Feature F1 Unlocked
FRIDAY DEBRIEF: Can anyone spoil Verstappen and Red Bull’s Austrian GP homecoming as the Sprint format returns?
Max Verstappen delighted his legion of loyal fans, who once again packed out the joint at the Red Bull Ring, with his fourth consecutive pole position for Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix. But he didn’t have it easy – here are the key stories from the opening day of track action…
Even track limits can’t stop Verstappen march
We’ve often heard Max Verstappen complain about his car during practice, only to stick it on pole position when it matters in qualifying – and the same happened in Austria as he overcame an initially understeery Red Bull RB19 to take pole.
He had to work for his seventh consecutive front row at the Red Bull Ring, though, as he had a series of laps deleted for exceeding track limits in the final sector of the lap, forcing him to go again.
Despite his frustration with the penalties, the reigning double world champion always had a back-up answer to ensure he safely progressed through each segment of qualifying and ultimately took pole.
Perez in a world of pain as qualifying misery continues
Sergio Perez needed a big result after a disappointing trio of races, and looked in reasonable shape in practice, securing the sixth best time despite not coming to the track because he felt unwell.
However, he had his lap deleted three times in Q2, which meant he was the slowest of all in that segment and extended his run of missing Q3 to four straight races – despite having the best car on the grid.
It means the Mexican requires yet another fightback on Sunday afternoon to rescue some good points, and leaves Red Bull facing an uphill battle to secure a one-two at their home track, where they are racing for the first time since founder Dietrich Mateschitz passed away.
Ferrari upgrade delivers high-speed corner gains
This was Ferrari’s best Friday of the year – and their best team qualifying performance of the year – as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz got both cars into the top three for the first time in 2023.
After a run of tricky qualifying sessions, Leclerc had a near faultless canter through the one-hour shoot-out, delivering the kind of on-the-limit perfect lap that he has become famous for to take second, just 0.048s off pole.
His team mate Sainz was equally competitive, the Spaniard revealing that the upgraded Ferrari felt like a step forward – crucially in the high-speed corners where they have struggled so far this year.
If they can keep the tyres alive in race trim on Sunday, it might not be long until the red cars become a potent force – and a growing threat to Red Bull.
Norris stars as sizeable McLaren upgrade shines
This was a remarkable day for Lando Norris, who made the most of McLaren’s heavily updated car to make the second row of the grid in fourth.
Norris was mighty through all segments of qualifying – on a track where he has secured five top-five starts in seven appearances – despite having managed just 17 laps in the only one-hour practice session of the weekend.
With further updates coming at Silverstone – which completes their ‘B-spec-esque’ package – this is a very positive start to what McLaren hope will revive their 2023 campaign.
Mercedes and Aston lacking pure performance
This wasn’t the strongest of days for Aston Martin or Mercedes, who had no answer to Red Bull, Ferrari or Lando Norris’s pace in the Austrian hills.
This has always been something of a bogey track for Mercedes, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise they are third-best around here – however they can take hope from Lewis Hamilton’s positive view of their longer runs on the hard tyre in practice.
Lance Stroll outqualified team mate Fernando Alonso for the second time in three races with sixth, with both content that they are at least in the mix to be in the fight on Sunday. For both teams, though, an attack on the podium looks challenging based on today’s pecking order.