Max Verstappen gave Red Bull the perfect start to the first of two races on home soil by delivering a scintillating lap to fend off Mercedes duo Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton to snatch pole position for the Styrian Grand Prix – his second in a row.
The Red Bull Ring has been a happy hunting ground for Verstappen in years gone by, with the two-time winner looking to have his RB16B hooked up beautifully from the start of qualifying, making good progress as the one-hour session built to a crescendo.
Championship leader Verstappen set provisional pole with his first run and his second lap was also good enough to take top spot, as the Mercedes challenge fell short. Bottas popped ahead of Hamilton into second which a very tidy lap at the death, but he’ll drop back to fifth following a three-place penalty for ‘dangerous driving’ when he spun in the pit lane during practice.
That promotes Hamilton to second spot, having crossed the line third, with the Mercedes driver opting to do three runs in Q3 having saved a set of soft tyres from the opening segment.
The seven-time champion’s first lap was a decent banker, and while he improved on his second run, he was still a quarter of a second off the pace. The reigning world champion then appeared to get his out lap wrong for his third try, which potentially took too much out of his tyres and he failed to improve as he slid wide late on in his final run.
McLaren’s Lando Norris ended up a strong fourth – which will become third for the second time at this track, following Bottas’ penalty – ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez.
Pierre Gasly showed strong pace throughout – and was quickest of all in Q2 – qualifying sixth for AlphaTauri, his sixth top-six start in eight Grands Prix weekends. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was seventh, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda who made his second Q3 appearance in the last three Grands Prix, however the rookie was handed a three place penalty for an alleged block of Bottas.
Fernando Alonso was Alpine’s sole representative in Q3, after team mate Esteban Ocon was knocked out in the first part of the session, with the Spaniard ninth as Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll outqualified team mate Sebastian Vettel for the first time in four races to close out the top 10.
Warm and dry conditions greeted the drivers as qualifying go underway at the Red Bull Ring, carved into the Styrian hillside. The likes of Verstappen and Hamilton comfortably set laps good enough to progress, with the latter only using one set of soft tyres.
As the clock ticked down, Antonio Giovinazzi and Sebastian Vettel found themselves in the drop zone, with Perez on the cusp – but all three got their final laps together to haul themselves to safety.
Ocon couldn’t follow suit, though, the Alpine driver failing to back up his top-three pace in FP2 as he took an early bath, meaning he has failed to reach Q3 in any of the last four Grands Prix.
He’ll start the race 17th, one place behind Nicholas Latifi – who missed out on Q2 by just a tenth of a second. Alfa’s Kimi Raikkonen – who had an off-track excursion into the gravel – and the Haas duo of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin completed the classification.
Knocked out: Latifi, Ocon, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Mazepin
Hamilton and Bottas headed out on the medium tyres, as did Verstappen, with the trio keen to start the race on the more durable tyre, while the rest didn’t feel they had enough pace in hand and therefore opted for the soft compound.
Hamilton and Bottas were pretty scruffy on their first runs, so were forced to go again – but they stuck to mediums. And their second runs were enough to see them through to the top 10 shoot-out.
Further behind, Carlos Sainz and Vettel gave themselves plenty of work to do after having laps deleted for track limits, and ultimately weren’t able to recover, leaving them 12th and 14th on the grid respectively. That’s the second time this season Sainz has exited qualifying in Q2.
Daniel Ricciardo appeared to have made progress with his McLaren on Friday as he finished second quickest in FP2, but he looked all at sea in Saturday morning running – and failed to get any more of a handle on the MCL35M in qualifying.
The Australian ended up 13th, with Alfa Romeo’s Giovinazzi 15th. George Russell came within 0.008s of making Q3, but will line up a strong 11th – with a free choice of tyres – to equal the position he qualified in the wet at the Red Bull Ring last year.
Knocked out: Russell, Sainz, Ricciardo, Vettel, Giovinazzi
Hamilton went out early in Q3, the reigning world champion getting the track to himself as he was the only one of the top 10 to have enough soft tyres to do three runs.
His initial time of 1m 04.205s was quicker than he’d managed all session, but not the fastest time in qualifying. He dived back into the pits as everyone else went out, with Verstappen setting a very strong benchmark four-tenths clear of Hamilton with his first flying effort.
Hamilton’s second lap was better, but he was still a quarter of a second adrift, as we approached the final runs. The Briton unusually attacked his out lap, to move to the front of the queue, but set a first sector that was 0.25s off Verstappen, all but ending his hopes of snatching pole.
His team mate Bottas did improve, however, and went second, demoting Hamilton to third in the session, but the Briton would regain the place once Bottas’ three-place grid penalty was applied.
The Styrian Grand Prix kicks off at 14:00 local time, which is 14:00 GMT. For the second race in a row, title rivals Verstappen and Hamilton line up alongside each other on the front row. Can the Dutchman hold off the Silver Arrows to take his third win in four races?