Red Bull’s Formula One world championship leader Max Verstappen took pole position for his team’s home Styrian Grand Prix on Saturday and set up another duel with title rival Lewis Hamilton.
Seven times world champion Hamilton qualified third at Austria’s Red Bull Ring but will join Verstappen on the front row because Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas, second fastest, collected a three-place grid penalty in Friday practice.
Verstappen leads Hamilton by 12 points after seven rounds, with three wins each, and Sunday’s race promises to be another thrilling battle between the championship’s two outstanding drivers.
The pole, with a lap 0.194 quicker than Bottas’s best, was Verstappen’s second in a row after France last weekend, and third of the season. It was also Red Bull’s first at the Spielberg circuit.
“I’m sure again tomorrow it will be very tight,” said the Dutch driver after posting a fastest time of one minute 03.841 seconds with his first run of the final session. His second lap was slower, but still quicker than anyone else.
“Hopefully again it will be as interesting as in France,” added Verstappen, who won at Le Castellet after overtaking Hamilton on the penultimate lap as part of a bold two-stop strategy.
Hamilton said he had done all he could but his second run had not been one of his best efforts and he made mistakes on the final run.
“Nonetheless it’s still on the front row after the penalty,” said the Briton. “I did everything I could and we go into the race tomorrow for a fight.
“They’ve generally had a quarter of a second on us all weekend. We’ve managed to eke closer in qualifying but in race trim yesterday they were 0.25 ahead of us most of the time,” he added of Red Bull’s speed.
“It will be interesting to see whether or not we can manage it. I don’t think we have raw pace to overtake them, that’s for sure, but we might just be able to keep up. Maybe tomorrow we’ll be surprised, maybe it rains.”
The short lap saw drivers hold back, jockeying for space and clean air, throughout qualifying and particularly the end of the final phase.
Hamilton decided to take matters into his own hands and pass several cars ahead of him, without gaining anything as Verstappen’s time stood the test.
McLaren’s Lando Norris will start third with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez fourth following the grid drop imposed on Bottas for dangerous driving when he spun his car across the pitlane on Friday.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly qualified sixth with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc seventh and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda in eighth.
Tsunoda and Bottas were both summoned to stewards afterwards, with the Japanese rookie under investigation for allegedly impeding the Finn.
Spain’s double world champion Fernando Alonso put his Alpine ninth on the grid, with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll 10th.
Britain’s George Russell, the main contender to partner Hamilton at Mercedes next season if that team decides not to extend Bottas’s contract, qualified an impressive 11th for struggling Williams.
His time was just 0.008 away from getting his Williams through to the final phase for the first time.
“That’s annoying,” he said over the team radio.
It still left the youngster ahead of a Ferrari, a McLaren, an Aston Martin and an Alpine as well as Canadian team mate Nicholas Latifi and both of the Alfa Romeo and Haas drivers.
Red Bull are chasing their fourth successive victory after winning in Monaco, Azerbaijan and France. The team last won four in a row in 2013, before the V6 turbo hybrid era ushered in seven years of Mercedes domination from 2014.
Photo – Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing sits in his car after he took pole position during the qualifying session of the Formula One Grand Prix of Styria at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, 26 June 2021. The 2021 Formula One Grand Prix of Styria will take place on 27 June. EPA-EFE/DARKO VOJINOVIC