Massa on pole for Austrian Grand Prix


MASSA-POLESPIELBERG, June 21- Williams driver Felipe Massa took his 16th career pole position here Saturday, setting up an exciting duel with Mercedes ahead of Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix.

The 33-year-old Brazilian outpaced the competition with a fastest lap of one minute and 08.759 seconds in the dying minutes of the qualifying round, to finish 0.087 seconds ahead of his teammate Valtteri Bottas.

He thereby deprived Mercedes’s current leader Nico Rosberg of a third successive pole position, leaving the German to trail by 0.185 seconds with the third fastest time.

Mercedes and Williams had already dominated the three practice sessions at the Red Bull Ring this weekend.

But Rosberg and teammate Lewis Hamilton had to watch Massa and Bottas speed ahead on the 4.3-kilometre track.

Ahead of this weekend, it was Red Bull — fresh from taking first and third places at the Canadian Grand Prix — that were widely expected to set up an exciting duel with the current leaders.

But the Austrian team has struggled here despite racing on home turf.

Germany’s Sebastian Vettel barely made it past the first qualifying round with just the 15th fastest time and then succumbed in the second round, a far cry from his championship winning form in the past four seasons.

Teammate Ricciardo meanwhile improved his times on Saturday — finishing qualifying with the fifth fastest time — but still failed to match his performance at Montreal when he won his first ever Grand Prix.

Already after the first practice session, Red Bull’s drivers admitted they would not be going into Sunday’s race as the favourites, with Mercedes too strong at the moment.

Except for Montreal two weeks ago, Mercedes have enjoyed a near-perfect season, winning the first six races, allowing them to build a 119-point lead in the constructors’ standings ahead of Red Bull.

Several drivers, including Hamilton and Alonso, saw times disallowed Saturday after going too far off a track that included some tricky turns.

Force India’s Sergio Perez will drop five places on the grid for his horrific crash with Massa in Montreal two weeks ago. Marussia’s Max Chilton also has a three-point grid penalty for causing a collision in Canada and will start at the back.

The last Austrian Grand Prix winner in 2003 was seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.