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Verstappen pips Leclerc to pole position in dramatic Austrian GP qualifying session

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SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 30: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle

Max Verstappen made it three pole positions in a row for the Austrian Grand Prix with a charging qualifying performance at the Red Bull Ring, getting the better of Ferrari pair Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in an action-packed session.

Verstappen overcame deleted lap times in Q1 and Q2 – with plenty of drivers, including Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez, falling foul of track limits – to make it into the top 10 shootout and deliver his pole-grabbing effort of 1m 04.391s.

Perez was absent from the Q3 battle after dropping out in the second phase with successive deleted times, leaving the updated Ferraris to take the fight to Verstappen – Leclerc missing out by just 0.048s after an aggressive final lap.

Sainz took third, another tenth-and-a-half adrift, with Lando Norris delivering a stellar performance in his updated McLaren to secure a spot on the second row, denying the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and the Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso.

Nico Hulkenberg (Haas) continued his run of Q3 appearances with another strong drive to eighth position, slotting in front of Alpine driver Pierre Gasly and the Williams of Alex Albon, who starred again despite losing a lap over track limits.

Austria 2023

Qualifying results

PositionTeam NameTime
1VER1:04.391
2LEC1:04.439
3SAI1:04.581
4NOR1:04.658
5HAM1:04.819
View Full Results

A particularly large number of deleted lap times – the running theme of qualifying – led to some dramatic exits in Q2, with George Russell unable to recover from a track limits violation en route to 11th in his Mercedes, just ahead of Esteban Ocon’s Alpine.

Oscar Piastri had to settle for 13th in the second of the McLaren machines, without the luxury of team mate Norris’ upgrade package, while Valtteri Bottas was the fastest of the Alfa Romeos in 14th, despite a wild spin in Q1.

But the headline from Q2 was Perez’s elimination after he lost all of his lap times for running over the white lines, leaving him back in 15th and facing yet another race-day recovery after similar situations in Monaco, Spain and Canada.

Yuki Tsunoda was in the mix for a Q2 spot but lost a lap time for track limits after the clock had stopped and endured an early qualifying bath in 16th, along with the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu and Williams rookie Logan Sargeant.

Kevin Magnussen had little to celebrate at the end of qualifying as he took a lowly 19th, ahead of what will be the Haas driver’s 150th Grand Prix start, with the under-pressure Nyck de Vries 20th and last in his AlphaTauri.

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Spielberg provided a glorious backdrop for Friday’s qualifying session

AS IT HAPPENED

Q1 – Verstappen continues where he left off

With the Sprint format in play for the second time this season, drivers and teams had just one hour of practice to get up to speed for qualifying, which also promised a traffic-related challenge given the short and flowing nature of the Red Bull Ring layout.

When the green light switched on at the end of the pit lane and the session began, with the anticipated weekend rainfall holding off for now, it was Verstappen who set the provisional benchmark on a 1m 05.190s – Hulkenberg, Norris and Sainz all getting laps deleted over track limits during their opening runs.

Just before the bulk of Verstappen’s rivals could offer up a response, Bottas went for a spin at Turn 1, ending up facing the wrong way in the grass – an incident that initially brought out yellow flags before Race Control opted for a red flag.

However, there would be a twist during the stoppage, with Verstappen losing his initial pace-setting lap time for running too wide at Turn 10, meaning he tumbled down the order while promoting Piastri into P1 from Perez, Magnussen, Stroll and Leclerc. Others to be stripped of laps were Hamilton and Zhou.

Verstappen made up for his deleted time by pumping in a 1m 05.116s when the session resumed, slotting ahead of Sainz, Leclerc, Norris and Alonso, with Stroll, Ocon, Sargeant, De Vries (having also lost a lap time) and Hulkenberg the drivers in danger heading into the final five minutes.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 30: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (1) Oracle Red Bull

Verstappen was one of several drivers to push the track limits as qualifying began

Another flurry of track activity followed for the final Q1 runs, with Verstappen not improving but remaining at the top of the charts, while team mate Perez jumped to second – just over half a tenth adrift – as Gasly put his Alpine between Ferrari pair Sainz and Leclerc.

Norris had climbed as high as second in his updated McLaren but dropped down to sixth when he lost another time for exceeding track limits, followed by the lead Aston Martin and Mercedes machines of Alonso and Hamilton.

Fresh from his impressive points-scoring finish in Canada, Albon safely progressed to Q2 in ninth, with Piastri completing the top 10 positions for McLaren from Russell’s Mercedes, Stroll’s Aston Martin and Ocon’s Alpine.

