Peerless Verstappen captures Styrian GP pole for Red Bull


Max Verstappen will start Sunday’s Styrian Grand Prix from pole position after his best time of 1:03.841s left him two tenths of a second clear of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.

Despite a scrappy final run, Hamilton still picks up a front row spot on the grid as a result of Bottas’ three place penalty putting him behind Lando Norris and Sergio Perez for tomorrow’s start.

George Russell will start from 11th after an impressive Q2 for the Williams saw him finish qualifying ahead of Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel.

But there was disappointment for Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, who both missed the first cut and will start tomorrow’s race from 17th and 18th respectively.

  • 2021 Styrian Grand Prix – Qualifying results

Despite forecasts of possible rain and even thunderstorms in the Steiermark, conditions at the Red Bull Ring were set fair on Saturday with spiralling track temperatures in evidence as qualifying got underway for the Styrian Grand Prix. A close battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen looked to be in store after the Mercedes driver had managed to pip the Red Bull in final practice earlier in the day.

Q1: Verstappen and Bottas quickest as Raikkonen and Ocon fail to make the cut

There was a short pause when the lights went green at the end of pit lane before Williams’ Nicholas Latifi headed out on track, where he was soon joined by the two Haas cars of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.

Despite a scrappy lap, Latifi set the first lap of the afternoon with a 1:05.963s which was just under a tenth quicker than Schumacher. By then the track the was getting busy as the majority of the field also headed out on soft tyres for their own runs, and soon it was George Russell at the top of the timesheets – before he was ousted by Antonio Giovinazzi, Lance Stroll, Yuki Tsunoda, Pierre Gasly and Lando Norris in quick succession.

Then it was Verstappen making his first run which put him top with a time of 1:04.489s, albeit only 0.095s quicker than the McLaren. Their respective team mates were not as fast, Sergio Perez only ninth and Daniel Ricciardo tenth quickest after their maiden runs. The two Mercedes drivers then opened their account, Valtteri Bottas splitting the gap between Verstappen and Norris to slot into second while Hamilton was just fourth. Only the two Alpines were yet to make an appearance, while Mazepin’s first flying lap had been deleted for exceeding track limits.

An improved second run by Latifi saw the Williams jump up to ninth, causing consternation among some of the slower drivers who now feared being backed into the elimination zone. With five minutes remaining those at risk were Giovinazzi, Russell, Kimi Raikkonen and the two Haas drivers, while Ricciardo was sitting uncomfortably on the bubble in 15th. No one could afford to sit easy, and Raikkonen’s next run saw the Alfa Romeo dip a wheel into the gravel while Gasly had a better time deleted for straying off track.

The top four (Verstappen, Bottas, Norris and Hamilton) all felt safe to stay in the garage and conserve their tyres, but the rest of the cars were soon out on track and jockeying for optimum positions for their final push laps, resulting in Latifi running into traffic and getting held up. Others were more fortunate, with Tsunoda and Perez moving ahead of Hamilton and Charles Leclerc in the times with Gasly, Stroll and Carlos Sainz rounding out the top ten. Alonso and Russell were also safely through along with Vettel and Giovinazzi, while Ricciardo made it through by the skin of his teeth in 15th.

Latifi just failed to progress, but the big casualties of the first round were Kimi Raikkonen and Esteban Ocon, with Schumacher and Mazepin predictably making up the back row of the grid for the start of Sunday’s race.

Q2: Soft tyres put Perez, Norris and Gasly ahead of Verstappen, Bottas and Hamilton

Valtteri Bottas was quick to head out for the second round, selecting the medium tyre for his run. He was joined by Giovinazzi and Russell, and then Verstappen and Hamilton also decided to join the fray. The Finn clocked in with a time of 1:04.724s which was well ahead of Giovinazzi, opening up a space allowing Russell to go second on a set of soft tyres. Verstappen then went top with a time of 1:04.540s, while a scrappy middle sector with a big lockup at turn 3 for Hamilton left the Mercedes over eight tenths off the Red Bull’s pace.

Having looked to be struggling for pace in Q1, Perez was able to put a set of soft tyres to good use by going second just 0.043s off his team mate. This prompted the rest of the field to also come out on soft tyres which soon enabled Gasly to go top by four thousandths, and also prompted good runs for Norris, Tsunoda, Stroll, Alonso and Sainz which left Leclerc in the drop zone despite being within four tenths of the top time.

Bottas had been left at risk in ninth, but a new run on the mediums saw the Mercedes jump to safety in third. That pushed Hamilton down to sixth and the world champion was soon back out on mediums for another run just as other cars started to stream out of pit lane. His latest time was just 0.083s off Gasly’s benchmark – but even so, he remained in the slightly precarious position of fifth.

Leclerc was the man under pressure, fighting his way out of the elimination zone to eighth despite an untidy run across the kerbs in turn 1 in the process. Russell was briefly into the top ten only to be pushed out again by others improving ahead of him, leaving him missing out by just 0.008s. Even so, 11th place for the Williams was an impressive effort as he finished ahead of Sainz, Ricciardo, Vettel and Giovinazzi as the top-placed driver on tomorrow’s grid with a free choice of starter tyres, after both Vettel and Sainz had lap times deleted for exceeding track limits.

The final flurry of fast laps on the soft compound saw Perez end up on top with a time of 1:04.197s, a tenth quicker than Norris’ final run which pushed Gasly down to third ahead of Verstappen, Bottas, Hamilton, Alonso, Tsunoda, Leclerc and Stroll.

Q3: Verstappen claims pole as Hamilton runs out of time and track

Hamilton wasted no time getting out on track for his first run of the final top ten pole shoot-out, and he laid down the gauntlet with a time of 1:04.205s on the clear track using soft tyres which were now the default selection for all runners.

Hamilton’s time survived initial challenges from the two AlphaTauris, but Verstappen then went 0.364s quicker to seize provisional pole. Norris settled into third ahead of Bottas and Perez, with Leclerc seventh splitting Gasly and Tsunoda. Alonso was the slowest of those making an initial run, as Stroll initially held back in the Aston Martin garage until belatedly emerging to go eighth fastest.

Hamilton’s second run saw him close the gap to Verstappen to 0.226s, but that was still not quick enough to unseat the Dutch driver from the top spot. Everyone still had time to make one final run – even Hamilton, who had saved enough sets of soft tyres to enable him to make a rare third outing in Q3. However when he came out he found himself stuck in traffic, and he had to resort to some unusual overtaking moves to get himself into position to start his final effort. In the end he ran wide at turn 10, thwarting any remaining hopes of stealing pole from the rampant Red Bull.

Even though Verstappen wasn’t able to improve his time on his final run, he had still done enough to clinch pole which he greeted with a “Simply lovely!” over the team radio. Meanwhile Bottas managed to squeeze a little more time to finish qualifying in second, although his three-place grid penalty for Friday’s pit lane faux pas means he will have to start the race from fifth. That means Hamilton inherits a front row place and Norris will line up in third alongside Perez, while further back Gasly finished the session in sixth ahead of Leclerc, Tsunoda, Alonso and Stroll.

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