Max Verstappen on Austrian sprint pole but more misery for Mercedes

Mercedes had approached this weekend in Austria in confident mood after a strong performance at Silverstone but both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell crashed out in the top-10 shoot-out

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen gestures after the qualifying session at the Red Bull Ring. AFP
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Max Verstappen claimed pole for the Austrian Grand Prix sprint race on Friday to enhance his standing as the Red Bull Ring master but Mercedes suffered a double disaster in a qualifying session laden with drama.

Verstappen pulled out a stunning lap in front of tens of thousands of his Dutch fans to grab the prime grid position by just 0.029sec from Charles Leclerc's Ferrari.

"It's incredible to see the crowd here and see so much orange and the support I get now for a few years already here," the Belgian-born Dutch world champion said.

"It definitely brings a smile on my face and I hope we can make it a great weekend."

Carlos Sainz, fresh from his maiden win at Silverstone last weekend, was third in the other Ferrari with less than a tenth of a second covering the top three.

Verstappen's Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez took fourth, but the Mexican was demoted to 13th for breaking track limits in the second qualifying session.

Mercedes had approached this weekend in confident mood after a strong performance at Silverstone but both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell crashed out in the top-10 shoot-out.

Hamilton made a rare mistake to smash into the barrier at turn seven on a fast lap with five-and-a-half minutes of Q3 left.

He was soon out of his car, walking back to the pits.

"It was a big hit, but I'm okay," he said later.

"Incredibly disappointed in myself and so sorry to the team who worked so hard to put this car together - I never like to damage it," Hamilton added.

"We were fighting for a top three, I think. I don't have an answer for it."

Lewis Hamilton after crashing during qualifying. Reuters

After a red flag period as the mashed-up Mercedes was lifted off the circuit, the session restarted.

But not for long, as Russell then exited stage left, at turn 10, to leave Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff staring bleakly at his TV monitor.

With eight cars left to battle it out for pole Verstappen took the honours.

"It was a very long wait between the two runs and that's never great. Once you're in the rhythm, it's nice to just keep on going," said Verstappen.

"But of course, very happy with pole; but I also know that tomorrow and Sunday, you can get the points," he added.

Verstappen has won four of the last six races, including two last year on successive weekends, at one of the most picturesque but challenging venues on the F1 calendar.

Saturday's sprint will shape the grid for Sunday's race, the 11th round of the world championship which Verstappen leads by 34 points from Perez.

Russell had done enough before his exit to post the fifth fastest time but was promoted to fourth following Perez's penalty.

In the revised starting order, Esteban Ocon (Alpine) sets off from fifth, ahead of Kevin Magnussen and fellow Haas driver Mick Schumacher. Fernando Alonso, Hamilton and Pierre Gasly complete the top 10.

This is the middle of three sprints on the 2022 calendar. The first, at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix weekend, was won by Verstappen who followed up in the race too.

While not an ideal day for Mercedes, Saturday's 100km dash gives them a chance to improve their grid positions for the main event on Sunday.

"I'm really quite far back. I don't know what is possible from there, but it is a sprint race, so I hope I can make up for some lost time," said Hamilton

On a brighter note he added: "I'm encouraged for sure, I can see our performance; we didn't expect it to be as close as that today, so that's a huge positive."

Leclerc is looking for a change of fortune after seeing his early season title challenge compromised by suspect team tactics.

"I just want to have a clean race. We had five races that were a little bit of a disaster from my side. I just hope that we can finally score the points that we deserve."

Updated: July 09, 2022, 5:59 AM
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