F1 – Styrian GP – Qualifying
Hallo, MiniFans! We’re in Austria, home to Red Bull and some of the most exciting races since it joined the calendar. In a repeat of last year, we’re celebrating two race weekends in the Red Bull Ring, but, so far, it’s the only double header in the same location for this season. Doubt has started to sink in inside the Merceces box, as it’s the first season in a long while that they aren’t leading the championships, and the three-place grid penalty for Bottas for his spin in the pitlane hasn’t helped them.
It didn’t take long for Verstappen to grasp the lead in Q1, very closely followed by Mercedes and a Norris that’s not too surprising to see up there anymore. What caused shocked expressions was Latifi scoring a lap time just shy of seven tenths away from Verstappen’s, while his teammate Russell was stuck in the elimination zone. Differences between some teammates were awfully big, most notably in McLaren, Ferrari and Alpine, but they shaken up during a last run that inverted the Williams’ places and chucked Ocon out, thwarting the Frenchman’s hopes of trying to make it to Q3. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Latifi (P16), Ocon (P17), Raikkonen (P18), Schumacher (P19) and Mazepin (P20).
The second session in qualifying always offers itself to being the one when tyre strategy becomes key. The balance between managing a fast enough time in a compound that’s not the quickest to get to Q3 and starting the race with their preferred tyre choice is very finely tuned. Both Mercedes and Verstappen were quite certain that the medium tyres were enough, but Pérez, who struggles a bit more to get his car into gear than his teammate, kicked off with softs. Cars were closer than ever, with the top ten being separated by barely three tenths and the top three getting laps in the same tenth. At the end of the first stint, Gasly sat comfortably in first, four thousandths ahead of Verstappen.
The last stint in Q2 was a wild battle for one of the very coveted spots in Q3. With five different teams occupying the five elimination zone spaces, drivers needed to give their all under pressure. Some of them, like Alonso, pulled incredible laps to launch themselves into the top 10, but others, despite improving their lap times, fell into the track limits trap or they simply weren’t fast enough. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Russell (P11), Sainz (P12), Ricciardo (P13), Vettel (P14) and Giovinazzi (P15).
The fight for pole was to be settled among the same three drivers it has been for a while now. Hamilton was the first to set a time that wasn’t especially good. Once Verstappen was out, he annihilated Hamilton’s lap time, but no one else managed to beat the Brit’s time. Bottas, who had been the second to last on track, couldn’t even pass Norris, but it was later shown that he had found Tsunoda in the middle of the track. Meanwhile, Hamilton was on his second stint and improved his time, though not nearly enough to catch his main rival. His third set of soft tyres didn’t provide him with a magical lap either, leaving the Dutchman to claim yet another pole.
It wasn’t exactly unexpected to find Verstappen in pole position in Austria, given his trajectory this season and how Red Bull seems to have finally found the key, even with Mercedes’ desperate try at three stints in Q3 with their main driver. Bottas in front of Hamilton may be a bit more surprising if we don’t take the track into account, as he’s got more poles in here than his teammate, but his three-place penalty meant that Hamilton will, once again, share the front row with Verstappen.