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Stella gives Mercedes nod and Norris all clear

Is Mercedes looking strong going into the Austrian GP sprint weekend?

To news overview © XPBimages

McLaren team principal Andrea Stella has indicated that Mercedes appears to have the quickest car going into the Austrian Grand Prix sprint weekend.

In the only practice session at the Red Bull Ring due to the sprint format, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were fifth and eighth quickest respectively, albeit on the hard tyres, whilst everyone else around them in the top 10 set their times on the soft Pirellis.

Hamilton finished just over half a second adrift of Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who was still quickest despite bringing out the red flags when his RB20 encountered a sensor issue.

Briefly, it appeared as if Verstappen would be knocked off top spot when Lando Norris posted the fastest time in the first sector, only to ruin his lap by running into the gravel out of Turn 4.

Asked on Sky Sports F1 for a one-word answer on whether McLaren had the quickest car, Stella instead gave the nod to one of his rivals as he said: "Mercedes seem to be in great shape." 

Norris 'over the limit'

McLaren, though, will undoubtedly be in the mix throughout, particularly after its performance in Spain last weekend when there was the indication it had overtaken Red Bull on pace.

Stella has conceded what he witnessed from the car at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya, and in the hands of Norris especially, was "a little bit of a surprise, or more than a surprise".

He added: "The tracks beforehand were mainly low-speed stuff, and it was good news we could confirm that we had improved the car in low speed.

"But really we needed to check car performance against high-speed corners, long corners, a completely different layout. We came away with reassuring information. We could see that we can be competitive in this layout.

"Austria is a bit of a mix. The first part is a low-speed section, and then we have some high-speed corners, so hopefully we will be able to blend the good qualities of the car and have a competitive weekend."

As for Norris' off at the end of the practice session, there was obvious disappointment. Fortunately for the Briton, Stella has confirmed there is no damage to the car going into sprint qualifying.

"It was a good first corner but you have to finish the lap," he said. "We can see he locked up under braking.

"There are not many options, or many possibilities to check the limit of grip, so the drivers push a little bit at the limit or beyond the limit, to see what is possible. With only one session you need to take some risks.

"We see that if you go a little bit over the limit, then you may experience the gravel, but no problem, the car didn't get damaged, so it's good. We are ready for qualifying."

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