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Bottas beats Vettel to take pole position for Austrian GP

BOTTAS BEATS VETTEL TO TAKE POLE POSITION FOR AUSTRIAN GP

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas beat Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel to take pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix on Saturday.

It was the second pole of the Finnish driver's career, and both have been since joining Mercedes this season. The latest pole was on the Spielberg track where Bottas secured his first podium finish three years ago, coming third when driving for Williams.

"The laps were getting better and better. It should be a good fight tomorrow," said Bottas, who is third in the title race but trails championship leader Vettel by 42 points. "I'm sure Lewis (Hamilton) still has a lot of time to come back and get points for the team."

Hamilton, second in the championship behind Vettel, qualified in third place but will start from eighth because of a grid penalty. That means Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen moves up from fourth to third.

Nearing the end of the third and final practice session in the morning, Hamilton went off the track with some smoke pouring out the side of his car. The team said it was a brake disk failure and Hamilton's mechanics worked frantically to get his car ready for qualifying.

It was another blow for Hamilton, who took the grid penalty for an unauthorized gearbox change.

He trails Vettel by 14 points after eight races, with both winning three times.

Asked if he could win Sunday's race, a downbeat Hamilton said "it's not really on my mind at the moment," adding that the race is more likely to be a case of "damage limitation."

Three years ago, Hamilton started from ninth and finished second behind Nico Rosberg, his former Mercedes teammate. But he is not confident of a repeat performance.

"I'm pretty sure back then there was a bigger difference in speed between (Mercedes) and other cars," Hamilton said.

But Vettel did not rule out Hamilton's chances of challenging on Sunday.

"We'll see, it's a long race," the German said. "We have to look after our own race."

He felt he should have pushed his car a bit harder.

"Not quick enough but I was happy, the car was really good," said Vettel after missing out on a 48th career pole. "It's a great track, really enjoyable with a lot of high-speed corners."

Pushing hard to get a quicker final lap, Dutch driver Max Verstappen span his Red Bull into the gravel. He finished sixth but will start fifth on the Red Bull Ring, behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo — who won the Azerbaijan GP two weeks ago.

Lance Stroll, meanwhile, will start a lowly 18th after failing to make it into Q2 — a disappointment following his third-placed finish in Azerbaijan GP.

But his Williams teammate Felipe Massa hardly fared better and starts from 17th.

Three years ago, Williams started from the front row with Massa taking pole ahead of Bottas — his former teammate.

Bottas topped the second part of qualifying — Q2 — on quicker ultra-soft tires than Hamilton's super-soft option, with Vettel third quickest.

Danish driver Kevin Magnussen, boosted by his seventh place in Azerbaijan, was hampered by suspension problems and was one of the five drivers who failed to make it into Q3 — as did both McLarens.

Hamilton failed to find his best level in Q3, calling his drive "so-so."

In the morning's third and final practice, Vettel posted the fastest time ahead of Hamilton and Bottas.

Ferrari, which is in a close scrap with Mercedes for the constructors' championship, has been handed an extra boost by Hamilton's grid penalty.

Teams must use the same gearbox for six straight races but Hamilton's Mercedes team made the change before reaching that requirement. The change was made Tuesday, and Mercedes had already changed it once before the last race.

Hamilton has taken pole for the last two years on the Spielberg track, winning the race last year.

It will take something special for Hamilton to win the 57th race of his career. Bottas will aim for just his second victory, while Vettel is chasing a 46th — but on a track where he has twice retired, with a best finish of fourth.

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