Lewis Hamilton was dealt the first significant blow of his title bid after he was penalised three grid places for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.
The world champion, having qualified second at the Red Bull Ring, was expected to be demoted to fifth, punished for blocking Alfa Romeo driver Kimi Raikkonen in qualifying.
But confusion reigned in the Styrian Mountains when the provisional grid, published more than four hours after the result, instead placed the Briton in fourth.
This is despite the FIA, Formula One’s governing body, insisting that Hamilton would definitely start one place lower.
F1’s complex rule book favoured Hamilton after Kevin Magnussen, the Haas driver who finished fifth, was also penalised five places for a gearbox change.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, 21, secured pole position, with Red Bull star Max Verstappen, also 21, promoted to second. The duo will form the youngest front row in the sport’s history.
For Sebastian Vettel, his torrid time of late extended into another weekend. An engine problem prevented him from starting a lap in the shootout for pole, and the German, already 76 points Hamilton in the championship standings, will start a lowly ninth.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas was promoted to third, while British teenager Lando Norris, just 19, will line up fifth – the rising McLaren star continuing to impress.
Hamilton should have been on the front row, but for an uncharacteristic mistake in the opening moments of qualifying.
He had just left the pits when Raikkonen, who was on a quick lap, came across the Briton’s sluggish Mercedes at the top of the hill on the approach to Turn 3.
Hamilton saw Raikkonen at the last minute, but in attempting to get out of the fast-approaching Finn’s way, he crossed in front of him and thwarted his lap.
“Hamilton completely blocked me,” said an angry Raikkonen on the team radio, giving Hamilton the middle finger.
Hamilton was hauled in front of the stewards, but after hearing from the world champion, and reviewing the video evidence, they deemed he “unnecessarily impeded” Raikkonen, throwing the Briton down the grid.
“I totally deserved the penalty and have no problem accepting it,” said Hamilton. “It was a mistake on my behalf, and I take full responsibly. It wasn’t intentional.”
Hamilton’s Mercedes boss Toto Wolff added: “The rule book says if you impede someone, and it is clear, then you get a three-place penalty.
“It is not the driver’s fault, but there is a precedent, and we have to accept that.”
Hamilton’s punishment has played its part in the topsy-turvy grid, providing hope of an exciting race – much-needed after last week’s tedious affair in France.
Leclerc will line up from the front for the second time in his career, the power-heavy track suiting the straight-line grunt in his Ferrari. The young Monegasque will be the favourite to win his first grand prix and end Mercedes’ unbeaten streak.
Meanwhile, Norris, the teenager from Somerset, has adapted to Formula One life with staggering ease. Here, he got the very best out of his McLaren to qualify sixth, before he was bumped up one spot after Magnussen’s punishment.
Norris’s fellow novice George Russell beat Robert Kubica in the sister Williams to extend his qualifying record over the Pole to a remarkable 9-0.
Provided by Press Association Sport
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