Hulkenberg and Bottas recovered from their respective lost lap time and spin to just make the cut in P14 and P15, with Tsunoda falling into the drop zone after losing his best time for track limits after the chequered flag had dropped.

Zhou, Sargeant and Magnussen also fell at the first hurdle in what was an ultra-close first phase around the 4.318-kilometre track, with De Vries bringing up the rear as he deals with the pressure of intense speculation over his F1 future.

Knocked out: Tsunoda, Zhou, Sargeant, Magnussen, De Vries

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 30: Valtteri Bottas of Finland driving the (77) Alfa Romeo F1 C43 Ferrari

Bottas went for a spin in Q1 but recovered to make it through to the second phase

Q2 – Drama for Perez amid a spate of deleted times

After a short break, the action resumed and Verstappen continued his charge by dipping under the 1m 5s barrier for the first time this weekend, but his 1m 04.955s was swiftly deleted for another track limits violation and promoted Perez to top spot, only for the Mexican to lose his lap as well.

That meant Norris led the way with a time of 1m 05.038s, from Hulkenberg, Alonso, Sainz and Hamilton, with Verstappen down in the drop zone and having to wind himself up for a second attempt – leading to a sweary radio message from the reigning double world champion.

Verstappen regained his composure to deliver a 1m 04.951s with a clean lap, putting him 0.085s clear of Sainz and another 0.002s up on Norris, from Leclerc, Hamilton, Gasly, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Albon and Ocon – Russell and Perez falling into the drop zone with more deleted times.

That piled the pressure on for the final sequence of runs, which saw Perez jump to second (0.039s away from Verstappen) but once again lose the time over track limits, meaning he dramatically failed to reach Q3 for the fourth successive race weekend.

Verstappen remained in P1 from Sainz, Norris, Leclerc and Stroll, with Alonso, Hamilton, Gasly (despite a deleted time) Hulkenberg and an inspired Albon (also despite a deleted time) reaching the pole position shootout.

Russell narrowly missed out after his deleted time, taking 11th, as Ocon and Piastri wound up 12th and 13th in their respective Alpine and McLaren machines. Bottas and the aforementioned Perez were the final drivers to miss the cut.

Knocked out: Russell, Ocon, Piastri, Bottas, Perez

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 30: Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive

Perez had another tricky qualifying session as he dropped out in Q2

Q3 – Verstappen fends off the Ferraris for pole

When the pole position shootout kicked off, Verstappen once again hit the ground running to post a 1m 04.503s and sit comfortably clear of Ferrari drivers Leclerc and Sainz, with Norris and Alonso – the latter two running used soft tyres – rounding out the top five.

Just as it looked like all 10 remaining drivers had completed clean first laps, Stroll lost his time over track limits, leaving Gasly sixth from Albon and Hulkenberg, with Hamilton the only driver yet to post a lap as the session reached its halfway mark.

Hamilton’s first effort put him fifth, just over half a second away from Verstappen, before news came in that Albon had also lost his first time due to track limits, putting him back to 10th and meaning he would need to repeat his hard work.

As the final runs unfolded, Verstappen lowered the benchmark to a 1m 04.391s, which proved just enough to put pole out of reach of the Ferraris – Leclerc getting within half a tenth as he dragged his SF-23 around the track, and Sainz winding up third after a deleted time.

Norris maintained his strong pace from Q1 and Q2 to take a superb fourth for McLaren, with their upgrades seemingly working well despite just one practice session to bed them in, as Mercedes man Hamilton completed the top five positions.

Aston Martin followed in sixth and seventh respectively, Stroll this time spearheading the team’s charge from two-time world champion Alonso, with Hulkenberg, Gasly and Albon – the latter unable to make up any spots on his last lap – completing the Q3 runners.

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 30: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle

It was another strong outing from Verstappen in Austria

Key quote

“It was very difficult because of all the track limits,” said pole-sitter Verstappen. “With these speeds it’s so hard to judge the track limits.

“I think we still did a good enough lap. Very happy being on pole. We know that this is a different weekend with the whole format, but very happy with today. At least the car is quick and that’s the most important.”

What’s next?

With the grid for Sunday’s Grand Prix settled, Austria will host the second F1 Sprint of the season on Saturday, with the Sprint Shootout set to begin at 1200 local time, followed by the 100-kilometre Sprint race at 1630. Head to the RACE HUB to find out how you can catch the action.

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