Verstappen grabs important pole for Styrian GP from title rival Hamilton

Max Verstappen put himself in pole position to extend his lead over rival Lewis Hamilton in the F1 drivers’ standings after the Dutchman scorched to a second successive pole position for the Styrian Grand Prix.

In what has already been a gripping season to date, Verstappen has eked out a 12 point advantage following a dramatic Azerbaijan GP and highly tactical race in France when Red Bull outsmarted their Mercedes rivals with a cunning undercut race strategy.

“It has been a very good weekend,” reflected Verstappen after his latest pole in Austria. “I think in qualifying again the car was very good to drive, it was not easy to deal with the traffic in the last few corners to get a clean lap but I think that first lap in Q3 was good enough in the end. I had a good first sector and of course was super happy to have pole here at home, so nice to see a Red Bull car first here.

“When you look at the lap you think that there are not that many corners but then the corners you have on the track are quite difficult, so Turn 1, braking for Turn 3, the Crest and braking downhill into 4. So it’s definitely a small track but really hard to get a good lap out of it and I think that first lap in Q3 was not too bad. Not perfect but was good enough.”

For seven-time champion Hamilton, there’s always race day to recover that position, especially considering teammate Valtteri Bottas was demoted from second for a pit lane infringement during free practice.

“I gave it everything I could, and we go to the race tomorrow for a fight. They have generally had a quarter of a second on us all weekend and I think we have managed to eek closer in qualifying but in race trim yesterday they were 0.25s ahead of us most of the time. It will be interesting to see whether we can manage it but I don’t think we have raw pace to overtake them, that’s for sure.”

Bottas’ grid demotion means the Finn starts Sunday’s race from 5th on the grid behind the excellent Lando Norris and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull. Next on the starting line comes Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso as George Russell is promoted to the top ten starters.

“I was pushing to my absolute limits in qualifying and the car really came alive when it mattered, so the lap felt really strong,” said Russell. “It’s frustrating when we were so close to Q3, eight thousandths of a second really is nothing, but we’ll have tyre choice in P11 tomorrow so that’s a good place to be.

“The team is putting a lot of effort into race pace at the moment, so to still get a great result on Saturday is very pleasing. We’re here on merit today; we did a good job and the car is feeling strong. There’s no reason why we can’t keep the others behind us tomorrow, I’m not looking in my mirrors, I’m looking forward, and I want to get inside that top 10.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.