- By Andrew Benson
- Chief F1 writer
Max Verstappen took a comfortable pole position from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc at his Red Bull team’s home grand prix in Austria.
Verstappen was just 0.048 seconds clear of Leclerc as Carlos Sainz made it a Ferrari two-three with Lando Norris fourth in the upgraded McLaren.
Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes was fifth from Aston Martins, Lance Stroll unusually ahead of Fernando Alonso.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez failed to make the top 10 for the fourth straight race.
The Mexican repeatedly fell short of track limit restrictions and had a series of laps dropped for running too wide in Turns Nine and 10 and lined up 15th for Sunday’s grand prix.
Perez wasn’t the only driver to struggle with the track’s limitations – several drivers were eliminated by qualifying – but he was certainly the one suffering the most from his transgressions.
Verstappen, who was imperious as he secured his fourth pole in a row, said: “It’s very difficult because of all the limitations on the track. We didn’t mean it but at these speeds and high-speed corners it’s very difficult. to judge the white line.
“A lot of people are late, including me. It takes out the joy a little bit but still a very good lap.”
Verstappen said the number of times that were deleted “looked silly – we were almost like beginners and some of them were very, very marginal”.
Sainz added: “We have to find a way to correct it and we will sit down (with the FIA) and try to do that.”
Arguably the lap of the day came from Leclerc, who was right on the edge in the two high-speed final corners, the car dancing at the limits of adhesion as he got a few twitches past 100mph.
Leclerc, who has struggled to run in recent races, said: “It feels good to finally have a clean qualifying again and get back on the front row. It’s felt a bit better in the last few races.
“It was all about building up to the last lap and I managed to put everything in. Very close to the Red Bulls. I don’t think we expected to be that close.”
Beyond Leclerc’s lap, Norris also produced a stand-out performance for McLaren.
The team worked hard to introduce a major aerodynamic upgrade one race earlier than planned, to the extent that there were only enough parts for Norris to run it, leaving teammate Oscar Piastri in the previous specification car.
Norris was in front throughout the session and finished just 0.267 seconds from Verstappen. Piastri was 13th.
Norris felt he could have been higher if he hadn’t made a mistake on his last lap.
“Messed up my lap a bit,” Norris said. “Carlos should have, but I’m still pretty happy. P4 is a good result. The car is working well so I say a big thank you to the team for getting all the new pieces here, We don’t it would be P4 without that. So super-happy.”
Hamilton is a further 0.161secs back as Mercedes look to be struggling on this track, which is often a bit of a bogey circuit for them.
“It was a very difficult session,” said the seven-time champion. “Our car in general doesn’t really suit this circuit and it showed again today. But fifth is a good solid position to start from.”
Team-mate Russell was out of the running overall and did not make it out of the second session, finishing 11th, behind Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly and Williams’ Alex Albon.
“Not fast enough now,” Russell said. “From the first laps in practice I just haven’t got the right feel with the car. I need to understand what’s going on at the moment. I struggle a bit, especially on Saturdays.”
The latest is Alpha Tauri’s Nyck De Vries, who is under pressure for his seat after failing to impress Red Bull bosses at the start of his F1 career.
Team principal Franz Tost said on Friday that De Vries’ future is in his own hands – he will keep the seat if his performances improve.
But he was four places behind teammate Yuki Tsunoda, not the performance the team wanted.
Qualifying sets the grid for Sunday’s grand prix, and Saturday will be dedicated to the shorter ‘sprint’ event, with the qualifying session, the ‘sprint shoot-out’ at 11:00 UK time and the sprint itself at 15 :30.
“Tomorrow it will rain,” said Leclerc. “It’s going to be exciting.”
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