Max Verstappen took a superb pole position for Red Bull in Styria, with Valtteri Bottas taking P2 in front of Lewis Hamilton – but a grid penalty for Bottas means the two title rivals start on the front row together.
Hamilton had put himself P3 in the final part of qualifying, ahead of a superb lap from Lando Norris in his McLaren, before Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly, who put in another impressive performance to put him inside the top six once again.
After Hamilton took top spot in FP3 and Verstappen went fastest in the first two practice sessions, qualifying was set up to be another tight fight at the front between the two World Championship protagonists.
The Red Bull Ring was resplendent in the Styrian sun as the cars set off for their first flying laps in Q1, with the usual suspects at the front. Verstappen set a 1:04.489s lap and Bottas, carrying a three-place grid penalty for his bizarre pit-lane spin in FP2, 0.048s behind in P2.
Norris impressed by running to within a tenth of the Red Bull driver, with team-mates Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo almost a second behind their early benchmarks.
Perez struggled again on his second flying lap, putting himself P11 and far from comfortable with final runs still to be done in Q1.
Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen suffered from understeer at Turn 4 and dipped his tyres in the gravel trap on the plunge downhill out of the corner.
A big queue emerged in the final two corners before drivers wound up for their final laps of the session, with all but the two Mercedes cars, Verstappen and Norris needing to set another time to try and get through.
In the end, only 0.653s covered the top 15 cars by the time Q1 came to a conclusion. The big shock of the session was Esteban Ocon dropping out in P17, along with Nicholas Latifi, Raikkonen, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.
Ricciardo was on the edge of dropping out in P15, but he lived to fight for another session as Q2 got started.
The frontrunners looked to get through to Q3 on the medium tyres initially, in order to give themselves greater strategic flexibility in the race – the two Red Bulls set the pace after the first runs, with Verstappen’s 1:04.540s on the mediums followed closely by an improved Perez 0.043s behind, albeit on the soft compound.
Pierre Gasly went fastest of all shortly afterwards by four milliseconds from Verstappen. There were just 0.371s between the Frenchman and Carlos Sainz in P10 after the first runs of the session, which set up the end of Q2 for a blockbuster finish as the drivers tried to get themselves into the top 10.
Sainz could not improve on his lap time and subsequently dropped out in P12. George Russell came agonisingly close to putting his Williams through to Q3 for the first time in his career, with only 0.008s separating him and Lance Stroll in P10.
After a promising start to the weekend, fine margins cost Ricciardo and he could only manage P14, while Norris was half a second faster and second only to Perez by the end of Q2.
How the grid would line up by the end of Q3 could have been anyone’s guess after a mixed-up field in the first two sessions – which made for compelling viewing as the cars left the garages for the top 10 shootout.
Hamilton had set a sturdy time in the first run, but a 1:03.841s from Verstappen put him 0.364s ahead of his title rival, and anyone else for that matter in what was comfortably the lap of the weekend to that point.
The Mercedes driver opted for a second flying lap on his soft tyres and managed to reduce his deficit by a tenth, but the final attempts were still to come in yet another excellent session this season.
All the drivers were seen jostling for position on their out-laps, not least Hamilton , who barged his way through past his colleagues. But a scruffy lap from the World Champion saw him out of contention for pole as he ran wide at Turn 9 following two slower sectors, with Bottas jumping him at the last.
It would be the Dutchman on pole, then, with a fascinating race ahead on Sunday. Bottas’ three-place grid penalty puts him down to P5, meaning the top two in the title battle would line up against each other once again.
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:03.841s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.194s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.226s
4 Lando Norris McLaren 0.279s
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull 0.327s
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 0.612s
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.631s
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 0.673s
9 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 0.867s
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1.228s
11 George Russell Williams 1:04.671s
12 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0.129s
13 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 0.137s
14 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 0.204s
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 0.242s
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:05.175s
17 Esteban Ocon Alpine 0.042s
18 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 0.254s
19 Mick Schumacher Haas 0.866s
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas 1.017s
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