Austrian Grand Prix: Max Verstappen sees off Charles Leclerc charge for pole

Jamie Woodhouse
Max Verstappen driving the Red Bull RB19. Austria, June 2023.

Max Verstappen driving the Red Bull RB19 at the Red Bull Ring. Austria, June 2023.

Max Verstappen once again will start from pole position, but Charles Leclerc gave the Red Bull driver a late scare in Austria.

With Verstappen finding half a second from Q2 to Q3 to seemingly see off all comers looking to snatch away his P1 spot on the grid, Leclerc left it all on the table but would fall narrowly short at the very end, by 0.048s to be precise.

Leclerc’s Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz will head row two, joined by Lando Norris who shone in the upgraded McLaren.

While the breeze was growing increasingly more noticeable around the Red Bull Ring as qualifying got underway, rain showers in the area had not been blown in the direction of the circuit.

A dry, grippy surface was waiting for the drivers then, and after just the one hour of practice before this point, it was no surprise to see a busy track from the start, a potential nightmare when it comes to traffic around one of the shortest laps on the F1 calendar.

Lando Norris gave his engineer a friendly reminder of this as soon as he had left the pit lane, in a bid to make sure that his McLaren team would be on the ball come the business end of Q1.

The Red Bull pair wasted little time laying down an early benchmark, but it was Verstappen comfortably with the faster effort, his 1:05.1 a whopping eight tenths up on Perez’s lap. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz saw his first two attempts deleted for track limits.

But the true nightmare start to Q1 was reserved for former Austrian GP winner Valtteri Bottas as he spun at the exit of Turn 1, seemingly caught off guard by the dirty air coming from Perez’s Red Bull ahead. As Bottas struggled to get the Alfa Romeo into neutral, that triggered the red flags.

Bottas fortunately did get going again, but before the light returned to green, the stewards did some further track limits housekeeping, resulting in Verstappen seeing his P1 time axed.

Verstappen only needed one push lap though to regain that top spot, where he remained until Q1’s conclusion. It was close out front though, both Perez and Norris, who got that clear track he craved, within 0.07s of Verstappen.

At the other end, Yuki Tsunoda, Zhou Guanyu, Logan Sargeant, Kevin Magnussen and Nyck de Vries missed the Q2 cut and saw their positions for Sunday’s grand prix set.

In Q2 it was not long before Verstappen once more saw a lap time deleted, drifting over the while line at the final turn, while Perez was not to be upstaged as he too lost his time.

As Verstappen called the situation a “joke”, Norris was left sitting pretty in P1 in the early stages, before Verstappen undid the damage to return to his P1 spot.

Ferrari now though had arrived at the party, Sainz joining Norris within a tenth of Verstappen’s 1:04.951. Alonso did lap a tenth down on Verstappen, but that time ceased to exist thanks to a track limit breach.

It was the same story for Perez who saw another effort chalked off, leaving him without a time with only a few minutes until the chequered flag. The pressure was on to ensure his streak of absences from Q3 did not grow to four. George Russell also dropped into the elimination zone thanks to the eagle-eyed stewards.

Perez initially appeared to escape in style, shooting up into the top two as Russell fell, but more bad news was to come.

Perez had that lap deleted too for exceeding track limits at the final turn, becoming the first Red Bull driver to miss Q3 four races in a row since David Coulthard in 2008.

Esteban Ocon, Oscar Piastri and Bottas joined Perez and Russell in elimination from Q2.

Onto the all-important Q3 to determine the Austrian Grand Prix polesitter and with the stewards finally happy on the track limits front, minus Lance Stroll, it meant Verstappen held provisional pole with an opening effort of a 1:04.503.

It was a near half-second step forward in pace which the pack could not live with on those first runs, Verstappen’s closest challenger Leclerc, also the most recent Austrian GP winner, needing two-tenths of a second to trouble the Dutchman.

Alex Albon in the Williams was not aiming for P1, but the team’s decision to send him onto the track out of sync with the pack it seemed had paid off, the Thai driver shooting up to P6. That was until the stewards once more brought out the track limits rulebook and deleted that time, dropping Albon back two places.

Now then it was time for those final attempts to snatch pole from Verstappen but there was to be no joy, Verstappen finding a further tenth as he narrowly withstood a valiant effort from Leclerc, who fell 0.048s short. Stroll outqualified team-mate Alonso for only the second time this season.

Qualifying classification

1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:04.391
2 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.048
3 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.190
4 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.267
5 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.428
6 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.502
7 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.520
8 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +0.699
9 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.779
10 Alexander ALBON Williams +1.432
11. George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.477
12. Esteban OCON Alpine +0.502
13 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.654
14 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.729
15 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing NO TIME
16. Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +0.668
17. Zhou GUANYU Alfa Romeo +0.702
18. Logan SARGEANT Williams +0.832
19. Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas + 0.855
20. Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +0.858