Vettel on top in final Austrian practice, Verstappen stops

Toto Wolff

GETTYToto Wolff knows that the Austrian Grand Prix will not be easy given the track's difficulties

The Finnish driver also started in front a year ago and went on to win the race.

"The auto felt so good".

His enthusiastic celebratory message over the radio said it all - he might look likely to be staying at Mercedes for 2019, but the Finn is in desperate need of a win to propel himself back towards the title fight.

Sebastian Vettel made a mistake on his first Q3 attempt but jumped from seventh to third on his final run ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen.

Hamilton added he's excited to get his first experience of the updated vehicle this weekend, but warns qualifying could still be tight.

Hamilton said Bottas deserved to beat him. The extra time allowed the team to improve the new specification to a greater extent than had been intended. The next one was really good, and obviously it was quite close between us which I'm happy about.

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"I knew I needed a banker to make safe I qualified in a good position", Vettel said.

Vettel, who is under investigation for impeding Carlos Sainz in qualifying, made an error on his first flying lap in Q3 that made it "not that easy to recover".

Behind them‚ Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo‚ who will be 29 on Sunday‚ were fifth and sixth‚ the Dutchman stopping on track in the final minutes after a loss of power.

Underlining his potential, Charles Leclerc became the first Sauber driver since 2014 to reach the second qualifying round in six straight races.

Hamilton was quickest in both of Friday's practice sessions, at a track that has crowned a Mercedes victor in each of the four years since Austria returned to the calendar in 2014, but Ferrari appeared to have found some extra speed overnight.

Leclerc, who reportedly is a candidate to replace Raikkonen at Ferrari next season, ended practice with an engine issue, forcing his team to replace the gear box.

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"The auto feels better in certain areas around the track which is already a step forward from last week", said Hamilton.

Vettel believes the pendulum could yet swing back in his favour in the coming races, because Mercedes has introduced back-to-back upgrades for its package whereas Ferrari is "largely the same" as in France.

The upgrades put Mercedes in a favourable position to stretch its winning streak on the Austrian track.

Situated in Central Austria's countryside, the track includes inclines of up to 12 per cent.

"They mentioned it to me ages ago, but I don't really think about that stuff, I only think about how I can get the auto in the right ballpark so I [can] do what I do".

Sunday's race is the second of F1's inaugural triple header, after last week's French GP with the British GP at Silverstone to follow on July 8.

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