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HomeNewsAustrian Grand Prix 2023: Max Verstappen on pole ahead of Charles Leclerc

Austrian Grand Prix 2023: Max Verstappen on pole ahead of Charles Leclerc

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The Austrian Grand Prix is live on 5 Live and the BBC Sport website

Max Verstappen took a comfortable pole position from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc at his Red Bull team’s home grand prix in Austria.

Verstappen was just 0.048 seconds clear of Leclerc as Carlos Sainz made it a Ferrari two-three with Lando Norris fourth in the upgraded McLaren.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was fifth from the Aston Martins, Lance Stroll unusually ahead of Fernando Alonso.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez failed to make the top 10 for a fourth straight race.

The Mexican repeatedly fell foul of restrictions on track limits and had a series of laps deleted for running too wide at Turns Nine and 10 and will line up 15th for the grand prix on Sunday.

Perez was not the only driver to struggle with track limits – many drivers had laps deleted through qualifying – but he was certainly the one to suffer most for his transgressions.

Verstappen, who was imperious as he secured his fourth pole in a row, said: “It was very difficult because of all the track limits. We don’t do this on purpose but with these speeds and high-speed corners it is very difficult to judge the white line.

“A lot of people were being caught out, including me. It takes out the joy a little bit but still a very good lap.”

Verstappen said the amount of times being deleted “looked very silly – we almost looked like amateurs and some of them were very, very marginal”.

Sainz added: “We need to find a way to correct it and we will sit down (with the FIA) and try to do that.”

Arguably the lap of the day was from Leclerc, who was right on the edge through the two high-speed final corners, the car dancing on the limits of adhesion as he caught a couple of twitches at well over 100mph.

Leclerc, who has had a difficult run in recent races, said: “It feels good to finally have a clean qualifying again and to be back on the front row. The feeling has been a bit better in the last few races.

“It was all about building up to the last lap and I managed to put everything in. Very close to the Red Bulls. I don’t think we expected to be that close.”

Beyond Leclerc’s lap, Norris also produced a stand-out performance for McLaren.

The team have worked hard to introduce a major aerodynamic upgrade a race earlier than planned, to the extent that there were only enough parts for Norris to run it, leaving team-mate Oscar Piastri in the previous specification car.

Norris was towards the front throughout the session and ended up just 0.267 seconds off Verstappen. Piastri was 13th.

Norris felt he could have been even higher had he not made a mistake on his final lap.

“I messed up my lap a bit,” Norris said. “Should have had Carlos, but I am still quite happy. P4 is a good result. The car has been working very well so I have say a big thank you to the team for getting all the new bits here, We wouldn’t be P4 without that. So super-happy.”

Hamilton was a further 0.161secs back as Mercedes appeared to struggle on this track, which has often been a bit of a bogey circuit for them.

“It was a very difficult session,” the seven-time champion said. “Our car in general has never really suited this circuit and it showed it again today. But fifth is a good strong position to start from.”

Team-mate Russell was off the pace throughout and could not make it out of the second session, ending up 11th, behind Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg, Alpine’s Pierre Gasly and Williams’ Alex Albon.

“Just not quick enough today,” Russell said. “From the first laps in practice I just haven’t got the right feel with the car. I need to understand what’s going on at the moment. I’m struggling a bit, especially on Saturdays.”

Bringing up the rear was Alpha Tauri’s Nyck De Vries, who is under pressure for his seat after failing to impress Red Bull bosses with the start of his F1 career.

Team principal Franz Tost said on Friday that De Vries’ future was in his own hands – he will keep the seat if his performances improve.

But he was four places behind team-mate Yuki Tsunoda, not the performance the team would have wanted.

Qualifying set the grid for Sunday’s grand prix, and Saturday will be devoted to the shorter ‘sprint’ event, with a qualifying session, the ‘sprint shoot-out’ at 11:00 UK time and the sprint itself at 15:30.

“Tomorrow is raining,” Leclerc said. “It will be exciting.”

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