Verstappen on Austria pole ahead of Norris and Russell

Max Verstappen celebrates
The Austrian Grand Prix can be followed on BBC Radio 5 Live and the BBC Sport website [Getty Images]

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen put in an imperious performance to take pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix from McLaren’s Lando Norris.

Fresh from winning a fight with Norris and McLaren team-mate Oscar Piastri in the sprint race earlier on Saturday, Verstappen beat the Briton by 0.404 seconds.

Mercedes’ George Russell qualified third, 0.526secs behind Verstappen, after Piastri had a time that had put him third deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn Six.

McLaren protested against the decision to penalise Piastri, after the Australian called it “embarrassing” but the protest was rejected on the basis that it was inadmissible on a number of grounds.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz will start fourth ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

The second Ferrari of Charles Leclerc was sixth fastest after a series of mistakes on his final lap when looking capable of challenging for the top three.

He will start ahead of Piastri, whose first lap time in the final session was good enough for seventh place.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez was a massive 0.888secs slower than team-mate Verstappen, in eighth place. He was forced to run on used tyres in the final part of qualifying because his lack of pace had forced him to use all his new sets before that.

Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon completed the top 10, but the German is under investigation for two separate incidents of breaking the rules in the pit lane.

Verstappen makes 'good statement'

Verstappen said the team had made changes to the car since the sprint and it was a joy to drive.

The Dutchman, for whom it was a first pole since the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix four races ago, said: “The whole session went really well. The car was in a better window and I could push a bit more and it was very enjoyable. Every lap I did was feeling good.

“It’s been a while since we were on pole, and a while since I felt like this in the car, and it’s great. The team has been working hard to make the car more competitive and it’s a good statement.”

The Red Bull Ring provides one of the shortest laps of the season and, in percentage terms, Verstappen’s gap to Norris was his largest over the second-placed driver all season, underlining the qualify of his and Red Bull’s performance.

Norris said: “It was as much as we could do. Max was in a league of his own. [He had] more than what we had. Tricky conditions. More difficult to get laps in than yesterday.”

The 24-year-old said Red Bull had “made a good step and were a lot quicker than they were” in qualifying for the sprint race on Friday and that McLaren would “need something extra to go our way to beat the pace of Max and Red Bull” in Sunday’s grand prix.

“It’s a long race and many things can happen,” Norris said. “Normally, we are better in the race than qualifying so let’s see.”

Verstappen said: “It’s always nice to race. Hopefully it will be a tight battle again but I am not thinking too much about that. I am just thinking about how the car was performing today and hopefully it will translate into race pace.”

Russell said: “The car is feeling great at the moment. The team have worked really hard bringing these upgrades. We are still a little bit behind McLaren. And Max and Red Bull were flying today.”

Hamilton, just 0.063secs behind Russell but two places further back on the grid, said: “For some reason I had quite a lot of understeer and couldn’t add much wing.

“All these guys are so quick. It’s very close between us all. I’m relatively happy with my lap. The middle sector was not as good as I would have liked - Turn Three and Four, lost a bit of time there.

“If I had got those two perfect would probably have been in the top three but it’s very hard to get a lap.

“We can fight the Ferraris tomorrow but I don’t know if we can fight the McLarens. We’ll have to see.”

Frustration for Leclerc

Sainz said he expected to lose out to Hamilton as well as Russell over the course of the race because he believed the Mercedes’ stronger pace would show over 70 laps.

Leclerc had looked on course for a place in the top three or four after setting fourth fastest time on the first runs in the top 10 shoot-out despite being on used tyres, but he made a string of errors on this final lap.

He said: “It’s frustrating because whenever you know you have the potential to do well and you do a mistake yourself it always hurts but it is not a disaster.

“P7 is not good, P3 was possible today. Turns One and Three were really good in my last lap. I was 0.2secs faster than my lap.

“Then I did a mistake in Turn Four; tried even more to catch back some time in Turn Six, lost it. Tried the same in Turn Nine, lost it.

“It paid off more than it hurt this year pushing that way in qualifying but today it bit me.

“I am bit disappointed because with the team we had two or three races where we had a tough time and today was an opportunity to be in the top three but I didn’t do a good job on that second lap. But the first lap on scrubbed tyres was really good.”

More pain for Alonso and Aston

It was another difficult day for Aston Martin, whose form has suffered an alarming slump since being regular top five qualifiers at the start of the season.

Fernando Alonso beat team-mate Lance Stroll, who had out-qualified him for the sprint, but could manage only 15th place on the grid, and said over the radio that he had “almost lost the car” in Turns Seven and 10.

Alonso said the team had “changed everything” on the car after the sprint race “and we are still fundamentally in the same place - so it's not a problem of set-up, it is a problem of lack of pace”.