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F1 leader Verstappen takes pole position for Austrian GP

Max Verstappen Max Verstappen - The Canadian Press

SPIELBERG, Austria — Reigning Formula One champion Max Verstappen lashed out at the race stewards for being too strict during qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix on Friday, despite the Dutch driver clinching his fourth straight pole position.

Verstappen and other drivers were annoyed at having lap times deleted for failing to stay within track limits, on a circuit where visibility is poor in some places. His Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who is second behind Verstappen in the championship standings, was eliminated from Q2 after having his lap time deleted for going off track limits.

Verstappen also had earlier lap times deleted, as did other drivers.

“It’s clearly not that easy and I don’t think we’re all idiots out there,” said Vestappen, the two-time F1 champion. “Today, it was very silly. It made us look like amateurs with the amount of laps that were being deleted and some of them were so marginal. ... It was not a good look today. People will say, ‘you should have kept the car in the white lines’. If it was that easy, you can take my car and try it, but you probably wouldn’t get up to speed in time.”

Verstappen was later summoned by race stewards for allegedly impeding Haas driver Kevin Magnussen on Turn 1 during the first part of qualifying, but was cleared without a penalty.

The runaway championship leader put his Red Bull on pole for the sixth time this season and 26th overall. He finished a narrow 0.048 seconds ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, whose teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. had the third-quickest time.

Leclerc also said the Austrian track makes it especially difficult to stay between the lines as visibility is poor, especially heading into Turn 10.

“I think the helmet cam(era) is very representative of what we are seeing, and we are not seeing at all the white lines,” Leclerc said. “This track is particularly tricky, especially Turn 10, because the nature of the corner (means) the car is getting lighter,” he said. “There’s a drop in the track and then however the car is positioned there it has a big influence on the exit, and from where we are we can’t see anything.”

Lando Norris qualified in fourth for McLaren ahead of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who holds the F1 record of 103 race wins. Aston Martin's Lance Stroll will start from sixth ahead of teammate Fernando Alonso.

A victory for Verstappen at his team’s home track in Spielberg on Sunday would take him to 42 race wins, one more than the late Ayrton Senna and alone in fifth place on the all-time list.

Mercedes driver George Russell joined Perez in not making it into the top 10. Perez was dismayed after hearing he had gone off the track limits.

“No way, where?” Perez asked his team, and let out a couple of expletives after he was told it was Turn 10. He failed to reach Q3 for a fourth straight race and starts from 15th, with Russell going from 11th.

Valtteri Bottas slid backward off track for Alfa Romeo on his first lap to bring out a red flag early in Q1.

After a few minutes, Bottas drove back to the garage and just made it out of Q1, which was the closest this season among the top drivers.

Early in Q2, Verstappen had his first lap time erased after also going wide of track limits, using an expletive on team radio to say what he thought of the “silly” decision given how many cars struggled on Turn 10.

“It is one of the worst tracks for track limits. It's super-hard to judge it round here," Verstappen said. “We don’t do it on purpose but with these speeds and high-speed corners it is so hard to judge the white line. That is why a lot of people were getting caught out. It was about surviving.”

This has been an ongoing issue for F1 in Austria.

Verstappen suggests putting gravel around Turn 10 and other problematic corners to improve visibility. But governing body FIA is reluctant to do that because the Spielberg track is also used for other racing categories, and laying down gravel would prove unpopular with motorbike riders who compete in the MotoGP here in mid-August.

Leclerc, one of the quickest drivers on pure pace, pushed hard on his final lap but could not get his second pole of the campaign.

“Overall we didn’t expect to be so close,” said Leclerc, who won here last year for Ferrari for the team’s last F1 victory. "Very close to Max. It is a good step forward."

The dominant Red Bull team has won all eight races this season, with Verstappen winning the last four and six overall. The 25-year-old Dutchman finished second behind Perez in the other two. Red Bull has won 18 of the past 19 races overall. The only driver to beat Red Bull during that spell is Russell, at the Brazilian GP in last season’s penultimate race.

Verstappen leads the championship by 69 points ahead of Perez, with extra points on offer in Saturday’s sprint race.

The Austrian GP is the second of six F1 events with a format that features a sprint race on the Saturday.

There is another qualifying session known as the “sprint shootout,” setting the grid for the 17-lap sprint race later Saturday.

“This is a different weekend with the whole format," Verstappen said. "But at least we know the car is quick.”

Perez won the sprint race in Azerbaijan to collect eight points, with Verstappen getting six points by finishing third.


Verstappen led the only practice session before qualifying ahead of Sainz and Leclerc, with Hamilton in fourth.

Hamilton is chasing a third consecutive podium finish.


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