BY ROBERT HAILE
Red Bull are sitting pretty after a dominant display around the Red Bull Ring from championship leader Max Verstappen in today’s, July 3, qualifying session for the Austrian Grand Prix.
After last weeks Styrian Grand Prix which Verstappen led from start to finish to extend his lead in the championship he was always favourite for pole position on the same track.
Verstappen said: “Q1 (Qualifying 1) and Q2 (Qualifying 2) were very good and comfortable but I was not entirely happy in Q3 (Qualifying 3) as my laps weren’t amazing. I’m of course happy to be on pole, especially at the Red Bull Ring again, and having three poles in a row is great for the Team. But I cannot be entirely happy as I always want to be perfect and I always want to analyse what went well and what went wrong.
“Maybe that is how I grew up but I also believe that is how you keep improving. Now I’m just looking forward to tomorrow as we have a good race car and of course with Checo (Sergio Perez) being third as well it is great for the Team and hopefully we can push together and score a lot of points. It was also an amazing lap by Lando (Norris) and they have been quite close this weekend but I don’t expect them to be our main rivals in the race tomorrow.
“I’m very pleased with the whole package, the car and engine together have been working so well over the last few races, so we have good confidence for tomorrow but for sure it’s never easy and it’s softer compounds compared to last week so it will be tough to manage those in the race and we still have strong competition. It was also amazing to see the orange army back in the grandstands. It has been a long time and they are so happy to be here cheering us on which I love to see.”
The Dutchman set the fastest time in each session with Mercedes struggling in the final session as McLaren’s Lando Norris went second fastest to claim his best qualifying and the teams best since 2012 in Brazil.
A statement on the McLaren website Norris said “My best result in qualifying in Formula 1, so a big achievement for us as a team but also for myself. It was one of the best laps I’ve done. To only be half a tenth off pole is a great achievement for everyone. It makes you miss it from your early career. I don’t think we could’ve done a lot more, so P2 (position 2) is awesome for us and a great position to start from tomorrow. Let’s see what we can do in the race.”
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez slotted into third relegating Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas into fourth and fifth with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly 0.058 behind and Yuki Tsunoda sitting seventh.
It was not the day Mercedes were looking for after announcing a two year contract extension with Hamilton before qualifying.
Perez said: “I’m happy, it’s a very good result for the Team here at our home track in Austria. Max (Verstappen) and I are in a good starting position and hopefully we can get a good start off the line tomorrow, that will be critical. Overall, it’s been a really hard weekend up until now, we’ve been chasing a lot of balance, exploring the car in all areas and just chipping away at it in every single run.
“I’m starting on the mediums but it’s going to be a race where one or two pit stops is unknown, no one has had enough of a long run yet so it’s hard to tell. In the end we got a good lap today and it didn’t come easy, anything can happen tomorrow and I believe we have a better race car than quali (qualifying) so I hope that we can bring home some solid points for the Team. Congratulations to Lando (Norris) too, he did a very strong lap today.”
It was a happy birthday for Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel as he will start from eighth with Williams’ George Russell in ninth ahead of Lance Stroll for Aston Martin.
Williams are one of two teams to still not have scored a point this season and after the team were forced to retire Russell in the Styrian Grand Prix last week they will be hoping that lightening doesn’t strike twice.
In the first session the usual suspects of Haas drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi were joined by Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Kimi Räikkönen for Alfa Romeo as their qualifying woes continued.
For the first time this season there were no Ferrari’s in the top ten shootout as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz as they finished eleventh and twelfth ahead of McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso for Alpine and Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi.
Vettel made it into the final session but could face a penalty after he blocked Alonso’s fast lap as the Alpine driver caught up with him at the end of the lap.
Pole Position – Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 1:03.720
Q3 – Max Verstappen (Red Bull), Lando Norris (McLaren), Sergio Perez (Red Bull), Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri), Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), George Russell (Williams), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
Q2 – Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren), Fernando Alonso (Alpine), Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
Q1 – Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo), Esteban Ocon (Alpine), Nicholas Latifi (Williams), Mick Schumacher (Haas), Nikita Mazepin (Haas)