make the front and rear wings bigger significantly increased drag.
Hamilton nervous but excited for race
Though apprehensive about the prospect of a grid penalty for impeding after qualifying, Hamilton said he was looking forward to the race – against arguably the two brightest talents of the new generation – if he got to start from the front row.
Three drivers from three different teams in the first three positions sets up a tantalising prospect, especially as Leclerc will start on the faster, soft tyres, and Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas on the slower but more durable mediums.
“If I get to start the race with these guys it will be quite a fun race,” he said, sitting alongside Leclerc and Verstappen.
“The Ferraris are quick on the long runs, not only the short runs. I’ll give it everything I have. If I can stay in the tow, maybe we will be able to offset each other [on strategy].
“If they start on that tyre, I tend to think they are going for a two unless that tyre goes longer than we anticipate. A one- and two-stop is very close and how you work them will be interesting.”
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Encouraging signs for Red Bull
Verstappen, who won this race last year, praised developments brought to the Red Bull at this race for their improved performance.
HAAS driver Kevin Magnussen was an excellent fifth, but will take a five-place grid drop for changing his gearbox, promoting McLaren’s Lando Norris, impressive again in setting the sixth fastest time.
Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi both beat Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly as the Alfa Romeos secured strong top-10 positions.