LEWIS HAMILTON feared a last-gasp spin in qualifying could have cost him pole position for today’s Austrian Grand Prix only for team-mate Nico Rosberg to follow suit seconds later.
Remarkably, both Hamilton and Rosberg spun off as they looked to push their cars as close to the limit as possible - with reigning champion Hamilton the man to take pole after a stunning earlier lap.
Hamilton’s off came at turn one on what would have been his final flying lap, whilst Rosberg’s more spectacular spin was at the final corner as he homed in on his team-mate’s provisional pole position time.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel again came home as the best of the rest to take third as Hamilton sealed a seventh pole in eight races this year, although he did worry it had slipped from his grasp.
“It was quite a difficult qualifying session,” said the 30-year-old.
“I was grateful that I got my best lap in early in Q3, I’m always pushing for that bit extra in the next run. I wasn’t too particularly concerned with it (potentially losing pole) at the time. But naturally, shortly afterwards I was like ‘You know, I probably lost it there’.”
Hamilton also revealed his team had said he was not at fault for the spin - something that cheered him up in his debrief.
“I thought that I had made a mistake into turn one,” he added.
“I have been with the engineers and it doesn’t look like it was, they are investigating to try and understand and that is comforting for me. I was angry at myself but it is a combination of things we are trying to understand.”
Rosberg had looked to have the beating of his title rival - running quicker than Hamilton in every session ahead of qualifying.
But he will now have to beat the Brit on the track as he looks to close the 17-point gap at the top of the drivers’ championship and, unlike Hamilton, he admitted he may have been at fault for his error.
“I only saw the on-board footage of myself so I’m not sure,” he said when asked what caused his spin.
“If there was some indication of spray when I went over the astroturf that is likely to be the reason - if not it is the driving braking too late, that would probably be the reason.”
Hamilton equalled Vettel’s haul of 45 pole positions to move level in third place on the all-time list.
Four-time world champion Vettel was again the man to get closest to the Mercedes but could not show the sort of pace in qualifying he had promised over the course of practice.
Vettel joked after the session that he had been looking for inspiration in his musical choices ahead of the qualifying hour.
When asked what he was listening to when shown on television with headphones on - he replied: “Help! From the Beatles.
“I need help, they are too quick. If you know how to fix it please let us know. We are always ready and always fight and wait for our chances.
“So far it has been quite difficult because they are so bloody quick but we will try tomorrow. Hopefully we can be a bit closer. We’re ready to attack and try our best.”
The 19-race pole position lock-out for Mercedes was last broken here last year when Felipe Massa took top spot for Williams.
Twelve months later the Brazilian qualified fourth, with team-mate Valtteri Bottas sixth as Nico Hulkenberg split the pair in his Force India.
Max Verstappen qualified seventh after an impressive afternoon from the Toro Rosso teenager, with Daniil Kvyat eighth for Red Bull - although he will take a 10-place grid penalty.
Sauber’s Felipe Nasr was ninth, with the Lotus of Romain Grosjean sitting out the final session due to technical problems.
Fernando Alonso was last in the second session but his McLaren will take a 25-place penalty after engine and gearbox changes.
With the early rain leaving some parts of the track wet, the majority of the field started the first qualifying session on intermediate tyres.
They soon dried out the circuit and reverted to the dry-weather rubber and, with the lap times tumbling, it was Raikkonen who was the big-name casualty.
The Ferrari man could not hook up a quick enough lap to make it through to the second part of qualifying as he joined Sergio Perez of Force India, Button’s McLaren - which will also drop back following a 25-place penalty - and the Manor pair of Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens in the bottom five.