Max Verstappen took pole position at the Red Bull Ring for the second weekend in a row as he fended off a shock threat from Lando Norris to take top spot on the grid for the Austrian Grand Prix.
Red Bull’s Verstappen led the way throughout qualifying, topping the opening two segments to head into Q3 as favourite for P1 – and he set a competitive benchmark, 0.2s quicker than Norris.
The Dutchman failed to improve on his second run, setting up a tense finale as Norris behind him was going quicker. In the end, he missed out on a shock maiden pole by just 0.048s, giving Verstappen his third consecutive P1 start and bringing his tally to four for 2021.
Norris will start P2 for the first time in his career, as he gave McLaren their first front row start since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, when Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button took first and second for the team.
Sergio Perez improved to leap up into third in the second Red Bull, which relegated Mercedes to the unusual positions of fourth and fifth respectively, with neither Hamilton nor Valtteri Bottas able to make any impact on the Red Bulls’ – and Norris’ – consistently good pace.
Fourth is Hamilton’s worst performance in Q3 at the Red Bull Ring since 2014, while it is the first time Mercedes missed out on a top three spot with either car in dry conditions since the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix.
Pierre Gasly continued his immense qualifying form with sixth – his seventh top six start this season and fifth in a row, with his AlphaTauri team mate Yuki Tsunoda tying his best-ever qualifying performance with seventh.
Birthday boy Sebastian Vettel – 34 today – was the leading Aston Martin in eighth, however he could be in line for a grid penalty after baulking Fernando Alonso earlier in qualifying.
And it was a sensational day for George Russell as the Briton not only made it into Q3 for the first time in a Williams but he did so on the medium tyre, putting him in a strong position strategically for Sunday’s race.
His sole Q3 lap was impressive, too, putting him ninth – one place ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll – to give Williams their best grid slot since Felipe Massa in the 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix.
The drivers were treated to packed grandstands – mostly made up of orange-clad Verstappen fans – as they headed out for the opening segment of qualifying. And their hero gave them plenty to smile about early doors as he shot to the top of the timesheets.
The Dutchman fended off a strong challenge from Lando Norris, with Fernando Alonso slotting into second as a mix of soft and medium tyres were the compounds of choice.
At the other end of the pack, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly were the unfamiliar faces in the drop zone after the first runs, with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll on the bubble to crank up the pressure.
Stroll and Gasly responded well to see themselves through but while Ocon improved, it wasn’t enough to avoid an early bath as he missed out by 0.07s. Kimi Raikkonen’s qualifying woes continued, too, as he failed to make it through.
Knocked out: Raikkonen, Ocon, Latifi, Schumacher and Mazepin.
Perez had the track to himself as Q2 got underway, with the Mexican doing a decent lap on the medium tyres and saying on team radio that he hooked it all up but just lacked the tow.
As he returned to the pits, everyone else headed out at the same time, with the 14 drivers jostling for position to get some clear air ahead of the flying laps – with Leclerc and Verstappen going side by side at the top of the hill at Turn 3.
Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari opted to head out on the mediums – in a bid to start the race on the more durable rubber – with the rest taking the soft. It didn’t work out for Ferrari, with Sainz and Leclerc 11th and 12th and in the drop zone along with Alonso, Ricciardo and Giovinazzi.
Verstappen kept his spot at the top, with Norris once again his closest challenger as he split the Red Bulls. Sebastian Vettel was fourth on the softs, with Hamilton the best placed Mercedes in fifth, three tenths off the pace.
As they headed back out for the second runs, Ferrari opted to stick with the mediums – while Russell swapped softs for the mediums having apologised to his team for going too fast on the softs (as it was not the rubber he would want to start the race on).
It proved to be an inspired move by the Briton and his Williams team as Russell went even quicker on the mediums clocking a lap that was good enough to make Q3 by just 0.006s. The Ferraris couldn’t follow suit, with Sainz and Leclerc dropping out in 11th and 12th, meaning there was no Ferrari in Q3 for the first time since Bahrain last year.
Ricciardo also failed to make it through, finishing eight places behind team mate Norris, while Alonso was furious in 14th after getting baulked by Vettel at the final corner. The double world champion let rid on team radio and gesticulated wildly as he drove past a slowing Vettel, who himself raised his hand as an apology for getting in the way.
Up top, Verstappen maintained the quickest time but Hamilton and Bottas improved to second and third, ahead of Gasly and Norris.
Knocked out: Sainz, Leclerc, Ricciardo, Alonso, Giovinazzi
Verstappen may have set the early benchmark, a couple of tenths of a second quicker than Norris, but the two Mercedes of Hamilton and Bottas were lurking just a tenth further back after the first runs.
It was Verstappen who headed out first for the final run, with the team keen to give him some clear air after he made a small error on his first attempt. He didn’t improve, with the Dutchman unhappy with the team’s strategy, saying he would discuss it after the session.
That left Norris with a chance to take a shock pole, the McLaren driver quick all weekend and making gains on his second run to put him within a sniff of pole. But he ran a little wide at the final turn, and that may well have cost him what would have been his first F1 pole.
Perez improved to take third, making it two Red Bulls in the top three for the first time at the Red Bull Ring, as the Mercedes challenge faded, the Silver Arrow simply lacking the pace to compete for pole.
The Austrian Grand Prix kicks off at 15:00 local time, which is 14:00 GMT. Verstappen starts on pole for the third race in succession, but he’s got an unfamiliar face alongside him in Norris. Will he be able to convert his P1 start or might rivals Mercedes be able to fight back?